• runaway-repost from old forum-credit BR&P

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by CP169
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Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
I've searched the topics and haven't found this so, here goes. Around 1964, I remember reading in either LOOK or LIFE magazine a story about 4 units from DeWitt that got loose and made it all the way to Rochester. I've tried to find this article with no luck yet. Does anybody have any information about this incident?

Message posted 1/3/2003 11:20:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964


IIRC, there was someone (Mechanical Dept. employee, not an engineman) on board the units when they ran away.

Perhaps Larry Baggerly has full details.

Message posted 1/4/2003 6:18:00 AM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
Incident took place not long before I took over the SYRACUSE DIV in 1965. Locos were leaving the 'ready trks' at DEWITT. ENGR on one end,Fireman on other. In reversing directions the ENGR mistakenly tried to proceed EAST toeard their train, and Fireman hadn't set the DBL hearing cock properly--engines thought they were still proceeding WEST, and the frakus started. On board was a mech dept employee, who apparently went to sleep. Anyways the consist speeded up toward CLARK ST, and OPERATOR there lined the consist forthe MAINS!! I'll finish this later..OKAY..LAB

Message posted 1/5/2003 9:16:00 AM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
IIRC, the guy on the engine was a sheet metal worker in Dewitt Enginehouse who didn't have a clue about running or stopping an engine. He worked his way along, pulling down every switch he could find, and the power finally died just in time.

Message posted 1/5/2003 12:40:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
After excapin DEWITT, and both the ENGR/FIREMAN baled off, DS instructed the BELLE ISL switched to 'catch' the consist, but their speed was too great. After makin the curve at 'THE SWAMP', then decided to dump the consist at EAST ROCHESTER , into the car shop. Acct GENESSEE RIVER bridge was next, the plan then was to dump the consist at GOODMAN ST! After radioing the MECH guy, and him pullin every fuse/control/etc--the consist stopped just west of E. Ro shop. GM sent an army to reconstruct event, and applied EMERG FUEL CUTOFFS on all units. In 1965 a japanese film-maker wanted to re-enact the debacle--but HQ turned thumds down. Think the event was covered in LIFE MAG....LAB

Message posted 1/5/2003 5:56:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
There has to be more to the story. Failure to properly set the double heading cock would prevent normal operation of the automatic brake valve but you should still have emergency, regardless. If the engines had a PC, that should have brought them back to first notch. What model locos were these, anyway?

Actually, I believe the brakes WERE functioning. I recall reading that the crew first on the scene after they stopped had to chock the wheels as the shoes were burned off.

But, regardless of any air brake problem, what caused the engines to go to 8th notch? That would seem to be the big problem there - something must have been grounded in the governor?

I don't have the answers, but the incident sure raises a lot of questions. Was any formal report issued which adresses any of them?

Message posted 1/5/2003 6:18:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
One of us has got to find that LIFE magazine article. It's been a few years but, it was great reading.

Message posted 1/5/2003 7:12:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
ICC report was issued, tho doan recall the listing. GEN FIELD SWT was off, and all brake heads were burned off--think the on-board mech guy was doin what he was told. Speed got up to around 80mpg plus according to the DS at ROCH. Mech guy was awarded a BOND for doin what he did, but GM W.T.Alexander wanted him fired. ENGR/FIREMAN were the responsible types, tho changes were made after this debacle.

Message posted 1/6/2003 2:12:00 PM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
Found it! Knew I had this somewhere!

Fabius man recalls wild ride on a runaway train in 1962

By Richard Palmer

When Joseph P. Gerace of Fabius read reports of a runaway train on CSX
recently it brought to mind a similar and even more hair-raising experience
he had on a windy fall night in 1962.

It was on Oct. 26, 1962 Gerace, then a young machinist employed by the New
York Central Railroad in East Syracuse, was doing some work on a new EMD
GP-20 which was coupled to three other identical units at the fueling
station, near the old DeWitt diesel house. The engines had just been
fueled and were scheduled to go out on NC-1, a westbound fast freight.

At the time, Gerace was on the second unit filling out a work car, and an
engine hostler , Bob Cox was making a brake test when something went wrong.
Cox either jumped or fell off the locomotive while the throttle was engaged
in the eighth notch - wide open. This was about midnight.

A peculiarity with these locomotives was if the throttle was engaged, the
engine would rev up power and eventually start to move, even if the brakes
were on. The usual way to stop this was to shove the throttle ahead and then
reverse it to shut it down.

The brakes were on, but they did not hold, and the locomotives started to
move. Gerace said he thought the engineer was on the lead unit and the
engines started to move. But he then lost sight of him and the locomotives
started to move down through the yard.

Peter Walters, a road foreman of engines at DeWitt, was just getting out of
his car when he saw the locomotives go by at about 25 miles per hour, with
the brakes on and fire flying all around the wheels.

Walters called the engine house to find out if they were grinding the wheels
on these units, as was sometimes done in this manner. He was told they were
not, and suddenly someone reported that NC-1's engines were gone. Gerace
said he expected the engines would derail at any moment due to the rough
track in the yards. But he remained on board because he didn1t want to risk
trying to get off if they derailed.

As fate would have it, the switches were properly aligned so that the
engines eventually got out on to the main tracks and headed down the old
passenger main through Syracuse which had recently been taken out of
service. An unsuccessful attempt was made to try and catch them with a yard
engine, but by the time the reached the "throat," or west end, the engines
were going 35 miles per hour on track 1.

The train dispatcher on duty at that time was Sam Giglia, and when he was
advised of the situation, began clearing track 1 of trains as fast as he
could. Meanwhile, the interconnected locomotives were picking up speed and
were soon going passenger train speed, or better.

The locomotives of BF-3, a westbound fast freight, were cut off on a siding
at Newark, and were prepared to give chase once the runaways went by. But by
the time they got to Newark, they were traveling at 75 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, an engine was posted on track 2 in Brighton, hoping to cross over
behind them and catch them. A passenger train was tucked away at the station
in Rochester. Its locomotives were also poised to give chase.

Officials decided to deliberately ditch the engines off on the siding at
Chili, west of Rochester, if necessary, as it was considered unsafe to try
to let them go into Buffalo at the speed they were going. This in spite of
the fact that officials were fairly certain there was a man aboard the
second unit. The runaway flew by Clyde, Lyons, Newark, Palmyra and
Wayneport. Meanwhile, Gerace was doing his best to stop it. Unlike the
earlier so-called "covered wagon" designed locomotives, one had to go
outside along a precarious walkway, protected only by handrails. "The wind
was really blowing," Gerace recalled, as he raced from one unit to another
pulling cables and shutting off switches.

Gerace first thought there was someone in the lead unit, and was only after
they left DeWitt yards he realized he was the only one aboard. The engines
continued to accelerate, and when he saw that they were going more than 100
miles per hour, he said he prayers, and crouched down in the nose of the

A short time later he decided since he was a goner anyway he decided to try
do something, ad at least try to stop the engines. He opened the cab door
and climbed along the running boards of to the rear of the unit he was on,
reached down and disconnected the large jumper cable between the second and
the two following locomotives. By that time the runaway is said to have been
traveling more than 100 miles per hour and the centralized traffic control
center, then in the Rochester station, lit up like a Christmas tree.

The jumper cable itself contained a series of 27 wires which were plugged
into a socket and locked in place by a cap. After he disconnected the cable,
"I could feel the engines slowing down," he said. The speed dropped back
substantially. He then went back into the cab and saw that the speed had
dropped back to 60 miles per hour. So he got his courage up, and went back
out and climbed over to the lead unit, went inside, threw all the switches
he could find, until finally one of them killed the motors on the lead unit.
The units coasted for a long distance, finally coming to a stop, rolling
backwards a few feet. By this time the brakes were burned up and were
useless, and Gerace recallled he put some ballast on the track to halt the
engines from coasting..

When it was fairly certain that the units had stopped, they were on track 1
A locomotive came east from Rochester and cautiously down track 2 when
Gerace saw the lights of an approaching engine. He nervously got out three
or four fusees, ripped the caps off, but threw them away before he realized
he needed them to ignite the fusees. When the engine arrived on the scene,
he was scrambling on the ground looking for the caps to the fusees.

Speed tapes on the engines only record as high as 92 miles per hour, but as
an indication of the actual speed they attained, they covered the 4.6 miles
between Lyons and Newark in two minutes flat, which equals 121.8 miles per
hour. Brake shoes were worn down paper thin, and were laced with fine
cracks, and were red colored, indicating the intense heat they had

The 6100 series locomotives were 2,400 horsepower road switchers and were
valued at about $250,000 each at the time. Other than burned out brakes,
which were easily replaced, there was no other damage to the locomotives.

To this day there has been no explanation as to how or why the engineman got
off in the yard. An article on the incident was subsequently published in
Life Magazine. For his efforts in saving the locomotives, Gerace was awarded
$650 in savings bonds by a grateful New York Central for saving $2 million
worth of locomotives.

Gerace at different intervals spent 14 years on the railroad. He said his
father and uncles were also railroad men. After the "diesel house" in DeWitt
was closed by Conrail in the early 1980s, he ran his own business for
several years before retiring.

But he said he will never forget that harrowing experience of riding a
runaway train nearly 39 years ago.

Message posted 1/8/2003 11:32:00 AM PST
Member RE: Runaway locomotives-around 1964
BR&P, Thank You, Merci, great search.

Message posted 1/8/2003 4:55:00 PM PST

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  by lbagg91833
The "REHASHED" article researched above has several POETIC LICENSES included. According to SAM GILIA, the train dispatcher, the game plan was to 'dump' the loco's well before they could reach the GENESSEE RIVER bridge acct curvature. The alleged "ON-BOARD" report kinda strains reality, tho the ENGR, and FIREMAN were on-board at the origin of the event, and the ENGR was injured whilst "UNLOADING" before the consist reached CLARK ST. GM made a full report to the mechanical GURU's in NEW YORK, and several modifications were applied. SUPT at the time at ROCH was BERT STROHL, and GM at SYRACUSE was W.T.ALEXANDER. LARRY BAGGERLY

  by BR&P
As Larry points out, the article has several glitches in it. If I recall, GP20's were 2000 HP, not 2400. I believe NYC's were geared for 65 MPH, correct me if I'm wrong. I know it's possible to exceed the rated top speed, but 120+ is almost double!

Some accounts have people sending instructions by radio, some have him pulling jumper cables and shutting down switches.

Any locomotive will develop power when the throttle is opened with the brakes on. In first notch usually the brakes would hold, in 8th notch the units will likely move anyway. But all that has to be done is to close the throttle, not "shove it ahead then reverse it to shut it down". That's if the throttle handle itself was physically opened. D&H had a runaway once when some wires shorted out and set the units running even tho the handle was in idle.

An interesting deal anyway. And Larry - how is Sammy G doing these days? After dispatching, he was night TM at Rochester, and we whipped up many a delicious breakfast about 3AM between Sam, Dinger and myself. How can the crew switch cars when the Hibachi on the 4th floor catwalk is cooking steak?
  by lbagg91833
As BR&P points out--several GLITCHES" in the tabloid referenced. Sorry to have mis-spelled SAM GIGLIA's name, and do not know what he's doing currently. BTW: Was BR&P around ROCH when during a strike,NY-6 went flying into WAYNEPORT to ice, and derailed demolishing bout a third of the facility??? LARRY BAGGERLY

  by BR&P
I don't recall the NY6 incident, the only strike was about a 1-day deal in 1967. I arrived at Midnight and the line was up. I was just a kid and new to BRAC, asked if I was supposed to walk but they said naw, just go back home. I think there was an injunction pretty quick as things were back to normal the next day. "Slug" Riley put everybody in for a day's vacation whether they asked for it or not - I was so new I didn't have any coming so I was out the day's pay.

I DO remember one night they were short of brakemen and had me out on RBC1, switching cars off the Attic track at Wayneport. The mosquitos were trying to drag me into the canal, and I was trying to relay lantern signals and swat skeeters at the same time without waving the lantern when they'd fly into my ear or eyes.

I guess we're off the runaway topic but it's good to recall some of the people and incidents from back then - wish I had written down more of what went on.