Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster:
Created by an Emmy Award winning team, Engineering Tragedy: The Ashtabula Train Disaster will be the first docudrama ever produced on the worst train and bridge disaster of the 19th century; an event that shocked the nation and sparked a national debate on transportation and public safety. The engineering and structural failures that caused the sudden collapse of a bridge that stood for over a decade also took down the most luxurious train of the day: a train that was considered the “Titanic” of its time. The accident that cost the lives of ninety-seven people and injured seventy-five others is not widely known, having been lost in the pages of history.
This docudrama explores the events surrounding the disaster that occurred in Ashtabula, Ohio on December 29, 1876 during a raging blizzard. We will cover the engineering, construction, and collapse of the Ashtabula Bridge, the treacherous conditions that hampered the rescue attempts of trapped passengers, the heroes surrounding this event, including America’s first African-American telegraph operator, and the ensuing investigations that prompted new national safety standards for the railroads. Public outcry also forced states to pass new bridge building and inspection laws that apply even today.
Horror came in many forms including thieves that emerged posing as good samaritans. They pretended to help while at the same time stripped victims of their valuables.
In a strange twist of fate and intrigue, the bridge disaster also became the backdrop to the still unsolved murder of Charles Collins, the railroad’s chief engineer, and contributed to the eventual suicide of millionaire, Amasa Stone, the president of the railroad and engineer who built the Ashtabula Bridge. The owner of the railroad Cornelius Vanderbilt died from shock just three days after hearing about the disaster.