On November 3, 1848, a terrible accident occurred on the Eastern Railroad at Salem, Massachusetts. At the junction of the Marblehead Branch, a switch was left unattended, and a northbound train struck a southbound train head-on. Six people were tragically killed, with 40 people injured.
A train from Lynn to Salem had an engine, tender, two baggage cars, and four passenger cars. A train from Salem to Marblehead had an engine, tender, and two passenger cars. At Castle Rock, the southbound train missed the switch to Marblehead, and was routed on the same track as the northbound train. The two engines collded head-on due to the unattended switch. A man with a lantern was supposed to stop one of the engines to avoid a collision.
The Salem-bound train had a delegation of Whigs aboard, and the Marblehead train had a party of Democrats. The presidential election was to take place on November 7, and several political meetings and torch-light parades occurred during the week before the election.
The following account of the Salem accident was published in the November 4, 1848 Boston Atlas:
"About ten minutes past twelve, last night, an extra train from Salem
for Marblehead, and an extra train from Lynn for Salem, came in
collision at the switch near Castle Rock—both trains running with
The shock was terrible, breaking the Marblehead engine and tender, and the first passenger car into a thousand pieces, and damaging the forward end of the second car. Not less than six of the passengers of the Marblehead train are already dead, and others are dreadfully injured, some of whom, wll probably die of their wounds.
The Conductor, Engineer, and Fireman of the Marblehead train were somewhat injured, but it is hoped not seriously. Some of the passengers in the first car were thrown a consderable distance by the concussion, but escaped injury.
The engine of the train from Lynn was considerably damaged, and the tender broken up; the Engineer was slightly injured, and two or three passengers who were standing on the platform of the forward car were badly bruised, but no person in the cars received injury."
A condemning article about the Eastern Railroad from 1873 stated, "In [the Castle Hill] case, the railroad company could only offer that a man was ordered to be at the spot in case the trains met at the switch, and stop one of them; but it was proven that the man was to perform this duty at midnight, and to encounter all the contingencies of a walk of a mile alone. He failed to stop the train, and the company was held to have made insufficient provision, and paid heavy damages to the sufferers."
The Eastern Railroad was considered one of the least safest lines in Massachusetts, with the horrific Revere Disaster of 1871 being the worst railway accident in the state's history.