On November 6, 1944, Puerto Rico celebrated the victory of the Democratic Party on the Election Day. Among the festivities during that festive evening, a show of fireworks took over the clear and radiant sky.
During those times, the rail system was the most popular medium of transportation, connecting by train the metropolitan area with the cities of the island, as many traveled to vote in San Juan.
On the early hours of November 7, at 2:00 in the morning, the last train (#3), stopped at the Jiménez Station in Aguadilla for an inspection. The conductor of the train, José Antonio Román exchanged with train #4. Even though he was a qualified freight train engineer, he didn’t have any experience as a passenger conductor.
Approximately twenty minutes after the maintenance routine, the train left the station to continue its route to Ponce, carrying travelers to their different hometowns. At 2:20 in the morning, hauling six passenger cars with hundreds of commuters and two freight cars, the train started to descend a hill section known as Cuesta Vieja (Old Hill) in Aguadilla. Witnesses stated that the speed was so fast; derailing the train when it reached the leveling-off point at the bottom of the hill. The steam locomotive crashed into a ditch, exploding and killing many inside.
The tragic scene reported one of the most horrendous and violent accidents in the history of Puerto Rico and the worst in Aguadilla. Witnesses described some frightened and desperate parents throwing their children through the train windows, pledging to save their kids just minutes before the locomotive suffered a terrible explosion.
The impact of the heartbreaking tragedy was so powerful that three passenger cars were converted into a dune of debris, killing 16 passengers, including the engineer that was conducting the train and reported 50 people injured in the crash.
Even though I wasn’t alive to eyewitness this calamity, several people told me that instead of celebrating the victory, the island was mourning the terrible accident. In Aguadilla and near towns, everybody joined forces and offered support to the relatives of the victims that were in train #3. The dreadful tears that took place in that early morning touched many hearts, making room for the warmth and the love that Puerto Ricans shared with each other.
Every time I walked through La Cuesta Vieja, surrounded by a deep blue bay of crystal waters, I imagined all those people who unexpectedly died in such an awful way. Even though train #3 never arrived at its destination, compassion and sadness filled the atmosphere of Aguadilla, wanting to show the island that the heart of the Boricuas is as big in kindness as the loveliness of the charming town.