On November 12, 1951, a severe blizzard struck Evanston, Wyoming, setting the stage for a tragic collision between two of Union Pacific’s elite Streamliners, the City of Los Angeles and the City of San Francisco. The snowstorm, which dumped up to 18 inches of snow and reduced visibility to near zero, played a critical role in the accident that claimed 17 lives and injured 159.
The Streamliners, operating just minutes apart on their journey from Ogden, Utah, to Chicago, encountered treacherous conditions. The City of Los Angeles, train No. 104, departed Ogden at 9:45 a.m. with 53 passengers, followed by the City of San Francisco with about 150 passengers at 10:07 a.m. Heavy snowfall, strong winds, and temperatures in the 20s severely impacted visibility and obscured automatic block signals along the track, which are crucial for controlling train movements.
As the trains approached the Wyoming/Utah state line, the City of Los Angeles, unable to clearly see the signals, made several stops. Meanwhile, the City of San Francisco, despite reduced visibility, increased its speed after passing Wahsatch. The train’s crew, unable to see the signals through the snow-covered windshield, mistakenly called the signals clear. This error led to the City of San Francisco, traveling at 77 mph, colliding with the City of Los Angeles, which had just resumed movement.
The impact was devastating. The rear of the City of Los Angeles was split open, and the collision derailed multiple cars, causing extensive damage and casualties. Among the passengers were many doctors returning from a conference in Southern California.
The aftermath saw the local community of Evanston, with a population of 4,000, rallying to provide aid. The Interstate Commerce Commission later found engineer Rees Paul of the City of San Francisco at fault for failing to observe caution and red signals. The reasons behind his decision-making in these treacherous conditions remain unknown.
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