When Death Rode the Rails: Sept. 15, 1958

by John Delach

Part One

Paul V. Land, a forty-eight-year old stockbroker, chose the second passenger coach of Train No. 3314 on Monday morning, September 15, 1958. He boarded the Central of New Jersey Railroad train at the Red Bank Station for the 57-minute run to Jersey City. Mr. Land almost didn’t make the train. As he drove from his home in Rumson, he considered playing hooky and spend this Indian summer day back at home. But work came first so, with the New York Times in hand, he boarded the late rush hour train commonly called The Broker.

The train originated in Bay Head and was running north on the railroad commonly called the Jersey Shore Line. After arriving the terminal in Jersey City, Mr. Land planned to catch one of the CNJ’s Hudson River ferries to reach his office in Lower Manhattan.

The train proceeded without incident and on time through Elizabeth Junction where it switched on to the CNJ’s mainline tracks that headed east leading to a stop at Elizabethport before crossing Newark Bay over the two-mile long bridge that ran between that station and Bayonne. All seemed well. Lloyd Wilburn (63) the engineer waved to Joe Holiday, the tower man, from his diesel cab as it passed through the junction.

Land sensed something was wrong as the train crossed the trestle. Fifteen years of commuting alerted his senses, “The train was going very fast. I heard the brakes screech, and I looked out the window and saw this ship about to pass through the drawbridge. Then the train began to bump. It bumped and bumped – this must have gone on for 1,000 feet, I don’t know, I looked quickly and noticed all the windows were closed.”

“Through the car ahead I saw the first locomotive disappear from the trestle, then the second, then the car in front of ours, and then we went. There was a jar and a rush of water and the car banged sharply back and forth.”

Thus began Mr. Land’s ordeal and those of his fellow passengers as the two engines pulling Train 3314 and three of its five coaches plunged into the oily waters of Newark Bay.

Lloyd Wilburn, the engineer and his 42-year old fireman, Peter Andrews, drove the train sitting on either side of the cab of the road switcher, Engine No. 1532 with an identical engine behind them. These two diesel-electric locomotives, built by General Motors Electro-Motive Division, new in 1952, pulled the late rush hour train of four coaches and one passenger-baggage combo car. This combo car rode directly behind the engines and was running light having been closed off by the crew.

The engines were not equipped with a “dead man’s control,” a device that automatically stops a train if the operator doesn’t maintain hand pressure on the throttle. The Jersey Central believed such devices were unnecessary on locomotives operated by two crew members since the fireman had identical controls that provided enough redundancy.

As the train made its way through the towns along the Jersey Shore it picked up a mix of late commuters, people on their way for a day in the city and late season Jersey shore dwellers who stayed over Sunday night and were now making their way back to New York.

Paul Land was such a passenger as was John Hawkins, the mayor of Shrewsbury and a partner at Amott, Baker & Co., a Wall Street brokerage. Normally, Mr. Hawkins caught an earlier train, but, that morning, he had to stop at the Monmouth County National Bank to retrieve $250,000 worth of negotiable securities he deposited there on Friday afternoon as he didn’t have enough time to return them to the office before the close of business..

James Adams boarded preoccupied with his wife’s grave illness. The father of four, his wife, Alice, lay dying from cancer in Monmouth Memorial Hospital. He too normally rode an earlier train but since having his wife admitted the previous week, he became responsible for getting his oldest three boys ready for school before he could begin his daily Wall Street journey. (Alice’s brother was the author, Kurt Vonnegut.)

George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss also boarded the train in Red Bank. Mr. Stirnweiss, a retired major league infielder. had spent most of his career with the New York Yankees joining the team in 1943. He won the American League batting title in 1945 with an average of .309 and led the league in stolen bases with forty-four in 1944. He retired in 1952 and this father of six was on his way to a business lunch in the city.

To be continued.