On November 1, 1918, an accident so horrific took place in Central Brooklyn, that a street was renamed to wipe it off the memory. A hundred years later, a plaque has been unveiled to tell the story of the event that led to the replacement of wooden cars with steel, training for operators and safer conditions on New York’s subways.
At 6:42 pm on November 1, 1918, a Brighton Beach bound train derailed killing over 93 people, and injuring 250. The train was operated by Edward Luciano, who had little experience, and tried to take the sharp turn at Malbone street – later renamed Empire Boulevard- at 30 mph. The turn was only passable at 5mph. The train crashed, wooden cars shattered causing death and injury and turning Ebbets Field into a makeshift hospital for the injured.
“On that day, every possible bad thing that could have come together did come together in the worst possible ways leading to the tragedy that ensued,” said Concetta Anne Bencivenga, director of New York City Transit Museum. “World War I, the Spanish Flu, a labor dispute, inconsistent training, general operating standards that were not consistent, they all played a role, and what happened here that day had an impact that lasted throughout the last century and indeed today,” she continued, remarking that you can see early train cars up close at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. But the most important takeaway is, Bencivenga said, that it has been 101 years since the worst accident in New York Subway history – through ups and downs, and there has never been an accident as significant as Malbone, and hopefully it will remain so.
NYCT President Andy Byford remarked on the improved safety measures and commitment to training ever since this crash, and that coupled with technological advancements in the hundred years since have helped ensure such disaster would not happen again. “This was a tragic incident that we’ve never forgotten,” he said.
Last year, on the 100th anniversary, there was a ceremony to remember. This year, on a crisp Friday morning, Borough President Eric Adams, who championed the initiative, along with NYCT President Andy Byford, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and other local officials revealed a bronze plaque (cost $1,500) at the Prospect Park B/Q/S station’s northern exit.
None of this may have happened if not for the efforts of Firefighter Francis Valerio, who reached out to bp Adams regarding the upcoming centennial a few years back.
“With this plaque and street co-naming, we are honoring the victims of the horrific Malbone Street Wreck, and honoring our history, so New Yorkers for generations to come can learn what happened here,” Adams remarked, noting that if anything similar happened nowadays, it would be instantly memorialized.