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1943 derailment that killed 79 occurred near Amtrak crash

FILE - This Sept. 7, 1943 file photo shows the wrecked cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Congressional Limited train, in Philadelphia. The Labor Day train jammed with 541 passengers derailed, killing 79 passengers and injuring117 others. The May 12, 2015 derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia was not the first rail disaster to occur in that area. The high-speed Congressional Limited jumped the rails in an area known as Frankford Junction. It is about a mile from where the Amtrak wreck occurred Tuesday night. (AP Photo, File)

A jam-packed Labor Day train derailed in 1943, killing dozens of people, in nearly the same area where an Amtrak train crashed this week in Philadelphia.

The high-speed Congressional Limited was traveling the same route as the Amtrak train, heading north from Washington to New York, when it jumped the rails in an area known as Frankford Junction. There were 541 passengers aboard; 79 people died, and 117 were injured.

The scene is about a mile from where the Amtrak wreck occurred Tuesday night, killing seven and injuring more than 200.

In 1943, the Congressional Limited was considered one of the fastest electric trains in the world

A 2009 article published by The National Railway Historical Society’s Lancaster, Pennsylvania, chapter notes that a “journal box” on car No. 7 overheated, causing a fire that eventually led to the wreck. The journal boxes housed axle bearings connected to the trucks, or sets of wheels, on which the train rode.

It was just after 6 p.m. on Sept. 6 when a railroad yard worker looked up to see smoke and flames shooting from the journal box. He alerted a co-worker, who ran to telephone someone about the troubled wheels, but it was apparently too late. Traveling at about 45 mph, the front axle of Car No. 7 snapped in two, causing the derailment, according to the NRHS report.

Cars No. 7 and 8 were destroyed, while six other cars were left strewn across the tracks. All of the dead were found in the destroyed No. 7 and 8 cars. The wreck was blamed on the overheated journal box. The NRHS report said railroad mechanics swore the box had been lubricated correctly earlier that day.

Many of those traveling on the Congressional Limited were World War II servicemen returning from leave. Officials at the time credited many of the servicemen with assisting in rescues.

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Eltman reported from Mineola, N.Y.

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