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August 13, 2020

The Earliest Known Image Depicting a Train Wreck on the Providence Worcester Railroad, Rhode Island, 1853

On August 12, 1853, a head-on collision occurred on a single track between Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts. The collision resulted in 14 deaths and is considered to be the first photographed major train accident.

(Attributed to daguerreotypist L. Wright)

The Providence & Worcester Railroad line was on a single track. Engineers would base their travels off of time tables that were provided, as well as keep track of time on their own watches. By using this method, strict time schedules ensured the line was clear for individual trains to pass by. One train would wait in the siding for the allotted time to pass, after which, it was assumed that the tracks were clear.

The train bound for Providence had reached its double-track siding and waited the necessary five minute span. After which, the engineer proceeded to go back onto the single track. The Worcester-bound train had not reached the siding yet. At a blind curve, the two trains collided, resulting in a boiler explosion and telescoping of the first cars on the Providence-bound excursion.

Fourteen people would perish as a result of the collision, with another seventeen severely injured. It was revealed the Worcester-bound engineer was running behind on his schedule and would attempt to make up for it by traveling at full speed. The accident was immediately photographed and would later be published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on August 27, 1853.


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