Engineering News, November 21, 1895

The most serious accident which has ever occurred on the Brooklyn Bridge cable railway was a rear collision soon after 7 a.m. on Nov. 19, during a heavy fog. Under the present method of operating, trains arriving at the Brooklyn end at this time of the morning stop on the curve where the old station was situated, and the switch engine which has just pushed out a train for New York to the point where the trains take the cable, comes over on a cross-over, backs on to the standing train from New York, and pulls it into the new Brooklyn station, which is just beyond the old one. All trains for Brooklyn release the cable on the down grade of the approach, and run by gravity to the station, and, except in the early morning, run round the curve at the bottom and into the new station. There is a signal at the end of the bridge structure, where the bridge joins the approach, and this is operated from a switch tower at the foot of the grade; and during fogs three men with lamps and flags are stationed between the tower and the signal.

The first of the two trains under consideration ran slowly down the grade beyond the signal, the conductor on the front car having been warned by a policeman on the roadway that the trains were running somewhat irregularly on account of the fog. This train stopped on the curve at the foot of the grade, close to the tower, waiting for the switch engine to back up and haul it on into the station. At the same time a flagman on the track at the switch tower started back with a red lamp to signal the following train. This next train, composed of four cars, was about 1,500 ft. behind the first train, the trains running at 1¾ minutes headway at that time of the day, and the speed being 10 miles per hour. Owing to the fog, the man at the tower could not toll that the first train had passed the signal until the train had reached the tower, and the signal was therefore left showing a clear track while the train was coming down the grade between the signal and the tower. During this interval the next train approached, and, finding a white light at the signal, the grips were released and the train ran at a good speed down the grade. The man who had gone back from the tower and the first fog man both showed red lights, but the fog was so dense that the conductor on the front of the train did not see them until he was close upon them, when he applied the vacuum-brake and rang the bell for the other men to apply the brakes on their respective cars (the brake not being operated continuously as yet, although the cars are fitted with hose connections). The space interval was too short, however, to enable the train to be stopped, and it struck the standing train with considerable force, the platform of the front car of the running train climbing upon and sliding over the platform of the rear car of the standing train. This latter train was nearly empty, but the rear conductor and a passenger were standing on the rear platform. The door was open, but they had not time to jump inside the car, and were caught in the wreck. The conductor had both legs cut off by the platform, and was thrown back into the middle of the car, while the passenger had one foot crushed and was pinned against the end of the car. Both men died soon after being removed from the wreck, and it is noted that this is the first case of a passenger having been killed in a train accident on the bridge, although about 400,000,000 passengers have been carried during the 12½ years since its opening.

Two precautionary measures will now be taken to prevent the recurrence of such an accident. In the first place, an electric track connection will be placed about a train length in advance of the signal above referred to, so that as soon as the rear of a train has passed that signal a bell will be rung in the tower, and the towerman will at once throw the signal to danger. In the second place, while trains are stopped outside the station, more switch engines will be kept in service, so that there will always be an engine ready to take on the train, instead of the train having to wait for the engine which has pushed out an outgoing train. It may be noted that the cable does not extend into either the Brooklyn or the New York station, the trains being hauled out at the rear of the station from the arrival platform, and pushed back to the departure platform and then pushed on farther to the point where the cable is picked up. This switching is now done by steam locomotives, but electric traction is to be experimented with for this purpose.

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