Malbone Street wreck

Coordinates: 40°39′46″N 73°57′45″W / 40.66278°N 73.96250°W / 40.66278; -73.96250
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Malbone Street wreck
Remains of the wreck
DateNovember 1, 1918; 105 years ago (1918-11-01)
6:42 p.m.
LocationFlatbush, Brooklyn, New York
CountryUnited States
LineBMT Brighton Line
OperatorBrooklyn Rapid Transit Company
Incident typeDerailment
CauseExcessive speed around curve
Wrecked car with wood splinters and glass shards

The Malbone Street wreck, also known as the Brighton Beach Line accident, was a rapid transit railroad accident that occurred on November 1, 1918, on the New York City Subway's BMT Brighton Line (now part of the BMT Franklin Avenue Line) in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. A speeding train derailed in the sharply curved tunnel beneath Willink Plaza, the intersection of Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue, and Malbone Street (now known as Empire Boulevard). At least 93 people died, making it one of the deadliest train crashes in North American history, as well as the deadliest crash in the history of the New York City Subway.

The circumstances leading to the crash included a labor strike against the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT). The BRT had tried to keep service running with non-striking personnel, and decided to use Antonio Edward Luciano, a crew dispatcher with no experience operating the line. Other factors in the crash included the serpentine layout of the track and the weight of the individual train cars.

In the aftermath of the crash, Luciano and BRT officials were placed on trial for manslaughter. Ultimately, all the defendants were acquitted or their indictments were dropped. The BRT gradually phased out wooden cars and additional train protection devices were installed. The two most heavily damaged train cars were scrapped. In 1923, the BRT became the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation, having gone bankrupt due to the accident. The tunnel in which the wreck occurred remained in daily passenger operation for forty years. A memorial to the crash was installed in 2019.


The Malbone Street wreck occurred on Friday, November 1, 1918, at 6:42 p.m., during the end-of-week rush hour, and involved about 650 passengers.[1] The elevated train, consisting of five cars constructed primarily of wood, entered the tunnel portal beneath Malbone Street, going toward the Prospect Park station,[2][3] negotiating a reverse curve designated to be taken at 6 mph (10 km/h) at a speed estimated at between 30 and 40 mph (50 and 60 km/h).

The back wheels of the first car derailed, and the two following cars completely left the tracks, tearing off their left-hand sides and most of their roofs. The first and fourth cars sustained relatively minor damage, while the second and third cars were severely damaged. The fifth suffered no damage at all. The motorman, 25-year-old Antonio Edward Luciano, was not injured and left the scene of the accident. Passengers were trapped in what The New York Times later described as "a darkened jungle of steel dust and wood splinters, glass shards and iron beams projecting like bayonets."[4]

One surviving passenger, lawyer Charles Darling, had become so concerned about the train's speed that he dropped to the floor and braced himself moments before the crash. Darling later confronted Luciano and asked the motorman what had gone wrong. "I don't know," Luciano told Darling. "I lost control of the damn thing. That's all."[4]

It took forty-five minutes for all rescuers to descend to the site of the accident. The nearest hospital was at capacity with patients from the Spanish flu epidemic, and a makeshift infirmary was set up at Ebbets Field for crash injuries.[4]


The Malbone Street wreck was the result of a series of individual circumstances.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers strike[edit]

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, representing some of the motormen operating elevated trains of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), had just gone on strike that morning, November 1st, over issues involving union organizing and the discharge from employment of twenty-nine of its members. This created a shortage of motormen to operate the system. The BRT elected to keep service running with non-striking personnel, which included men in other unions, including the company union. Hours after the crash occurred, and less than 24 hours after the strike began, it was discontinued.[2]

Motorman's lack of experience[edit]

Luciano, the derailed train's motorman, was a crew dispatcher who was pressed into service during the strike. He had never operated an elevated train in passenger service before, was not familiar with the Brighton Beach Line, and his only experience moving trains was parking non-revenue trains in a train yard a year earlier. Luciano had received less than three hours of classroom instruction in being a motorman, and was never officially certified as one.[5] The norm was no fewer than 90 hours of instruction and hands-on training.[4]

In addition to his inexperience, Luciano was mourning the death of his infant daughter who had been a victim of the Spanish flu epidemic and whose funeral had been three days before, while Luciano himself was recovering from a recent bout of the flu.[4]

Tunnel layout[edit]

The single-track tunnel in which the wreck occurred had been opened only weeks before the accident.[6]: 97  It consisted of a sharp curve designed to take Coney Island-bound trains of the Brighton Beach Line around a new underground mainline, which was under construction.[7][8] Previously, trains entered Prospect Park southbound through the original tunnel, which provided a straighter, more direct route. Trains going northbound continued to come out of Prospect Park using the original track and straighter tunnel, still in use.[6]: 97  Shortly following the crash, engineers were sent to investigate whether the curved tunnel may have been of faulty construction.[9]

Train coupling[edit]

The train consisted of three motor cars and two trailer cars. The motor cars were about twice as heavy as the trailer cars, and the trailers were more top-heavy, especially with a passenger load. Standard procedure was to avoid coupling two trailer cars together by having a single trailer between two motor cars. The heavier motor cars provided stability for the lighter trailers. In the train that derailed, two trailers were coupled together, and it was these two cars, in order numbers 80 and 100, that sustained the bulk of the damage, both to the cars and to the passengers.[citation needed]

Train speed[edit]

The train was operating at at least 30 mph (48 km/h), or 5 times the speed limit, when it derailed. The accident occurred within the reverse curve, which had a speed limit of 6 mph (10 km/h). Luciano said during his interview that he had attempted to slow the train, but the subsequent investigation of the wreck indicated that he had not attempted to engage the emergency brake or to reverse the train's motors. Witnesses interviewed by The New York Times also said that the train had not slowed approaching or in the S-curve until the cars left the tracks. In the minutes leading up to the wreck, Luciano had difficulty timing the train's progress, overshooting multiple stations. Bypassing the Consumers Park station (today Botanic Garden) meant Luciano wouldn't apply the brakes as the train descended a 70-foot incline from Crown Heights to the tunnel near the Willink Plaza entrance to Prospect Park.[4]

Investigation and trial[edit]

The train involved in the wreck sits in the 36th-38th Street Yard after salvage. Lead car 726 (in front) bore relatively light damage. Nearly demolished car 100 is behind it.

Mayor John F. Hylan and his administration blamed the BRT and brought Luciano and company officials to trial for manslaughter. The Brooklyn District Attorney, Harry E. Lewis, opened a separate investigation into the crash.[10]

In a December 1918 meeting, members of the Brighton Elevated Wreck Victims and Passengers' Protective Association were allegedly heard saying, "Kill them! Shoot them!" in response to a proposed change of venue for the trial, but the association denied the allegation.[11] Meanwhile, several BRT officers were held on bail before the trial.[12] Upon the request of the former BRT president, Timothy S. Williams, the trial's location was changed from Brooklyn to the town of Mineola in Nassau County. This was done to ensure the BRT officials' right to a fair trial, by holding the legal proceedings as far away from Brooklyn as possible.[13]

The trial opened in March 1919.[14] The prosecutorial focus required the BRT to present a coherent defense on behalf of both its officials and Luciano. Because of this, neither the proximate cause of the wreck nor the excessive speed of the train was adequately explained. Luciano testified on his own behalf, contending that he was in control of the train but that the train did not respond properly. This opposed the BRT's own physical examination of the equipment, which showed that the brakes were in good operating order, were not placed in "emergency" application, and that other means of slowing or stopping the train, such as reversing the motors, had not been attempted. Since his defense focused on these contentions, other issues that could have caused him to operate the train at excessive speed were not examined, such as his insomnia, a desire to make up time because of earlier switching problems, or his unfamiliarity with the route on which he was operating.[citation needed]

In May 1919, the BRT settled with the widows of two victims,[15] followed by payouts to more victims that October.[16] The same December, the BRT was ordered to pay out another $1.2 million in damages.[17] By 1921, all of the defendants had been acquitted or had their indictments dropped.[18] One official, BRT vice president John J. Dempsey, received a hung jury[19][20] and was not retried.[4] By March 1921, the BRT had a combined $75 million in crash-related liens, and was out of funding to pay further claims.[21] The BRT later went into receivership, which ended in early 1923.[22] The Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), which succeeded the BRT, ended up being responsible for paying the BRT's outstanding claims,[23] a plan that was approved in September 1923.[24] The BMT disbursed $1.6 million that year. The highest settlement was $40,000,[4] equivalent to $690,000 in 2022,[25] which went to the widow of Floyd G. Ten Broeck, a 47-year-old engineer who designed and built power plants and paper mills.[4]


The Malbone Street wreck remains the deadliest crash in the New York City Subway's history,[26][27] as well as one of the worst rapid transit crashes in the history of the United States.[6]: 81 [28] The reported death toll ranged from 93[6]: 81 [29] to 102,[30] with about 250 injuries.[1] A report more than three years after the accident concluded that 91 people were killed. [31]

Equipment and infrastructure changes[edit]

The accident placed more pressure on the BRT to remove wooden equipment from routes that operated through tunnel sections or in subways, though this use was already limited. Wooden cars returned to use in the tunnel for another nine years, and cars of partial wooden construction remained in elevated service until 1969. Additional safety devices were added to the subway and elevated system over the years, including speedometers, headlights, more effective dead-man's controls to halt runaway trains, and automatic trackside devices called trippers or train stops to reduce the likelihood of trains operating too fast for conditions.[citation needed] Further, additional subway signals were installed on New York City elevated lines.[32]

The three motor cars involved in the wreck—lead car 726, fourth car 725, and final car 1064—were repaired and returned to service. The severely damaged trailers, 100 and 80, were scrapped; car 80 was cut up on-site during the wreck cleanup.[citation needed]

Fate of Luciano[edit]

Luciano adopted the name Anthony Lewis and became a house builder in Queens Village, Queens. He retired in Tucson, Arizona, where he died in 1985 at the age of 91.[4]


A train (left) leaving Prospect Park, and the non-revenue tracks (right) with the sharp curve incident to the wreck.

In the wake of the tragedy, the Board of Alderman approved the renaming of most of Malbone Street to Empire Boulevard at the beginning of December 1918, scarcely a month after the wreck.[33], a name it still bears. A detached one-block section of the street in Crown Heights still bears the original "Malbone Street" name. The Malbone Street tunnel, in which the wreck occurred, remained in daily passenger operation for 40 years, although it was no longer part of the main line after 1920. The tunnel today is part of the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, but is not used in regular passenger service.[4]

A streetcar crash coincidentally occurred about a half block away on Flatbush Avenue in 1920, a collision that killed one person and injured seventy.[34] In 1974, another accident at the same site, involving a split switch rather than an over-speeding condition, occurred when a slow-speed train of R32 subway cars derailed and hit the wall. There were no injuries, but a damaged car was scrapped.[35]

On November 1, 2019, officials installed a permanent bronze memorial plaque at the northern exit of the Prospect Park station,[36][37] and co-named the corner of Empire Boulevard and Flatbush Avenue as "Malbone Centennial Way".[1][38] The plaque inscription reads:[1]

Remembering the Malbone Street Wreck

In memory of those who lost their lives near this location on November 1, 1918, when a wooden-bodied train carrying an estimated 650 passengers derailed and crashed under Malbone Street. Nearly 100 people were killed, and nearby Ebbets Field was turned into a makeshift hospital to care for the hundreds injured. This horrific accident led to meaningful reforms and advancements in transit safety, training and infrastructure. As a result of this tragedy, Malbone Street was eventually renamed and is today known as Empire Boulevard.

Dedicated by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and MTA NYC Transit

November 1, 2019

In popular culture[edit]

In 2018, the Park Slope Reader, a local Brooklyn newspaper, serialized the Tales of the Night Watchman comic strip, "The Ghost Train", about the elevated train involved in the infamous wreck returning to terrorize the city in the present.[39][40][41][42] The story debuted in the paper's Spring 2018 edition, number 64. It was written by Dave Kelly, drawn by Simon Fraser, and colored by Gary Caldwell.[43][44][45]

The movie "Ghostbusters 2" has a scene that is based on the Malbone Street Wreck. However, unlike the real life accident, the accident is called "City Of Albany", happened in 1920 and killed hundreds of people.

Episode 79 of the video podcast Well There's Your Problem covers the Malbone Street Wreck. The podcast is hosted by Justin Roczniak, Alice Caldwell-Kelly and Liam Anderson, with Youtuber bsquiklehausen as guest for the episode.[46]

See also[edit]

Similar rail accidents involving sharp curves include:


  1. ^ a b c d Rivoli, Dan (November 2, 2019). "Transit Officials Memorialize Worst Subway Crash in NY History". Spectrum News NY1. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "SCORES KILLED OR MAIMED IN BRIGHTON TUNNEL WRECK; First Car Crashes Into Tunnel Pier and Other Cars Grind It to Splinters". The New York Times. November 2, 1918. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  3. ^ "75 Dead, 100 Hurt in Brighton "L" Wreck". New York Tribune. November 2, 1918. p. 1. ISSN 1941-0646. Retrieved September 26, 2017 – via Library of Congress open access.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Roberts, Sam (November 1, 2018). "100 Years After New York's Deadliest Subway Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  5. ^ "WRECK MOTORMAN'S TRAINING WAS BRIEF; Never Officially Certified as Competent, Testifies B.R.T. Instructor of New Men. TIME CUT DUE TO SHORTAGE; Commissioner Whitney Attacks Mayor Again--Says He Has More Letters from Hylan". The New York Times. November 8, 1918. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d Cudahy, Brian J. (1999). The Malbone Street Wreck. Fordham Univ Press. ISBN 9780823219322.
  7. ^ "NEW SUBWAY LINK OPENS.; Service Started Through Queens and Montague Street Tubes". The New York Times. August 1, 1920. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  8. ^ "Montague Street Tube, Brighton Subway Operation Begun". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. August 1, 1920. p. 53. Retrieved May 3, 2018 – via Brooklyn Public Library; open access
  9. ^ "INSPECT B.R.T. WRECK CURVE; Engineers Take Notes on Construction at Malbone Street". The New York Times. November 6, 1918. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  10. ^ "WRECK BEFORE GRAND JURY. Lewis Says Evidence Involves High Official of B.R.T." The New York Times. November 26, 1918. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  11. ^ "DENY ANIMOSITY TO B.R.T. OFFICIALS; Malbone Street Wreck Victims' Association Repudiates Vengeful Cries at Recent Meeting. SEND RESOLUTION TO LEWIS; District Attorney Devotes Day to Affidavits with Appeal for Change of Venue". The New York Times. January 6, 1919. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  12. ^ "HOLD B.R.T. OFFICIALS IN $10,000 BAIL EACH; Five Arrested for Tunnel Wreck Plead Not Guilty and Waive Examination. NO SERVICE BOARD INQUIRY; District Attorney Lewis Says He is Too Busy Now--Will Fight Move for Change of Venue". The New York Times. December 13, 1918. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  13. ^ "INDICTED B.R.T. MEN GET VENUE CHANGE; Justice Callaghan Orders Trial of Malbone Street Wreck Cases Held in Mineola. SCORES HYLAN HEARINGS; District Attorney Lewis Dissatisfied --B.R.T. Receiver Confers with Service Board". The New York Times. January 29, 1919. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  14. ^ "B.R.T. TRIAL OPENS. Intimate Something on Track Caused Malbone Street Wreck". The New York Times. March 7, 1919. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  15. ^ "B.R.T. PAYS WRECK CLAIMS. Settlement Made with Two Widows for Malbone Tunnel Disaster". The New York Times. May 21, 1919. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  16. ^ "38 B.R.T Claimants Awarded $95,925". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. October 27, 1919. p. 10 – via Brooklyn Public Library; open access.
  17. ^ "MALBONE AWARDS $1,200,000; Court Approves Allowances to Relatives of B.R.T. Wreck Victims". The New York Times. December 23, 1919. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  18. ^ "B.R.T. WRECK CASES DISMISSED BY COURT; Action Taken on Request of Prosecutor, Who Believes Conviction Impossible". The New York Times. January 18, 1921. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  19. ^ "Lewis Undecided as to Next BRT Case He Will Try". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. January 16, 1919. p. 9 – via Brooklyn Public Library; open access.
  20. ^ "DEMPSEY JURY DISAGREES.; Stood 7 for Conviction to 5 for Acquittal in Malbone Wreck Trial". The New York Times. December 19, 1919. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  21. ^ "NO MONEY TO PAY B.R.T. WRECK CLAIMS; Survivors and Heirs of Malbone Tunnel Victims Face an Empty Treasury. $75,000,000 IN PRIOR LIENS; Receiver Garrison Sees No Way to Meet Obligations of Crash That Cost Almost 100 Lives". The New York Times. March 20, 1921. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  22. ^ "JUDGE MAYER TO END B.R.T. RECEIVERSHIP; RAISE $34,000,000; Reorganization Plan of Stockholders' Committee Agreed To by Security Holders. PAY $27,000,000 ARREARS; Stock Assessment of $35 a Share Expected to Cost Owners Only $10 a Share. REFUND $60,000,000 BONDS; Personal Injury Claims, Including Those of Malbone Wreck, to Be Paid in Cash". The New York Times. February 10, 1923. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  23. ^ "CLAIMS ON B.R.T. TO BE PAID BY B.M.T.; Suits Arising From Malbone Tunnel Wreck Will Be Settled by Sept. 1". The New York Times. June 16, 1923. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  24. ^ "WRECK CLAIMS TO BE PAID. Plan of New York Rapid Transit Company Is Approved". The New York Times. September 15, 1923. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  25. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved May 28, 2023.
  26. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence (October 31, 1979). "The Day the Subway Didn't Get Through". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  27. ^ Nieves, Evelyn (August 29, 1991). "THE SUBWAY CRASH; Accident Has Eerie Echoes Of 1918 Crash That Killed 97". The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
  28. ^ Kennedy, Randy (September 30, 2003). "TUNNEL VISION; Short Line. Small Train. Little Graffiti". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  29. ^ "I.R.T. SAFETY RECORD STILL THE HIGHEST; This Subway Has Had Only Five Serious Mishaps While Carrying Many Millions. WRECKS ON OTHER ROADS; 93 Were Killed and 103 Hurt in Crash of Train in Malbone St. Tunnel in 1918". The New York Times. August 25, 1928. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  30. ^ Sansone, Gene (2004). New York Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City's Transit Cars. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 165. ISBN 0801879221.
  31. ^ "91 Killed in 1918 Crash", The New York Times, June 26, 1923, p. 2
  32. ^ "PLAN NEW SIGNALS ON ELEVATED ROAD; Transit Board to Order Tests in Search for Best Block System by I.R.T. and B.R.T.; WOODEN CARS AGAIN UPHELD; Wreck Motorman Many Times in Trouble for Infractions Before Fatal Crash". The New York Times. January 10, 1922. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  33. ^ "Malbone Street is to be known as Empire Boulevard". Brooklyn Times Union. December 3, 1918. Retrieved December 10, 2022.
  34. ^ "1 KILLED, 70 HURT IN B.R.T. COLLISION IN FLATBUSH AVE.; Car Rams Another Ahead Near Scene of Malbone Street Wreck. GREEN MOTORMAN BLAMED; Both Trolleys Crowded with Passengers Bound for Ball Park and Tennis Courts. CHINESE CRUSHED TO DEATH; Brake of Second Car Had Been Tampered With, Witness Tells the Police". The New York Times. September 12, 1920. Retrieved November 4, 2019.
  35. ^ – BMT Franklin: Prospect Park
  36. ^ Geberer, Raanan (November 1, 2019). "101 years later, deadliest subway crash in New York remembered". Brooklyn Eagle. Retrieved November 12, 2019.
  37. ^ Zagare, Liena (November 1, 2019). "Never Forget: 101 Years After The Worst Subway Crash in NYC History, Malbone Wreck Finally Gets Memorialized". Bklyner. Retrieved November 12, 2019.
  38. ^ Barone, Vincent (November 1, 2019). "Officials commemorate deadliest city subway crash with plaque". amNewYork. Retrieved November 3, 2019.
  39. ^ English, Paul (July 3, 2018). "Tales of the Night Watchman: The Ghost Train, pt 1". Park Slope Reader. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  40. ^ English, Paul (July 26, 2018). "Tales of the Night Watchman: The Ghost Train, pt 2". Park Slope Reader. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  41. ^ English, Paul (October 24, 2018). "Tales of the Night Watchman: The Ghost Train, pt 3". Park Slope Reader. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  42. ^ English, Paul (February 12, 2019). "Tales of the Night Watchman: The Ghost Train, pt 4". Park Slope Reader. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  43. ^ Fabbri, Megan (April 2, 2018). ""So What? Press" is serving up exciting things this April!". Comics Beat. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  44. ^ Fabbri, Megan (July 24, 2018). "All Aboard! Tales of the Night Watchman "The Ghost Train part 2" is now published!". Comics Beat. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  45. ^ Fabbri, Megan (November 9, 2018). "The Ghost Train is leaving the station… next stop, Comic Arts Brooklyn and 2019!". Comics Beat. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  46. ^ Well There's Your Problem | Episode 79: Malbone Street Wreck, retrieved June 6, 2023

Further reading[edit]

  • Folta, James (March 20, 2013). "Crash of the Century". Narratively. Retrieved June 4, 2020. A popularized story of the wreck and its aftermath.

External links[edit]

40°39′46″N 73°57′45″W / 40.66278°N 73.96250°W / 40.66278; -73.96250