Bibliografia Ferroviaria Italiana
Articolo tratto da: The Yankee Boomer - Londra, 9 marzo 1944, pagine 1-2
509 ITALIAN CIVILIANS KILLED BY FUMES
More than 500 Italians lost their lives last Friday in what was probably the most unusual and the most ghastly catastrophe in the history of world railroading.
They died, 509 of them, peacefully and without ever knowing what was happening to them, as the freight train on which all but the crew were unbidden guests stalled in the depths of a tunnel, and the locomotive poured lethal fumes into the damp darkness.
Searching parties who struggled into the approximately two-mile-long bore through a lonely mountain stretch of southern Italy to see what was delaying the train found the victims lying and sitting about as if asleep. There had been no panic, no struggle for life.
They had simply grown drowsy, drifted into unconsciousness and died while they wondered what was causing the train to halt.
News Slow in Arriving
Because the mammoth tragedy occurred in a desolate and isolated stretch of countryside, it was a ful day before reports reached the outside, and even last night many details were lacking.
It was known, however, that the train was all-Italian as to crew and passengers. Barring the off chance that the body of a straggler would be found as the macabre task of clearing the tunnel progressed, no Allied military personnel perished.
First reports of headquarters of the Miliatry Railway Service, which supervises all schedules on the Italian State Railways in Allied hands but had no actual hand in the operation of this particular train, indicated that only one crew member had escaped from beneath the mountain. This was a fireman on the locomotive.
Reuter's news service said some fifty persons were hospitalized. Reuter's put the death toll at 502.
Gray orders investigation
Brig. Gen. Carl R. Gray, Jr., Director General of MRS, immediately appointed an investigating board headed by Lt. Col. Fred W. Okie, commanding officer of the 727th Railway Operating Battalion, to report on the accident. The board contained both American and Italian railway personnel.
General Gray, in a formal statement, characterized the tragedy as one of “the most regrettable and the most unusual” in his experience of railroading. Pending the report from his board, he declined to discuss possible causes.
Railroad officials pointed out that a large preponderance of empties in the freight car string brought the death rate to such a huge figure. There were thirty-three empties in the train.
Kind-hearted Italian train crews, not burdered with responsibility for valuable military freight as are the MRS crews who haul Allied supplies, may have looked the other way as the hordes of refugees and ex-Italian soldier filled the empties at stops before the tunnel was reached.
Or they may have been unable to cope with the rush. The train's schedule called for a stop in a yards not far before the tunnel point of entry, and it was dark when that stop was made. Since only the fireman appears to have survived out of the entire train crew, the crew's responsibility for the ticketless passengers may never be definitely fixed.
What caused the train to stall in the tunnel was not immediately apparent. Railroad men said, however, that the train was on a upgrade. The fireman may have been down on the “deck” to avoid the worst of the exhaust gases and hence not kept up sufficient steam, or else the wheels may have commenced slipping and the engineer may have been too overcome to correct the situation before it was too late.
The accident recalls a similar one recently in which an Italian locomotive fireman died. In that particular accident, the engineer, the rest of the crew, and several passengers owed their lives to the coolness and efficiency of an American MRS train crew.
As in Friday's catastrophe, the Italian Crew of a locomotive were overcome by tunnel gases, but the Americans in the cab with the ferrovieri brought the engine out. The they managed to revive all but the firemen. Among the passengers they saved were two Italians nuns