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12 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER II.

THE ANGOLA AND SHIPTON ACCIDENTS.

On the day of the Angola accident the eastern bound express train over the Lake Shore road, as it was then called, consisted of a locomotive, four baggage, express and mail cars, an emigrant and three first-class passenger coaches. It was timed to pass Angola, a small way station in the extreme western part of New York, at 1:30 P.M. without stopping; but on the day in question it was .two hours and forty-five minutes late, and was consequently running rapidly. A third of a mile east of the station there is a shallow stream, known as Big Sister creek, flowing in the bottom of a ravine the western side of which rises abruptly to the level of the track, while on the eastern side there is a gradual ascent of some forty or fifty rods. This ravine was spanned by a deck bridge of 160 feet in length, at the east end of which was an abutment of mason work some fifty feet long connecting with

"THE ANGOLA HORROR." 13

an embankment beyond. It subsequently appeared that the forward axle in the rear truck of the rear car was slightly bent. The defect was not perceptible to the eye, but in turning round the space between the flanges of the wheels of that axle varied by three-fourths of an inch. As long as the car was travelling on an unbroken track, or as long as the wheels did not strike any break in the track at their narrowest point, this slight bend in the axle was of no consequence. There was a frog in the track, however, at a distance of 600 feet east of the Angola station, and it so happened that a wheel of the defective axle struck this frog in such a way as to make it jump the track. The rear car was instantly derailed. From the frog to the bridge was some 1200 feet. With the appliances then in use the train could not be stopped in this space, and the car was dragged along over the ties, swaying violently from side to side just before the bridge was reached the car next to the last was also thrown from the track, and in this way, and still moving at considerable speed, the train went onto the bridge. It was nearly across when the last car toppled off and fell on the north side close to the abutment. The car next to the rear, more fortunate, was dragged some 270 feet further, so that when it broke loose it simply slid some thirty feet down the embankment. Though this car was badly wrecked, but a single person in it was killed. His death was a very singular one. Before the car

14 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

separated from the train, its roof broke in two transversely; through the fissure thus made this unfortunate passenger was partly flung, and it then instantly closed upon him.

The other car had fallen fifty feet, and remained resting on its side against the abutment with one end inclined sharply downward. It was mid-winter and cold, and, as was the custom then, the car was heated by two iron stoves, placed one at each end, in which wood was burned. It was nearly full of passengers. Naturally they all sprang from their seats in terror and confusion as their car left the rails, so that when it fell from the bridge and violently struck on one of its ends, they were precipitated in an inextricable mass upon one of the overturned stoves, while the other fell upon them from above. A position more horrible could hardly be imagined. Few, if any, were probably killed outright. Some probably were suffocated; the greatest number were undoubtedly burned to death. Of those in that car three only escaped; forty-one are supposed to have perished.

This was a case of derailment aggravated by fire. It is safe to say that with the improved appliances since brought into use, it would be most unlikely to now occur under precisely the same circumstances on any well-equipped or carefully operated road. Derailments, of course, by broken axles or wheels are always possible, but the catastrophe at Angola was primarily due to the utter inability of those on

THE STOVE PERIL. 15

the train to stop it, or even greatly to check its speed within any reasonable distance. Before it finally stood still the locomotive was half a mile from the frog and 1,500 feet from the bridge. Thus, when the rear cars were off the track, the speed and distance they were dragged gave them a lateral and violently swinging motion, which led to the final result. Though under similar circumstances now this might not happen, there is no reason why, circumstances being varied a little, the country should not again during any winter day be shocked by another Angola sacrifice. Certainly, so far as the danger from fire is concerned, it is an alarming fact that it is hardly less in 1879 than it was in 1867. This accumulative horror is, too, one of the distinctive features of American railroad accidents. In other countries holocausts like those at Versailles in 1842 and at Abergele in 1868 have from time to time taken place. They are, however, occasioned in other ways, and, as their occurrence is not regularly challenged by the most risky possible of interior heating apparatus, are comparatively infrequent. The passenger coaches used on this side of the Atlantic, with their light wood-work heavily covered with paint and varnish, are at best but tinder-boxes. The presence in them of stoves, hardly fastened to the floor and filled with burning wood and coal, involves a degree of risk which no one would believe ever could willingly be incurred, but for the fact that it is. No invention yet appears to have wholly met the requirements of 

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the case. That they will be met, and the fearful possibility which now hangs over the head of every traveller by rail, that he may suddenly find himself doomed without possibility of escape to be roasted alive, will be at least greatly reduced hardly admits of question.

Turning now from the American to the English accident, it is singular to note how under very similar circumstances much the same fatality resulted from wholly different causes. It happened on the day immediately preceding Christmas, and every train which at that holiday season leaves London is densely packed, for all England seems then to gather away from its cities to the country hearths. Accordingly, the ten o'clock London express on the Great Western Railway, when it left Oxford that morning, was made up of no less than fifteen passenger carriages and baggage vans, drawn by two powerful locomotives and containing nearly three hundred passengers. About seven miles north of Oxford, as the train, moving at a speed of some thirty to forty miles an hour, was rounding a gentle curve in the approach to the bridge over the little river Cherwell, the tire of one of the wheels of the passenger coach next behind the locomotive broke, throwing it off the track. For a short distance it was dragged along in its place; but almost immediately those in charge of the locomotives noticed that something was wrong, and, most naturally and with the very best of intensions, they instantly did the very worst thing

SHIPTON-ON-CHERWELL. 17

which under the circumstances it was in their power to do,—they applied their brakes and reversed their engines; their single thought was to stop the train. With the train equipped as it was, however, had these men, instead of crowding on their brakes and reversing their engines, simply shut off their steam and by a gentle application of the brakes checked the speed gradually and so as to avoid any strain on the couplings, the carriages would probably have held together and remained upon the road-bed. Instead of this, however, the sudden checking of the two ponderous locomotives converted them into an anvil, as it were, upon which the unfortunate leading carriage already off the rails was crushed under the weight and impetus of those behind it. The train instantly zig-zagged in every direction under the pressure, the couplings which connected it together snapping, and the carriages, after leaving the rails to the right and left and running down the embankment of about thirteen feet in height, came to a stand-still at last, several of them in the reverse order from that which they had held while in the train. The first carriage was run over and completely destroyed; the five rear ones were left alone upon the roadbed, and of these two only were on the rails; of the ten which went down the embankment, two were demolished. In this disaster thirty-four passengers lost their lives, and sixty-five others, besides four employees of the company, were injured.

At the time it occurred the Shipton accident was

 

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the subject of a good deal of discussion, and both the brake system and method of car construction in use on English roads were sharply criticised. It was argued, and apparently with much reason, that had the "locomotives and cars been equipped with the continuous train-brakes so generally in use in America, the action of the engine drivers would have checked at the same instant the speed of each particular car, and probably any serious accident would have been averted." Yet it required another disaster, not so fatal as that at Shipton-on-Cherwell but yet sufficiently so, to demonstrate that this was true only in a limited degree,—to further illustrate and enforce the apparently obvious principle that, no matter how heavy the construction may be, or what train-brake is in use, to insure safety the proportion between the resisting strength of car construction and the train-weight momentum to which it may be subjected must be carefully preserved.

On this point of the resisting power of modern car construction, indeed, it seemed as if a result had been reached which did away with the danger of longitudinal crushing. Between 1873 and 1878 a series of accidents had occurred on the American roads of which little was heard at the time for the simple reason that they involved no loss of life, they belonged in the great category of possible disasters which might have happened, had they not been prevented. Trains going in opposite directions and at full speed had come in collision

MOMENTUM vs. RESISTING STRENGTH. 19

while rounding curves; trains had run into earth-slides, and had been suddenly stopped by derailment; in every such case, however, the Westinghouse brake and the Miller car construction had, when in use, proved equal to the emergency and the passengers on the trains had escaped uninjured. The American mechanic had accordingly grown firm in his belief that, so far as any danger from the crushing of cars was concerned,—unless indeed they were violently thrown down an embankment or precipitated into an abyss,—the necessary resisting strength had been secured and the problem practically solved. That such was not the case in America in 1878 any more than in England in 1875, except within certain somewhat narrow limits, was unexpectedly proven by a disaster which occurred at Wollaston near Boston, on the Old Colony road, upon the evening of October 8, 1878.


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