DISASTER: The Trestle at Woodbridge

South and west of New York City, the Jersey Meadows stretch desolately. On the flat, salt-soaked tidelands, the reed grass is sharp-edged and bitter, and around its roots, the soot is thick in the spongy soil. Freight trains chuff across the flatlands; across them, too, each day, rumble the gritty, hard-seated trains of the Jersey Central and the prosperous Pennsylvania's Bay Head line, carrying commuters to the trim farms and tidy suburbs of New Jersey's shore towns.

Last week dusk had shrouded the flatlands as the Pennsylvania's 5:10 express (the Broker) pulled out of Jersey City, crowded with standees. Veteran...