In the late summer of 1890, the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad fired 78 members of the Knights of Labor “for cause,” the cause primarily being that they were union agitators. This action caused 3000 (or 5000, depending on the source) trainmen to go on strike. The trains, of course, continued to be run, and the strike petered out over the course of about six weeks as strikers were replaced.
Late on the night of September 4, 1890, a Montreal-bound sleeper consisting of eight cars and an engine was derailed about four miles south of Greenbush (now known as Rensselaer). “Barring the shaking up of the passengers and the bruising of a half dozen or so, nothing more serious than the wrecking of the train resulted….
“The escape of a large number from death was miraculous. The train … was running at the rate of thirty miles an hour. When the engine struck the obstruction on the track it was lifted upward into the air and the whole train was thrown from the track. The forward part of the engine was suspended in the air, and it looked as though it might topple over into the ditch at any moment. The engineer and fireman both stuck to their posts.
“The first sleeping car contained twenty-two passengers. It slid down the embankment and came to a standstill on its side. None of the passengers in this car was injured except by being bruised. The second coach fared worse than any of the others, turning a complete somersault and landing in the ditch bottom side up. In this car there was only one passenger, Mrs. Jenkins of Brooklyn, the conductor, and a porter. Mrs. Jenkins was at first thought to be seriously injured, but it was afterward found that she was more frightened than hurt.”
There was no question the derailment was intentional. A rail, timbers and plates were arranged so as to lift the train clear off the track, and a similar obstruction was found on the south-bound tracks. Suspicions immediately turned to strikers, as the general superintendent of the railroad said:
“The wreck was clearly the work of the strikers. It seems to me that there is no possibility that it was anything but a deliberate attempt at murder. A reward of $5000 has been offered for the conviction of the wreckers. This has been posted in Albany all day, and printed circulars for every town along the Hudson River are now ready to be sent out. Other means to sift the matter have also been employed, and precautions to protect the trains have been redoubled.”
The specific individuals responsible appear not to have been caught.