Coast Daylight Wreck, 1963

On March 4, 1963 the eastbound Coast Daylight, #98 was derailed two miles west of Northridge, CA. This resulted in the injury of 77 passengers and 3 train attendants.

The Coast Daylight was traveling at 62 mph on the single track main line, when at 5:24 pm the engineer observed at 1000 feet ahead his train that the switch at Rikers Spur track had been lined for a diverging movement from the main line. He immediately applied the brakes in emergency. The engineer and fireman then left their seats and took cover on the cab floor where they remained while the train entered the spur track and derailed. The members of the crew in the cars were unaware of anything being wrong until they felt the brakes applied in emergency shortly before the derailment. Diesel units 6047, 6048 and four passenger cars went on the ground of the seven car train.

The investigation disclosed that that the switch of the spur track and the operating lever of the switch stand was secured in reverse position by the padlock, which was closed on the keeper. The padlock bore several batter marks from apparently having been forced open. The heads of the bolts that secured the target of the switch stand to the spindle were broken off and were found on the ground at the base of the switch stand. The target taken off and reapplied to the spindle using a piece of wire as to show the switch was lined as for the main line. The electrical control box on the switch that controled the signal lights was made inoperative. This made the signals for the Coast Daylight to show green for a clear track ahead.

The last train to pass the Riker Spur track was an eastbound local freight within a two hour period immediately preceding the time the switch was reversed.

Approximately four months after the accident a 15-year old boy was taken into police custody upon being caught throwing rocks at a train in the vicinity of Northridge. This boy and two others subsequently confessed to the derailment.

NEW: The Rest of the story

Over the years, this web page has received comments from some of those involved. The boy (now a 59 years old man), said in an email to me, "I am the one who did unbolted the lever to the shunt box causing the lights to stay green instead of amber."
I won't use his name, but he also said how sorry he was and how this has affected his life in this statement below.

"Firstly, we spent 30 days in east LA correctional facility for juveniles, along with types that attempted medias acts on all of us during our stay before our trial. During that time, our Probation Officer stated he would recommend Youth Authority until the age of 24 years! Not a very encouraging thought to sleep with night after night while waiting. So, at the final trial, we were perhaps less than sorry. But we were so elided at at judge Collins decision, sorry was not part of the equation at that time. Later, however, Sorry? You cant imagine how sorry I am. For the events that happened after we were released were so burdensome, I would have preferred 8 years at YA (youth authority) instead."

"For weeks after that, since our names AND addresses were widely publicized, we were visited by people at all times of the day and night. Many drove by, throwing rocks and such at our house yelling out obscene things. We received threats by mail and by phone. Imagine, walking to the bus stop everyday for school and getting served papers by the marshal while everyone watched. Imagine going to school and being ridiculed constantly. Getting beat up every other day. Even comments from a high school teacher on the first day of class: "Looks like I got the train wrecker this semester". I could go on and on."

"Further, even though I was a minor, I can never get a security clearance, which I would have needed in my career, but was never able to obtain, even though at 18, my records were sealed. So a mistake I made at 15 has stayed with for the rest of my life with long reaching adverse affects."

"It should be noted at this time that because of the efforts of my father and this incident, the personal information of minors can no longer be included in news publications."

And that is the rest of the story!


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