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SynopsisRennert, North Carolina 16 December 1943, Atlantic Coast Line. The northbound Tamiami Champion collided with derailed cars of its southbound cousin . . .
Despite the wartime conditions, the "Tamiami Champion" southbound was making good progress as it approached Rennert. It was a bitterly cold morning and there was some snow on the ground from an earlier fall. Without warning, the eighteen car train came to halt as the brakes began to leak on. The conductor and other members of the crew set about finding the cause and soon discovered a broken coupling and brake pipe between the second and third cars.
What they were not aware of was the cause of the breakage. Towards the rear of the train almost half a mile away, the last three cars were derailed. A broken rail was the cause. The cars were deflected towards the opposite, northbound line which they now fouled. The first of the derailed cars was leaning over at angle of about 45o. The rear brakeman immediately began evacuating the passengers from these cars. When this was complete, he showed a light to the men working at the front of the train, but failed to inform them of what had transpired at his end.
While they started to repair the broken coupling, the conductor sent the fireman forward to "flag" oncoming trains to warn them of the problem. The fireman had with him a fusee, but he did not take any detonators which he could have placed on the track as a warning. As he walked along the track, he slipped in the snow and fell, damaging the fusee so that it would not work.
In the distance the northbound "Tamiami Champion" approached at a speed in excess of 85 mph. The fireman tried to light his fusee, but on finding it usless he had nothing except his waving to warn the train. The diesel-hauled train passed him without the crew becoming aware of the danger that lay ahead of them. Indeed, the first the engineer new of the predicament of the southbound train was as he passed its locomotive and saw a light being shown. A passenger had taken it from one of the cars and was frantically waving it towards the speeding train. But this warning came too late and an accident was inevitable. Although the brakes were applied, the train struck the stricken cars with hardly any slackening of pace. Seventy-four people died in the crash, most of them servicemen travelling in the northbound train. Only one traveller on the southbound was killed. The casualty list also included 54 injured.
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