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Crush, Texas - Town for a Day
September 17, 2008 5:07 PM   Subscribe

The "Crash at Crush" was the intentional head-on crash of two Katy locomotives on Sept. 15, 1896. The results were not quite what Agent Crush had planned. Scott Joplin wrote The Great Crush Collision March [more pictures] to commemorate the event and it was also an inspiration for 'Head-On' Joe Connelly.

The Spectacular Death of Georgia-Pacific Number 9 is the site of the derail from the Joe Connelly link.
posted by tellurian (45 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Brilliant stuff, really fabulous. The photo of the two trains a microsecond before collision is haunting. The whole amazing story is very like something out of Pynchon.
posted by WPW at 5:17 PM on September 17, 2008


Wow, that is a great photo. And what a story.

I must nitpick, though: two trains (of equivalent weight) hitting each other head on at 45 mph is not equivalent to hitting a stationary object at 90, despite what the first link claims. It's the same as hitting a stationary object at 45.
posted by echo target at 5:37 PM on September 17, 2008


Amazing—thanks for sharing this! The Joplin rag of course has a satisfying crash, but what amazed me is that it starts out sounding so Russian. Аварийный регтайм!
posted by languagehat at 5:40 PM on September 17, 2008


What? (Oh god, this is going to turn into another one of those things about whether an airplane can take off from a treadmill, isn't it?) Why isn't it an effective 90MPH collision?
posted by Naberius at 5:40 PM on September 17, 2008


Okay, consider this: you're driving at 45 and hit an oncoming car of the same size going at the same speed in the opposite direction. You both come to a complete stop. The other car has just exerted a certain amount of force on yours: the amount needed to bring you to a full stop from 45mph.

Now consider driving into a stationary, immovable object: the same thing happens. The same amount of energy has been exerted upon you and your car: the amount needed to bring you to a full stop from 45mph. Yes, immovable objects can exert forces; the floor is exerting a force on you right now that opposes the pull of gravity. They can't do work, but they can exert forces.

The two collisions are equivalent in terms of forces exerted, and, we can extrapolate, in terms of damage done to each car & its occupants.

This has been on the Straight Dope or something similar, but I can't find it just now.
posted by echo target at 5:52 PM on September 17, 2008


This was done at a California State Fair too.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:59 PM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


And I thought we were lucky to have things like movies and video games to entertain us! This is the kind of entertainment we've been sacrificing?
posted by tushfestival at 6:04 PM on September 17, 2008


We do have monster truck rallies now, to be fair.
posted by echo target at 6:07 PM on September 17, 2008


...and Thursday's time-thieving internet obsession will be: trainwrecks.

Cool post.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:08 PM on September 17, 2008


What? (Oh god, this is going to turn into another one of those things about whether an airplane can take off from a treadmill, isn't it?) Why isn't it an effective 90MPH collision?

Last time the argument was solved by asavage and his television program performing the experiment. I can only hope this recurs.

And it's a shame they didn't do the safety properly because it would have been completely awesome rather than tarnished awesome.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:14 PM on September 17, 2008


Excellent. Just today on my drive to work I pondered: What in tarnation does "She Caught The Katy" mean? I don't know why. It wasn't on the radio. But here, tonight, the answer falls in my lap(top).
posted by hal9k at 6:22 PM on September 17, 2008


What happens then if a car going 50mph rear ends a car going 25mph in the same direction? What is that equivalent to?
posted by dirty lies at 6:25 PM on September 17, 2008


Why isn't it an effective 90MPH collision?

In terms of closing speed, it is. In terms of energy (and force) of impact, it very much isn't (as stated). Force = Mass x (Velocity squared) being the important aspect. So if M is the same, you don't get the same accident by doubling the speed by any means. The higher speed impact is much harder.

So the 90 mph nominal impact would have enormous amounts more catastrophic than the 45mph vs 45mph one. As mentioned, a stationary and very solid brick wall would have done the same job as the second train, but without the spectacular second boiler explosion and aftermath. The train would still have stopped dead and shattered (as may the wall).
posted by Brockles at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2008


What happens then if a car going 50mph rear ends a car going 25mph in the same direction?

It gets complicated and requires momentum calculations to work out - including whether one or both cars have the brakes on, etc. It's a smaller impact than a car hitting a wall, or even a stationary second car, at 50mph by a big margin.
posted by Brockles at 6:29 PM on September 17, 2008


As mentioned, a stationary and very solid brick wall would have done the same job as the second train

This is true for "spherical cow" values of true.

It would be so difficult to build a stationary and solid enough wall to match the force from two trains running into eachother and equivalent speeds that I'm not sure what you'd use and how you'd anchor the wall. You sure as hell couldn't do it with brick.

Even if you made a brick wall a mile thick the train would crush and pulverize enough brick to push into the wall a not inconsiderable amount, I would guess.

Yeah, in theory two cars smashing into each other head on at 45 mph is the same as hitting an immovable wall at 45 mph, but in practice I know which I'd pick. The wall, assuming it isn't a giant steel plate attached to the side of a mountain or a massive bridge embankment or something. Hitting a regular wall (house, store, etc) would be much less of an instantaneous force transfer than hitting another vehicle coming at you at the same speed assuming you hit directly head-on.
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I said "very solid brick wall", I had in mind the sort of concrete bunker deal like the test images you see of people flying planes and the like into on rocket sleds - vehicle testing 'walls' with yellow and black datum signs on. Perhaps my 'very solid' was a little understated...

If you are envisaging a couple of lines of cinder blocks, then the wall would be in bits of dusty clouds. But then, that falls into my 'normal wall' category and not that of 'very solid' ones. Assume a wall of good quality concrete with significantly more mass than the object hitting it.

Regardless, however, there is no force of impact increase or decrease if said wall is replaced with an identical train approaching at the same speed, just a different kind of aftermath.
posted by Brockles at 6:59 PM on September 17, 2008


Hmm. This is a derail (ha!), but I'm curious about the 50 & 25 rear-end collision. At first I thought they would split the difference and both end up going 37.5 mph, but I think what would actually happen (not counting friction, brakes, crumple zones, differing masses, etc) is that the front car, originally travelling 25mph, would be accelerated to 50, while the other car would slow to 25. They trade velocities.

This sounds weird, but it's what pool balls would do in the same circumstances: roll one out slow, then roll another up fast from behind. The front one rockets out and the back one slows down. Just like those little steel collision balls.

Pool balls are an excellent visualization tool for this kind of thing: they transfer energy efficiently in collisions and they roll with little friction. You can try a similar experiment for the head-on collision.
posted by echo target at 7:01 PM on September 17, 2008


(echo target: There would be some losses due to crumpling and deforming of the cars, also the application of brakes would make a big difference - basically any way in which cars differ from pool balls would affect the outcome, including relative mass of the two cars, etc.).
posted by Brockles at 7:06 PM on September 17, 2008


I wonder what would have happened if they'd got those trains up to 88...

Great stuff (even the force/momentum discussion!) Slightly niggled with "Perfesser Bill" and his insistence on resizing my browser every which way, but I guess if the niggle ever became more than slight, I could actually install NoScript. Still - bad form, Perfessor...
posted by benzo8 at 8:36 PM on September 17, 2008


I'd pay to see a head on train crash. I pay to go to NASCAR races, why not? Nice post.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:48 PM on September 17, 2008


Here's the Handbook of Texas Online article, and the Wikipedia article on the topic. Thanks for getting this little known event out there. Nice post.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:11 PM on September 17, 2008


Let's say I built a crash cage on the front of a train that could survive the train hitting a wall at 50mph but not 80mph.

Let's say I put you in the crash cage and set the train going 45mph. The train goes out of control and you have to choose between hitting a barrier, or an oncoming identical train that's also going 45mph.

Are they really the same? Christ I suck at physics
posted by fleacircus at 9:18 PM on September 17, 2008


If you want more train wreck stuff to gawk at, make sure to look into trains telescoping during crashes. And check out this book.
posted by drezdn at 9:52 PM on September 17, 2008


You should probably let the folks at CERN know they don't need that second beam - they can just fire at a stationary target.

What's happening is that you're thinking about the forces acting on a passenger in one of the trains, and not considering the system (both trains) as a whole. The forces on each train in Wall Train and Train vs. Train are going to be similar, but the resultant energy from Train vs. Train should be double that of Wall Train.
posted by zamboni at 10:08 PM on September 17, 2008


Consider the above a roundabout way of agreeing that the statement "Railroad officials estimated that each locomotive reached a speed of about 45 miles an hour just before the crash, producing a collision force equivalent to hitting a stationary, solid object at 90 miles per hour." is technically incorrect.
posted by zamboni at 10:17 PM on September 17, 2008


Do not confuse force (force = mass * acceleration), momentum (M = mass * velocity) and kinetic energy (E = 1/2 mass * velocity ^ 2).

In an inelastic collision (such as this one), kinetic energy is not conserved. Momentum still is.

Also note that kinetic energy does depend on the frame of reference used (think - the Earth is moving through space). Things get a bit muddier at relativistic velocities, but here you can pretty much only consider the sum of velocities of the trains (or difference, if rear-ending).
posted by Fruny at 10:46 PM on September 17, 2008


INFERNOKRUSH!

So, um, what was the dude expecting to happen?
posted by Artw at 11:34 PM on September 17, 2008


Indeed, the crash of the two 45mph trains is not equivalent to hitting a wall at 90mph. It is closer to hitting the hypothetical solid wall at 45mph, there will only be half the kinetic energy released so the crash wouldn't be quite as violent, but the change in speed will be the same.

However, it is exactly equivalent to a 90mph train hitting a 0mph train. The change in the speed of the trains is the same, the release of kinetical energy is the same, all that changes is the frame of reference. Numerical proof will be left to a person who knows elementary school physics or to me after I get out of work.
posted by Authorized User at 12:07 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


That would have been a thing to see. The effort and logistics involved in coordinating that one moment of chaos! I especially liked the writing of the newspaper article - writing with the intention of imparting the emotional, the aesthetic impact of the collision, knowing there would be no other way for the readership to apprehend it. TV sucks.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:58 AM on September 18, 2008


I wonder why they bothered with carriages? The two locomotives could presumably have gone faster and produced a bigger bang on their own.
posted by Phanx at 2:07 AM on September 18, 2008


However, it is exactly equivalent to a 90mph train hitting a 0mph train.

Good grief. Do they actually teach people elemtary mechanics any more?

2 45mph trains of mass M. Total energy = 2 * (1/2) M * v^2 = M(v^2)
1 90mph train of mass M. Total energy = (1/2) * M * (2v)^2 = 2M(v^2)

IOW, a single train doing 90mph has twice the kinetic energy as two trains doing 45 mph.

A single 90 mph train hitting a solid object (A suitably large lump of solid lead or steel would do) is going to release twice as much energy as two trains impacting head on at half the speed.
posted by pharm at 2:53 AM on September 18, 2008


Oh wait, you want the second train to be able to move? Ooops!

Momentum is conserved, so in the end you'll have (approx) two trains going at half the previous speed, with energy (1/2) * 2 * M * (v^2) = M(v^2).

OK, in that scenario, you should end up with M(v^2) energy being released, and the whole shebang moving off stage left at 45mph (presumably in lots of tiny bits).
posted by pharm at 2:58 AM on September 18, 2008


Yeah pharm, that is exactly what I was thinking. Also, thanks to tellurian for the awesome post. Nowadays we just do this with cgi and put it on film. The old days were so much more real.
posted by Authorized User at 4:38 AM on September 18, 2008


Epilogue: 68 years later the whole episode was recreated in HO scales by one Gomez Addams.
posted by TedW at 5:22 AM on September 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


Also, I am glad this hasn't turned into the sort of train wreck we seem to have had a lot of lately.
posted by TedW at 5:31 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder why they bothered with carriages? The two locomotives could presumably have gone faster and produced a bigger bang on their own.

Steam trains, especially of this era, were very much hands on devices. Although they could go faster than 45 mph, I wonder if they could do it without constant tending and shovelling off coal. The amount of time between the train going slow enough for the crew to jump off and the train getting up to speed will have been significant (they don't accelerate very fast at all) may mean that this was a realistic, easily predictable speed with just 'throw the coal in, throw the switch and get off'.

Of course, it may be just that they had some old carriages lying around, or they thought they'd be easy to relate to for the audience (it looks like a 'proper train crashing' with carriages on) or just that it never occurred to them to take them off. You'd have more debris with carriages, I imagine, as they'd break easier, so maybe that was also a consideration.
posted by Brockles at 6:08 AM on September 18, 2008


A high speed video of a jet hitting a concrete wall at 500mph.
posted by 445supermag at 6:09 AM on September 18, 2008


The article mentioned ads on the side of the cars. More passenger cars means more ad space.
posted by garlic at 8:40 AM on September 18, 2008


So, um, what was the dude expecting to happen?

Things like "The engines had both been completely telescoped, and contrary to experience in such cases, instead of rising in the air from the force of the blow, were just flattened out." and "Two young men and a woman were killed, and at least six other people were seriously injured by flying debris." and "William Crush was fired the evening of the crash /.../" indicate that the event didn't quite go as planned.
posted by effbot at 8:44 AM on September 18, 2008


I wish the Chicago Transit Authority would do this (in the loop) to raise money instead of raising the fares.

(During rush hour.)
posted by heyho at 9:21 AM on September 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Texans have apparently always been the intellects of the country.
posted by goethean at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2008


Ok, I did some quick calculations, and here's how the energy should shake out (IAAPhysicist):

Before the collision, each train carries an energy equal to its kinetic energy (1/2 m v^2) PLUS the energy contained within the boiler (P*(V-15 psi)). After the collision, we may assume neither train was moving; and the boilers having exploded, carried no potential energy within the boiler.

Given some values I looked up on the web for a typical locomotive of 40 tons, travelling 45 mph, carrying 2000 L of steam at 200 psi, this shakes out to 9 MJ per train (that's 18 MJ total). Or in my favorite units, the chemical energy of 9 Big Macs, if you could explode hamburgers.

Incidentally, one train going 90 mph (colliding with a wall) would have released twice as much kinetic energy, but only half as much potential energy. And the kinetic energy of two trains colliding at 45 mph is the same as the kinetic energy of one train at 63 mph.
posted by noble_rot at 1:34 PM on September 18, 2008


Ahem, V*(P-15 psi)
posted by noble_rot at 1:38 PM on September 18, 2008


I'm glad I'm not sensitive else I'd be aghast that the OP is posting as a result of a recent train/red light/possible text messaging mishap in Chatsworth, California.

Nope. I'm not sensitive.

In fact, I believe that the Metrolink and Union Pacific locomotives ended up sharing the same space, similar to, but at a much lower speed, than the Texas Crush.
posted by Man with Lantern at 2:01 PM on September 18, 2008


the....locomotives ended up sharing the same space

They only attempted to occupy the same space; once again the Pauli exclusion principle is writ large.
posted by TedW at 4:52 PM on September 18, 2008


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