Accidents · Disasters · States · United States · Utah

Decmber 1, 1938 – Worst Railroad Crossing Accident in U.S. History

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I remember a long time ago in yet another life, I learned to drive a bus. I was in the service and we wanted to use a Morale Welfare and Recreation bus to take a group of us to a concert. In order to do this four of us went to the classes to learn to drive a bus. I figured “how hard can it be?” I could drive a tractor-trailer.

I did not realize some of the rules that were involved when you have passengers on a bus. The biggest thing that stuck with me was that you have to stop at railroad crossings –even ones no longer in use that are not signed– and open the door and window to listen for trains. My instructor told me it was because a bunch of school kids were hit by a train.

On December 1, 1938 Farrold “Slim” Silcox was driving 39 kids on their way to Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah.

Side note: I have a ton of friends that graduated from Jordan High School, home of the Beet Diggers.

It was a nasty Utah winter storm, and at 8:43 in the morning Slim stop the school bus at the tracks like the law stated. He opened the door to look and did not see the “Flying Ute” train coming down the tracks at around 60 miles per hour.

In 1938 the law required school bus drivers to stop at railroad crossings, it did not require drivers to open the doors. So Slim exceeded his mandate as a driver in an attempt to be safe.

Slim had been driving this route for three years, and had never encountered the “Flying Ute” at this time of day. So despite the poor visibility he crossed the tracks. He had no way of knowing that the train was running two hours late and was traveling faster than normal to make up time.

As the school bus started to cross the tracks, the train pulling 50 cars slammed on the breaks. It was too late to avoid the collision which resulted in the bus being dragged a half mile down the tracks.

That morning Slim Silcox and 25 students lost their lives in the accident.

The snow ultimately led to the horrific crash in 1938, but investigators wanted to know if any precautions could have prevented it. Stopping the bus and looking for trains works great when the visibility is good, but it’s useless in snow and fog. Opening the bus door (and driver’s window), allows the driver to hear trains.

After that accident in Utah it became law in most states in the United States that drivers stop at railroad crossings, open the door, and the driver’s window and listen.

A memorial was erected on the 75th anniversary of this tragic accident.

This law is still in effect 77 years later.

School buses save lives and reduce congestion around our school. I am saddened to learn about Mr. Silcox and the other students that lost their lives. I am grateful that laws have been put into place to prevent it from happening again.

Facts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury.

School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school.

School buses keep an annual estimated 17.3 million cars off roads surrounding schools each morning




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