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North Carolina’s Deadliest Train Wreck
In 1943 the deadliest train accident in the State of North Carolina occurred in Robeson County. The link above written by the late Tim Wilkens for The Robesonian provides great details about that wreck. It occurred on evening that Robeson County experienced a rare December snow storm combined with freezing temperatures.
Many people who live in Lumberton NC don’t realize that three story brick building that sits between Chestnut & Walnut Streets bordered by 14th and 15th Streets provided medical assistance to those injured.
On December 16, 1943 seventy-two people, including 52 servicemen bound for home for the holidays, lost their lives in the train wreck that occurred near the N.C. 211 overhead bridge on the rail line between Buie and Rennert in Robeson County. Another 70 people were hurt.
The accident happened about 35 minutes after three cars of the southbound Tamiami West Coast Champion derailed after running across a split rail. This was shortly after the train had passed through Rennert. A dining car and two Pullman sleepers were left tilting, with the first of the derailed cars leaning over the tracks at an angle of about 45 degrees.
Once repair efforts began on the Tamiami West, the conductor sent the fireman down the track to flag oncoming trains. As he walked along the track, he slipped in the snow and fell, damaging his fusee, or colored flare, so that it wouldn’t work.
Efforts to stop a northbound Tamiami East Coast Champion train failed. As that diesel-hauled train passed the railwayman, the crew was unaware of the danger that lay ahead.
The East Coast Champion plowed into its southbound cousin at a speed in excess of 85 mph, hurling hundreds of men, women and children into the wreckage. Both trains carried from 16 to 18 cars apiece and a heavy load of passengers in both sleeping cars and coaches.
What really brings this wreck close to home is many of the injured were brought to a location one block from my home.
The current hospital in Lumberton Southeastern Health was founded in part because of Dr. H.M Baker vision and that of Dr. Neil Archie Thompson.
One of my former neighbors is Ruth Ann McLellan who was related to the hospital director and medical student. Those two were her grandfather and father.