James M. Goode

Capital Losses

The Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station

The Wreck of the Old 97

Another historic event began at the Baltimore and Potomac Station in 1903 when engineer Joseph B. Broady left the station on an ill-fated trip to Atlanta, immortalized in the famous ballad “The Wreck of the Old 97.” No. 97, an express train exclusively carrying mail from Washington to Atlanta, usually left the Baltimore and Potomac Station at 8 A.M. daily. Its 640-mile run in twenty-two hours was considered to be one of the fastest schedules in the South. Because the federal government subsidized the express run with $140,000 annually, the railroad was required to pay a fine each time the train reached Atlanta off schedule. On September 27, 1903, the “97” was delayed in the station for one hour because of a late “fast-mail” train arriving in Washington from the north. In order to make up for the delay, Broady pushed the engine to its maximum, but it could not make the steep curve on the railroad bridge entering Danville, Virginia. The entire train jumped the track and fell 100 feet below at 2:18 P.M., leaving the engineer, two coalmen, and seven mail clerks dead in the twisted metal. Soon afterward, the “97” run was canceled as too dangerous, and the ballad of “The Wreck of the Old 97” has become a part of the American musical heritage.

The Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, Capital Losses, by James M. Goode, 1981, page 414.