The Congressional Limited was passing through Philadelphia on the way from Washington to New York City, on Sept. 6, 1943, when it happened: an engine man, LIFE reported, “saw smoke and flame shooting from a journal box (housing for the end of an axle) on the seventh coach.” Though he tried to notify a signal man fast enough to get a warning light posted, it was too late. The Congressional broke apart as the wheel tore off the axle, causing a train wreck that led to dozens of deaths.
On Wednesday, in the wake of another disastrous train wreck in Philadelphia, attention has turned once again to that earlier tragedy, the aftermath of which photographer Ralph Morse covered for LIFE.
Read more about the wreck of the Congressional here
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.