Near the whistle-stop of Buies, N.C., a rail snapped. Couplings shook, cars teetered, the train jerked to a stop. The last three cars of the Atlantic Coast Line's Florida-bound Tamiami West Coast Champion were derailed, left hanging, tentatively, at a 45° angle over the northbound track.

Outside, a sleet storm had stopped, but the night air was cold—bitter cold for North Carolina. Some passengers climbed out and up the sleet-crusted embankments, but most stayed in the train. Two southbound freight trains screeched to a halt behind the wreck. One man had been killed.

If this had been all that...

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