1970: Commuter’s Nightmare
Roosevelt Avenue Train Wreck
By Theresa Juva
The Roosevelt Avenue station was recently renovated.
The year that the Queens Tribune published its first paper was filled with a range of news that affected the lives of people throughout the borough. One such person was Anna Bovino of Forest Hills. The morning of May 20, 1970 began quietly. Following her normal routine, Bovino’s husband dropped her off at the Continental Avenue subway station where she planned to ride the “G” train to Queens Plaza and hop on an express to Manhattan.
The “G” train’s morning rush hour began at 7:13 a.m. when the train crew Anthony Haynes and Abraham Williams started their day at 71st Street and Continental Avenue station where passengers flooded the cars. But trouble struck several stops later when Haynes discovered the brakes on the first and second cars were malfunctioning. After consulting train inspector Francis Farmer, Haynes ultimately decided the train could not function safely and the passengers would have to be transferred.
Straggler Timothy Cronin was the lone passenger on the faulty train as Haynes and Williams figured out a way to get the train back to the yard for repairs. One of the strategies involved using a flashlight between cars to communicate track signals as Haynes navigated the wounded the train. Cronin approached Farmer and asked if he could be let off at Roosevelt Avenue.
The book “Subway: A Trip Through Time on New York’s Rapid Transit,” by Stan Fischler chronicles what was about to happen, beginning with Cronin’s observation: “‘I was surprised to see the motorman running the train from the third car going at the normal rate of speed for trains operated from the first car,’” he said at the time, according to Fischler.
The first two cars’ brakes had been disabled and Farmer was operating the train from the third car without being able to see the tracks in front of him.
Meanwhile, transit dispatchers were working to ensure the broken cars did not cause a traffic jam of trains behind it and instructed the other “G” trains to switch to the express tracks until the local track was cleared. This meant they would pass several local stops before switching to the local track to let passengers off at Roosevelt Avenue before diverting back to the express track.
The disabled train entered the dark tunnel headed toward Roosevelt Avenue and “approximately 50 to 100 feet beyond the end of the platform lay a crossover, enabling trains to switch from express to local tracks. At this point a new and disturbing element complicated Haynes’s operation.” A re-routed local was already at the stop on the local track and was about to proceed onto the express track, like the dispatchers had instructed.
As the disabled train approached, a major calamity was about to occur. Haynes apparently ran through a double red signal that means “stop and stay” and continued to speed toward the station. At this point, the re-routed local had not yet made the switch onto the express track as Haynes’s train barreled toward it.
“Haynes’ local rammed the fifth car of the passenger-filled G with a horrible force before it completed the turn onto the local track. The impact was so severe that the rammed steel car leaped from the tracks and hit the tunnel’s concrete wall that separates local and express tracks,” Fischler wrote.
Anna Bovino recalled being hurled through the air and smacking into a pole before landing with a thud on the floor. The car had split open from the force. The impact was also so great that workers later remarked that it was difficult to tell the two trains apart because their metal was mingled and fused together. In the end, two people were killed and 70 others were injured.
A thorough investigation followed the incident and from it emerged major changes: train manufacturers were instructed to re-design the emergency brakes while two-way radios were installed in the trains to improve communication among the motormen, which had been limited to flashlight beams. Crews would also be required to operate the train from the first car only and the MTA implemented stricter hiring practices.