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written by RVMS Marketing Committee Co-chair Carolyn Donovan

The 7:00 am commuter train from Dedham, with its usual variety of businessmen, shop girls, and school children, started their days as they normally did. Just a normal day.

Without warning the forty-foot high bridge the train was crossing collapsed, plunging three wooden passenger cars onto the road below or tumbling down the embankment, and 37 people to their deaths. Sixteen of those people were from Roslindale.

It was called “The Bussey Bridge Disaster,” and it changed Massachusetts law. Today is it’s 129th anniversary.

The bridge was, as the Boston Globe reported, “Bad in Contract and Bad in Make, Bad in Testing and Very Bad in General.” It was designed by a man without any civil engineering qualifications who created a sham company in order to get the contract. His work was not overseen by the Boston and Providence Railroad, and the bridge itself had not been regularly examined during its life.

The tragedy made The New York Times.

There were three things that prevented greater loss of life:
1. The doors of the stoves used to heat the compartments were locked, preventing the coals from escaping and setting the wooden carriages on fire.
2. The train engineer flew down the rest of the track to the Forest Hills station with the emergency whistle sounding all the way, alerting the fire house;
3. The people of Roslindale rushed to the scene to help.

Following the tragedy, the bridge was rebuilt with stone and cement. It still stands, and is still used for train travel.

Massachusetts now requires that all railroad bridges be examined by a qualified professional every two years.

To read more about the tragedy and its aftermath:

“The Bussey Bridge Horror,” page 627; Mixed Train to Providence.

“Photos of the Bussey Bridge Disaster of 1887,” Roslindale Historical Society.