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Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster

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Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster

Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster

PBS Western Reserve (WNEO 45.1 / WEAO 49.1):

Friday, Aug. 25, at 4 PM
Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 9 PM
Wednesday, Aug. 30, at 2 AM

Fusion (WNEO 45.2 / WEAO 49.2):

Saturday, Aug. 26, at 7 PM

On Dec. 29, 1876, the luxury train The Pacific Express departed the train station in Erie, Pa., for Chicago to celebrate the new year. The train never reached its destination due to a catastrophic disaster that happened in Ashtabula, Ohio, during a raging blizzard. 

In this town off the shores of Lake Erie, an all-iron railroad bridge collapsed, sending one of the most luxurious trains to ever ride the rails plummeting 70 feet into a frozen river. Of the 170 people who were on board, only 75 survived, most with serious injuries. Of the 95 who perished, 47 were identified; 48 were unidentifiable.

ENGINEERING TRAGEDY: THE ASHTABULA TRAIN DISASTER tells the story of this deadliest disaster of the 19th century. Using reenactments and period sets, it brings to life a story that once captivated the nation and changed a town forever. It is the work of producers Len and Patti Brown of Beacon Productions. 

Important Dates

  • 1865: The Ashtabula River Bridge is completed using the Howe Truss model, adapted to be made out of iron
  • Dec. 29, 1876: The Pacific Express falls into the Ashtabula River after the bridge collapses
  • Jan.12, 1877: The Ohio Legislature appoints an investigative committee to determine the cause of the bridge collapse
  • Jan. 18, 1877: A wooden Howe Truss bridge is completed to replace the former iron bridge
  • 1883: Amasa Stone, designer of the collapsed Ashtabula River Bridge, commits suicide


Source: Ohio History Connection,