Deadly Fog: The South Cheney Train Crash of 1916

Cheney Train Crash of 1916

One hundred years ago on a cold foggy February morning, Cheney’s worst railroad accident occurred at this spot. The Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited passenger train plowed into a Burlington passenger train. The Burlington train was stopped at the station in South Cheney when the Northern Pacific train, going the same direction plowed into it. Five men killed, and multiple passengers injured.

The tragedy was witnessed by a horrified group of six female students from the Cheney Normal School. They were on a hike, standing on top of a hill watching as the trains came in, and saw a brakeman run down the track waving a lantern trying to stop the incoming train. They recalled the brakeman continued to wave the lantern until the train was past the point of no return. It was due to the dense fog that the Northern Pacific passenger train failed to see the brakeman’s lantern.

An investigation of the crash found that speed and the time-interval spacing system were to blame. Due to the failure of synchronized clocks on each train, the timing was off by only a matter of minutes causing the collision. Also, due to a lack of following train speed orders issued weeks prior to the crash. These orders were put in place because of severe flooding that had caused missing and broken rails, washouts and detours in the area. The dense fog of that morning combined with these factors, prevented the incoming North Coast train to stop in time

Those who were killed and injured were in the Walla Walla sleeper car of the Burlington train, that was situated as the second to last car. The last car on the Barrington passenger train was empty. Among those men killed, was the head of the Washington State College chemistry department, Elton Fulmer. The bodies recovered from the wreckage were mangled, and the sight was difficult to witness, even for the rescuers.