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Ninth Avenue derailment

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1905 Ninth Avenue derailment
1905 New-York Subway-Accident.jpg
Beginning cleanup after the Ninth Avenue derailment; picture from the German Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift of November 2, 1905
DateSeptember 11, 1905
7:05 AM [1]
Locationabove West 53rd Street entering 50th Street station
Coordinates40°45′49″N 73°59′20″W / 40.7635°N 73.9890°W / 40.7635; -73.9890Coordinates: 40°45′49″N 73°59′20″W / 40.7635°N 73.9890°W / 40.7635; -73.9890
CountryUnited States
LineIRT Ninth Avenue Line
OperatorInterborough Rapid Transit Company
Incident typeDerailment
CauseExcessive speed.
Deaths13 [2]
Injured48 serious[2]

The Ninth Avenue derailment, on the Ninth Avenue Elevated in Manhattan on September 11, 1905, was the worst accident on the New York City elevated railways, resulting in 13 deaths and 48 serious injuries.[2]

Discover more about Ninth Avenue derailment related topics

IRT Ninth Avenue Line

IRT Ninth Avenue Line

The IRT Ninth Avenue Line, often called the Ninth Avenue Elevated or Ninth Avenue El, was the first elevated railway in New York City. It opened in July 1868 as the West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway, as an experimental single-track cable-powered elevated railway from Battery Place, at the south end of Manhattan Island, northward up Greenwich Street to Cortlandt Street. It ceased operation in June 1940, after it was replaced by the IND Eighth Avenue Line which had opened in 1932.



Manhattan is the most densely populated and geographically smallest of the five boroughs of New York City. The borough is also coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. Located near the southern tip of New York State, Manhattan is based in the Eastern Time Zone and constitutes both the geographical and demographic center of the Northeast megalopolis and the urban core of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass. Over 58 million people live within 250 miles of Manhattan, which serves as New York City’s economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and the city’s historical birthplace. Residents of the outer boroughs of New York City often refer to Manhattan as "the city". Manhattan has been described as the cultural, financial, media, and entertainment capital of the world, and hosts the United Nations headquarters. Manhattan also serves as the headquarters of the global art market, with numerous art galleries and auction houses collectively hosting half of the world’s art auctions.

New York City

New York City

New York, often called New York City or NYC, is the most populous city in the United States. With a 2020 population of 8,804,190 distributed over 300.46 square miles (778.2 km2), New York City is the most densely populated major city in the United States and more than twice as populous as Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city. New York City is located at the southern tip of New York State. It constitutes the geographical and demographic center of both the Northeast megalopolis and the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by both population and urban area. With over 20.1 million people in its metropolitan statistical area and 23.5 million in its combined statistical area as of 2020, New York is one of the world's most populous megacities, and over 58 million people live within 250 mi (400 km) of the city. New York City is a global cultural, financial, entertainment, and media center with a significant influence on commerce, health care and life sciences, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, dining, art, fashion, and sports. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy, and is sometimes described as the capital of the world.

Elevated railway

Elevated railway

An elevated railway or elevated train is a rapid transit railway with the tracks above street level on a viaduct or other elevated structure. The railway may be broad-gauge, standard-gauge or narrow-gauge railway, light rail, monorail, or a suspension railway. Elevated railways are normally found in urban areas where there would otherwise be multiple level crossings. Usually, the tracks of elevated railways that run on steel viaducts can be seen from street level.


Trains of the Ninth Avenue and Sixth Avenue elevated lines shared the same track above West 53rd Street, where the Sixth Avenue line branched off. Downtown-bound trains displayed disks indicating to the towerman at the junction whether he should set the switch for the train to enter the curve or proceed straight on to the 50th Street station.[2][3][4]


During the morning rush hour on September 11, 1905, a Ninth Avenue train following a Sixth Avenue train was mistakenly switched onto the curve.[5] The train was traveling at 30 miles per hour (48 km/h) when it entered the sharp curve, for which 9 miles per hour (14 km/h) was the company-mandated limit.[3][2][note 1] The motorman, Paul Kelly, realizing the error, braked quickly. The lead car remained on the tracks but the second was thrown right off the trestle and down to the street, coming to rest with one end on the ground and the other across the third rail on the trestle, which sparked an electrical fire.[6][note 2]

The roof was torn off and some passengers were crushed under the car by a falling truck and motor equipment from the third car, which came to rest hanging off the edge of the trestle against the front of an apartment building, into which some passengers were able to escape through a window.[6][7] The rest of the train also derailed but continued down the trestle along Ninth Avenue. The death toll was 13, and 48 serious injuries in the second car.[2] A police officer who had been standing in the street was also injured.[8]


On September 23, the report of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners laid most of the blame for the accident on motorman Kelly, but some on the towerman, Cornelius Jackson, who was said to have been away from his post at the time of the accident.[6] On October 2, the coroner's jury held both responsible.[9]

Kelly claimed the train had been displaying the correct disks for Ninth Avenue; Jackson claimed it had not. The train's conductor, J.W. Johnson, who had the job of setting the disks on the train, backed Kelly, and so did the company, since station guards had identified the train as Ninth Avenue at every stop it had made before the accident.[2][8]

However, the coroner's jury found that Kelly should have seen that the signal indicated the switch was set for Sixth Avenue, and that he was driving recklessly fast.[2][4][8] Nevertheless, Kelly, who went missing after the accident, told a fellow motorman immediately afterwards that Jackson had been "trying to do him," accusing Jackson of having previously changed disks on the signal tower at the last second, forcing Kelly to back onto the other tracks, thus losing time and getting in trouble with the railway company.[10]

Kelly could not back onto the other tracks this time because of his speed, which he explained had been due to the guards at 59th Street having called out 42nd Street as the next stop. Kelly was making up lost time on what he thought would be a straightaway to 42nd Street, not realizing until it was too late that the switch had actually been set for the curve to Sixth Avenue.[10]

Jackson was convicted of second degree manslaughter but his conviction was later overturned.[1] Kelly was arrested in San Francisco in June 1907, almost two years after the accident.[11] He was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree and was sentenced to 1 1/2-2 1/2 years in prison.[1] In February 1909, Kelly escaped from Sing Sing prison with another inmate he met while building a new prison at Bear Mountain, due to the bad food and brutal treatment. At the time Kelly had only six months left of his sentence as he was a model inmate.[1] When the other inmate became ill, Kelly refused to continue on alone, and the two were subsequently captured. [12]

Source: "Ninth Avenue derailment", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, March 19th),

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  1. ^ The account[6] states 15 mph (24 km/h) and 8 mph (13 km/h) respectively.
  2. ^ Reed says the car somersaulted in the air and also that the front end was on the ground; the account in Railway and Locomotive Engineering is that it "turned completely over sidewise" but that it was the rear end that fell to the street.
  1. ^ a b c d "The Ninth Avenue Elevated Train Crash Of 1905". Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Reed (1978), p. 138.
  3. ^ a b Shaw (1961), p. 422.
  4. ^ a b "Catastrophe on New York 'L'– Worst Accident in its History – Blunder As To Signals – 12 Killed, 42 Badly Hurt by Fall of Car From Structure – Third Rail Adds to Terror". The Summary. Elmira, NY. September 16, 1905. p. 1. Retrieved April 29, 2019 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Walsh, Kevin (December 1999). "Remnants of the Ninth Avenue El". Forgotten NY.
  6. ^ a b c d "The New York Elevated Railroad Disaster". Railway and Locomotive Engineering. Vol. 18. New York, NY: Angus Sinclair Co. October 1905. p. 458 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "(untitled)". Appleton's Magazine. Vol. 6. July–December 1905. p. 658 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ a b c Shaw (1961), p. 423.
  9. ^ "Recent Accidents". The Railway Age. Vol. 40. December 31, 1905. p. 457 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ a b "Switch Set Wrong By Design, Kelly Says" (PDF). The New York Times. September 13, 1905. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  11. ^ "Paul Kelly Arrested" (PDF). The New York Times. June 30, 1907. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  12. ^ "Catch Sing Sing Convicts" (PDF). The New York Times. February 12, 1909. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  • Reed, Robert C. (1978). The New York Elevated. South Brunswick, NJ and New York: Barnes. ISBN 0-498-02138-6.
  • Shaw, Robert B. (1961). Down Brakes: A History of Railroad Accidents, Safety Precautions and Operating Practices in the United States of America. London: P. R. Macmillan. OCLC 2641112.

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