How to research train wrecks

For those wishing to research train wreck records in the US, here is a potted list of research sources.

From early days the railroads held inquiries and made reports. These are hard to come by and if any records exist the current railroad owners are not going to release any information. Most deaths resulted in a Coroners Inquest but you need to know which County and sometimes which Coroner.

Most reliable are the reports of the State Railroad Commissioners. Published annually in large volumes most exist in State Archives. New York and Ohio are particularly detailed. Some Railroad Commissioners started work as early as the 1850s and almost every State had one. In the 1910s the Railroad Commissioners became the Public Utilities Commission or Public Services Commission and train wreck details were pulished in their reports. A list of PUCs can be found at:

In 1911 Washington commissioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to set up a Bureau of Safety. From April 1911 this group began reporting and by the time there work was taken over by the DoT in the 1960s they had made some 5000 reports. These can be accesses by:

In addition specialised groups within the ICC reported on boilers and other equipment. These were published annually as the Chief Inspector Bureau of Locomotive Inspections and again can be found in archives.

In the 1970 the investigation and reporting on major accidents was transferred from the ICC to the National Transportation Safety Board. A list of their reports cane found at:

In the early 1970s the Federal Railway Authority started to create a master record of all accidents. This placed on a database in 1974 and became web accessed in the 1990s. This can be located at:

It helps if you have a location (especially a county) and a railroad. In addition wrecks occurring on lines owned by fallen flags are registered in the name of the successor RR. This one requires much railroad knowledge to navigate successfully.

Finally newspapers were always a good source but accuracy is sometimes lacking. The web has a number of newspaper archives listed.

If you have any questions reply to Ray State
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