50 years since Illinois Central Train: A survivor shares her story


CHICAGO — Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the deadliest train crash in Chicago’s history. 

Forty five people were killed in the Illinois Central Train crash on October 30, 1972.

Louise Lawarre was among more than 300 injured. At the time, she was headed to work.

“I got on my train with my book. I was reading ‘Two Towers,” she said.

Lawarre sat in the balcony of the last car of train #416. The train overshot the platform at the 27th Street Station near the old Michael Reese Hospital on Chicago’s South Side. The train stopped and started to back up around a curve. It’s the last thing Lawarre remembers. She woke up in the emergency room. She doesn’t know who got her out or how, but she has connected with other survivors. Some described being trapped for hours among dead bodies in the wreckage.

The crash led to industry reforms but Lawarre says the lives lost cannot be forgotten.

“It’s always been important to remember and we have as a family always called it my ‘I’m glad I didn’t die day,’” she said. “But not everyone was able to continue to have that so I can’t take my survival for granted.”

The city of Chicago is declaring October 30 an official day of remembrance. And Lawarre wants a permanent memorial built to honor the victims

“Recognizing collectively, (the) city needs to remember lost citizens and the lessons learned,” she said. “We can’t forget. We have to continue to remember.”

Fifty years later, Lawarre and her husband now live in Ohio where she is passionate about fighting for social justice. They have five children and several grandchildren. And she says she turned the lifelong questions over why she survived into “What can I do?”

“My life has to mean something so I think that it has,” she said.

The names of the victims will be read during A memorial service Sunday starting at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago in Hyde Park.

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