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Disaster in Cotulla, Texas 1973
By Jay Glenewinkel

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Missouri Pacific Disaster in Cotulla, Texas 1973
By Jay Glenewinkel

An exclusive photo series at Screaming Eagles compiled by Jay Glenewinkel.
These photos have never been published anywhere else.

Photos - All Photos by Robert Pollard, Jay Glenewinkel Collection

A derrick crane attempts to move one of the GP18s involved in the collision.

Just Another Normal Day
The day started like any other on November 30, 1973. On duty at 4:15am, a five man crew was preparing to take the Missouri Pacific Extra 615 south (TRAIN DMX) to Laredo. They had no way of knowing what lay in store for them ahead.

The weather was clear, and the sun would be rising in just a few short hours. The locomotives for Train DMX included: GP35 #615, GP18s #446, 532, and 458, and trailing was a single GP7 #225. The crew tested the air brakes at Sosan Yard in San Antonio, Texas and soon they were on their way for the 148 mile journey south Toward Laredo. The train stopped for the scheduled inspections 27 miles, and 49 miles south of San Antonio. Everything was running normal, with the air brake pressure registering at 70psi in the caboose.

Train DMX proceeded on to Derby and Gardendale,TX to pick up cars bound for Laredo. Just 75 miles south of San Antonio, the train departed Gardendale at 8:15am with 114 loaded cars, 9 empties, and a brand new NdeM SD40 #8744 spliced in the middle of the train.

The "Cotulla Switcher"
Several hours before Train DMX was called, a five man crew of the Cotulla Switcher was hard at work. The Cotulla Switcher was a fairly new operation. Most of the work that night was in Gardendale. Close to 11pm on the night of November 30, 1973, the crew started heading back to Cotulla.

Upon their return, the switching crew pulled into the house track and uncoupled from the train. Using GP18 #507, the locomotive was run around the train and placed at the North end of the House Track in Cotulla. This was a routine movement to be ready for the next day. The North Switch was lined and locked for the main and the crew went home for the day around 11:05pm.

Some time between 11:05pm on November 30, and 8:30am on December 1, 1973, a group of some unknown individuals disconnected the rod bolts to line the North Switch of the house track. With the rod bolts disconnected, this made the target appear to be lined for the main track.

The Collision
When Train DMX departed Gardendale, the head end crew consisted of an engineer, an engineer trainee, and a brakeman. The crew in the caboose included a second brakeman and a conductor.

GP18 #458 lays on its side two hours after the collision occurred in Cotulla on December 1, 1973.

The 6 mile stretch of track between Gardendale and Cotulla is on a downgrade. The North Switch of the house track was on a slight curve. The posted mainline speed through Cotulla was 40 MPH at that time. Train DMX was running at 35 MPH upon departing Gardendale, and accelerated to 40 MPH as it approached Cotulla. The horn was sounded for the Tilden Street crossing. The train was diverted through the North switch of the house track after going through the crossing. While the two trailing units were on the crossing, the emergency brakes were applied with sparks flying between the rails and locomotive wheels. Braking was effective as the lead unit of Train DMX collided head on with the unit from the Cotulla Switcher standing on the house track, at about 310 feet from the Tilden Street grade crossing.

The crew in the caboose detected a problem when the emergency brakes were applied. The conductor tried to contact the head end crew by radio, but there was no response. When the train stopped, the rear brakeman immediately dismounted from the caboose and began running toward the head end. A passing motorist gave the brakeman a ride. Meanwhile, the conductor remained on the caboose to contact a following train to inform them of the incident. He then received a ride from another passing motorist to the head end. The conductor and brakeman arrived to the derailment site close to the same time.

The remains of GP35 #615 is seen here. The bed of the unit was creased at a 90 degree angle. The cab of GP18 #446 is seen at a 90 degree angle of the GP35. The crushed cab of the GP35 is slightly visible behind the frame of the GP35. The bodies of the crew members were still inside the cab at the time this photo was taken.

The five locomotives of Train DMX along with 25 cars including the NdeM SD40 were derailed. The units and cars jackknifed and came to rest within 450 feet of the Tilden Street Crossing. Major segments of the mainline, siding, house track and a spur track were destroyed. The North house switch was also destroyed.

The lead unit of the Train DMX came to rest at a 45 degree angle of the house track. The front bed of the GP35 was bent downward at a 90 degree angle. The entire superstructure was sheared off of the bed, with only the diesel engine and main generators at the floor level. The crew cab was detached and crushed during the collision, facing at a 90 degree angle of the direction of movement.

The GP18 and four cars of the Cotulla Switcher were derailed. The unit was shoved southward at about 120 feet and 55 feet westward. It was turned at a 90 degree angle and tipped partially on its side. The long hood was torn loose, and the trucks and fuel tank were completely ripped off.

The caboose of the Cotulla Switcher was uncoupled and moved upward into the gondola ahead of it. The other 11 cars were moved 200 feet southward.

The engineer, engineer trainee, and front brakeman were killed in the collision. Their bodies were found in the crushed cab of the lead unit. The conductor and rear brakeman were not injured.

A tangled mess of GP18s and a GP7 are seen in those photo on the morning of the collision.

GP18 #507 of the Cotulla Switcher was destroyed, along with GP35 #615. These two units, along with GP7 #225 were traded in for SD40s. GP18s #446 and #532 were repaired at North Little Rock. GP18 #458 and NdeM SD40 #8744 were repaired in Fort Worth.

GP7 #225 lays among the wreckage. The unit was traded in to EMD on the SD40s.

click on the thumbnails for a larger image

This article is dedicated in memory of

Mr. WB Smith,
Mr. RH Brown
and Mr. BR Bonner,
the crew of the Missouri Pacific Extra 615 south, Train DMX.

God Bless Them All.

Photo series copyright 2001 Jay Glenewinkel, all rights reserved. Anything but personal use of these photos is prohibited.

Featured photographer: Robert Pollard, Jay Glenewinkel Collection

Sources: FRA public reports, Missouri Pacific Historical Reports, and private sources.


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 l Last Update to this page: 24 April, 2008
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