Scientific American—January 16, 1886


The train on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad which left Boston at 10:30 P.M. on Saturday, December 26 last, was partially wrecked at Pelhamville, a little station 16 miles from this city. The fireman was killed; the engineer and three of the seven mail clerks were seriously injured, while the passengers escaped with more or less severe bruises. The engine, tender, and mail car were thrown down the embankment, but the rest of the train remained on top, although entirely derailed, with the exception of the forward truck of the baggage car.

The accident is one of the most novel in the records of railroad disasters, owing to the causes leading to it, and the small loss of life, when we consider all the conditions. That an express train traveling at the rate of forty miles an hour should strike such an obstacle as this one did and yet escape total destruction borders upon the marvelous.

Running along the west track, which is the one used by incoming trains, on the north side of the Pelhamville depot, was a platform, 6 feet wide and 100 feet long, made up of thick boards laid crosswise upon two heavy stringers. One of the stringers rested on the ground by the side of the track, while the other rested on posts driven in the sloping side of the bank. These posts were about two feet out of the ground, in order to make the platform level. It appears that the stringers were not fastened in any way to the posts, and to this oversight the accident was directly due.

The contour of the country in the neighborhood of Pellhamville is such that when the wind is from the northwest it passes between two hills and sweeps down on the high embankment which crosses a creek below the station. Upon the night of the accident, the wind blew from the northwest with terrific force; it struck the slope of the embankment, and was deflected upward and beneath the platform, which it raised, turned completely over, and dropped upon the incoming track, as shown in Fig. 1. This structure of heavy timbers securely put together, 100 feet long, and wide enough to cover both rails, formed the obstruction struck by the train.

The locomotive splintered the platform, throwing large pieces a considerable distance each side of the track, and at about 300 feet from the station it tore the outer rail up, left the track, and rolled down the slope. The tender went further than the locomotive, while the mail car went further still, rolled part way down the slope, turned over, and stopped as shown in the second figure, which is a general view of the wreck immediately after the accident.

The condition of the engine and tender and their positions at the foot of the embankment are shown plainly in the large engraving. That the engine was not more thoroughly destroyed, after its rough treatment, proves the superior excellence of the material used and the skill attained by American locomotive builders. All things considered, it held together and reached the end of its short trip in a remarkably well preserved state.

That the baggage car, smoking car, Mann boudoir car, and the two sleepers did not leave the top of the hill, although derailed, is probably due solely to the fact that none of the couplings gave way. Had the connections broken, the results, lamentable enough as they were, would undoubtedly have been many times more serious. The two sleeping cars were turned partly over. The passengers of course escaped with only the bruises caused by the jolting of the cars when running over the ties.

The point most prominently and clearly brought forth by this accident is, that the effects of wind pressure should be provided for at every exposed section of a railroad. In high structures, such as viaducts and bridges, it enters of necessity into the problem. But in cases like the present, where there is no precedent, it receives little or no attention. Anything so near a road, and of such a character, that it might be possible for a high wind to blow it upon the track, should be made absolutely secure. The fact that this platform bad withstood the gales of several winters is no excuse for leaving it unsecured to the posts upon which it rested.

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