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
derrick crane attempts to move one of the GP18s involved in the collision.
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
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
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
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.
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.
#458 lays on its side two hours after the collision occurred in Cotulla
on December 1, 1973.
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
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.
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
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.
tangled mess of GP18s and a GP7 are seen in those photo on the morning
of the collision.
#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.
#225 lays among the wreckage. The unit was traded in to EMD on the