The site of a rail disaster…..Norwalk, Connecticut


Norwalk is an historic settlement in Connecticut,  on Long Island Sound. Chartered on September 11, 1651, a town quickly grew, based on shipping and the harvesting of oysters. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad had pushed tracks north from New York City along the coast of Connecticut in the 1850s, to the serve the growing commuter communities to the north of the city. Where the Norwalk River flowed into Norwalk Harbor and on into Long Island Sound, a swing bridge was constructed. To enable ships to pass upstream, the centre portion of the bridge (carrying the tracks) pivoted through 180 degrees. On 6th May, 1853, the 8.00am New York to Boston Express approached the swingbridge around a curve; unfortunately, the driver, Mr F W Tucker,  missed the signal telling him the bridge had just been opened to let the steamship ‘Pacific’ pass through. Over 200 people were onboard the train and the locomotive and the first three baggage and railcars hurled into space. There were 48 dead, 8 missing and many injured. This was the very first railroad bridge disaster in the USA (the appalling Tay Bridge Disaster, on the Firth of Tay, Scotland, which caused 60 deaths, did not occur until the night of 28th December, 1879). F. W. Tucker was held to be at fault.

The bridge you see here is in the same position as the original, but was built in around 1895, and derives its strength from a Warren truss form of construction, with its distinctive cross-bracing. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the ONLY four-track swing bridge in the country. The line was electrified in 1907, and now forms a vital part of  Amtrack’s Northeast Corridor, as well as carrying Metro-North Railroad commuter trains into and out of New York’s Grand Central Station, and CSX freight trains serving the New England region. Here we see a northbound Metro-North train crossing the bridge on its way to East Norwalk.

The picnic tables and shrubbery are outside the Maritime Aquarium, on the west bank of the Norwalk River. The Norwalk Aquarium has many fine exhibits, from Harbor – or Common – Seals (Phoca vitulina) to Cownose Rays (Rhinoptera bonasus), and runs tours of Norwalk Harbor and Long Island Sound on board the Aquarium’s research vessel ‘Oceanic’ (ticket kiosk and boarding dock below the bridge).

Some of you might be wondering if there is any aviation connection that I can work in here. Actually, there is! The Hawker Hurricane used a twin-spa wing with Warren inter-spa bracing, and both the famous Italian Fiat CR32 and CR42 fighter used interwing bracing of the Pratt-Warren type!

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