A lot of New Yorkers have never heard of Malbone Street, which was the site of the deadliest train crash in the history of the New York City subway, killing 93 people and injuring 250 more in 1918. The Brooklyn street was basically erased when it was renamed Empire Boulevard, and the catastrophic crash has been largely forgotten. Today marks the 101st anniversary of that tragedy, and to honor it, city officials—including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and NYC Transit President Andy Byford—unveiled a new street sign and subway station plaque.
The incident happened on the evening of November 1st, 1918, the same day the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers went on strike. With a shortage of motormen to operate the Brooklyn Rapid Transit system, 23-year-old Edward Luciano, a crew dispatcher, was tasked with taking over. It was a disaster waiting to happen: "He had never operated an elevated train in passenger service before. He was not familiar with the Brighton Beach Line, and his only experience moving trains was parking non-revenue trains in a train yard a year earlier."
After working 10 straight hours, Luciano was assigned to the rush hour train on the elevated Brighton Beach line, which is the B & Q now. As he was headed to the Prospect Park Station, he lost control at a hairpin S-curve, going between 30-40 MPH in an area where the train should have been going 6 MPH or less. The train derailed, crashing into a concrete wall and smashing several of the five wooden train cars, killing nearly one hundred people.
As the Post wrote: "The wooden car roofs were sheared off. Glass from broken windows impaled bodies. The screams carried to the street, where a ticket seller called for the police. BRT electricians, not knowing the third rail had been ripped up in the wreck, assumed deliberate damage from union members and restored power — electrocuting dozens of survivors limping to safety. Ebbets Field became a makeshift hospital for the hundreds of injured."
You can read an archive article about the Malbone Street Wreck from the NY Times here. As a result of the crash, there were several new safety procedures put into place; wooden equipment was removed from the subways (the MTA writes that "wooden train cars were phased out in subway tunnels and replaced with composite wood and steel cars and fully metal-bodied cars"); the street's name was changed, and Brooklyn Rapid Transit went bankrupt the very next month (later coming back as the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corp.).
"There was much less concern about passenger safety then than there is now, and I think it’s in large part due to the crash,” Joseph Raskin, author of “The Routes Not Taken: A Trip Through New York City’s Unbuilt Subway System,” told the Post of its legacy. "Any time a transit system constructs or maintains similar ‘dead man’s curves,’ I would imagine this is in the back of people’s’ minds.”