Iowa’s Deadliest Train Accident Killed More Than 50 People [PHOTOS]
A quiet central Iowa morning turned deadly when a passenger train, loaded with riders, derailed. It happened more than a century ago.
On the morning of Monday, March 21, 1910, an earlier train derailment forced passenger trains from the Rock Island Railroad to detour off their usual route. KWWL reports they were utilizing Chicago and Northwestern tracks through Marshalltown, Iowa. It was just miles from Marshalltown that disaster struck.
Two trains that were supposed to leave Cedar Rapids between 12:30 and 1 a.m. were combined into one and sent off for Marshalltown after being delayed by the derailment earlier in the day. After stopping in Marshalltown, the train embarked for Waterloo.
According to KWWL, the train's conductor repositioned the two locomotives of the train "at a Y connection facing south, pulling the passenger cars north." The location of the passenger cars, which were typically kept at the back of the train for safety, were changed during the repositioning. It put them between a pair of locomotives and other steel cars.
When both locomotives derailed around 8:15 a.m., the wooden passenger cars were crushed by a steel engine and other steel train cars. The accident happened approximately four miles to the north of Green Mountain, not far from Gladbrook, in central Iowa.
The scope of the disaster was unthinkable. A total of three cars were destroyed with most of the people killed riding in a "chair car." A total of 52 people lost their lives in the accident, 39 of them from Iowa according to the report of those that were killed. Thirty-nine more were injured.
Though both speed and excess weight were suspected as the reasons for the derailment, its official cause was never determined. Changes in procedures involving railroad safety would result from the derailment, which remains the deadliest train accident in Iowa history.