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20 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER III.

THE WOLLASTON ACCIDENT.

A LARGE party of excursionists were returning from a rowing match on a special train consisting of two locomotives and twenty-one cars. There had been great delay in getting ready for the return, so that when it neared Wollaston the special was much behind the time assigned for it. Meanwhile a regular freight train had left Boston, going south and occupying the outward track. At Wollaston those in charge of this train had occasion to stop for the purpose of taking up some empty freight cars, which were standing on a siding at that place; and to reach this siding it was necessary for them to cross the inward track, temporarily disconnecting it. The freight train happened to be short-handed, and both its conductor and engineer supposed that the special had reached Boston before they had started out. Accordingly, in direct violation of the rules of the road and with a negligence which admitted

RUNNING THE RISK. 21

of no excuse, they disconnected the inward track in both directions and proceeded to occupy it in the work of shunting, without sending out any signals or taking any precautions to protect themselves or any incoming train. It was after dark, and, though the switches were supplied with danger signals, these were obscured by the glare of the locomotive head-light. Under these circumstances the special neared the spot. What ensued was a curious illustration of those narrow escapes through which, by means of improved appliances or by good luck, railroad accidents do not happen; and an equally curious illustration of those trifling derangements which now and again bring them about. In this case there was no collision, though a freight-train was occupying the inward track in front of the special. There should have been no derailment, though the track was broken at two points. There would have been no accident, had there been no attempt made to avert one. Seeing the head-light of the approaching special, while yet it was half a mile off, the engineer of the freight train realizing the danger had put on all steam, and succeeded, though by a very narrow margin, in getting his locomotive and all the cars attached to it off of the inward track and onto the outward, out of the way of the special. The inward track was thus clear, though broken at two points. The switches at those points were, however, of the safety pattern, and, if they were left alone and did their work, the special would 

22 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

simply leave the main track and pass into the siding, and there be stopped. Unfortunately the switches were not left alone. The conductor of the freight train had caught sight of the head-light of the approaching locomotive at about the same time as the engineer of that train. He seems at once to have realized the possible consequences of his reckless neglect of precautions, and his one thought was to do something to avert the impending disaster. In a sort of dazed condition, he sprang from the freight car on which he was standing and ran to the lever of the siding switch, which he hastened to throw. He apparently did not have time enough within perhaps five seconds. Had he succeeded in throwing it, the train would have gone on to Boston, those upon it simply knowing from the jar they had received in passing over the first frog that a switch had been set wrong. Had he left it alone, the special would have passed into the siding and there been stopped. As it was, the locomotive of the special struck the castings of the switch just when it was half thrown—at the second when it was set neither the one way nor the other—and the wreck followed. It was literally the turning of a hand.

As it approached the point where the disaster occurred the special train was running at a moderate rate of speed, not probably exceeding twenty miles an hour. The engineer of its leading locomotive also perceived his danger in time to signal it and to reverse his engine while yet 700 feet from the point where

NOT THE AUTOMATIC BRAKE. 23

derailment took place. The train-brake was necessarily under the control of the engineer of the second locomotive, but the danger signal was immediately obeyed by him, his locomotive reversed and the brake applied. The train was, however, equipped with the ordinary Westinghouse, and not the improved automatic or self-acting brake of that name. That is, it depended for its efficiency on the perfectness of its parts, and, in case the connecting tubes were broken or the valves deranged, the brake-blocks did not close upon the wheels, as they do under the later improvements made by Westinghouse in his patents, but at best remained only partially set, or in such positions as they were when the parts of the brake were broken. As is perfectly well understood, the original Westinghouse does not work quickly or effectively through more than a certain number of cars. Twelve is generally regarded as the limit of practical simultaneous action. The 700 feet of interval between the point where the brakes were applied and that where the accident occurred,—a distance which, at the rate at which the train was moving, it could hardly have passed over in less than twenty-two seconds,—should have afforded an ample space within which to stop the train. When the derailment took place, however, it was still moving at a considerable rate of speed. Both locomotives, the baggage car and six following passenger cars left the rails. The locomotives, after going a short distance, swung off to the left

24 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

and toppled over, presenting an insuperable barrier to the direct movement of the cars following.

Those cars were of the most approved form of American construction, but here, as at Shipton, the violent application of the train-brakes and reversal of the locomotives had greatly checked the speed of the forward part of the train, while the whole rear of it, comparatively free from brake pressure, was crowding heavily forward. Including its living freight, the entire weight of the train could not have been less than 500 tons. There was no slack between its parts; no opportunity to give. It was a simple question of the resisting power of car construction. Had the train consisted of ten cars instead of twenty-two a recent experience of a not dissimilar accident on this very road affords sufficient evidence of how different the result would have been. On the occasion referred to,—October 13, 1876,—a train consisting of two locomotives and fourteen cars, while rounding a curve before the Randolph station at a speed of thirty miles an hour came in sudden collision with the locomotive of a freight train which was occupying the track, and while doing so, in that case also as at Wollaston, had wholly neglected to protect it. So short was the notice of danger that the speed of the passenger train could not at the moment of collision have been less than twenty miles an hour. The freight train was at the moment fortunately backing, but none the less it was an impassable obstacle. The

HAMMER AND ANVIL. 25

three locomotives were entirely thrown from the track and more or less broken up, and three cars of the passenger train followed them, but the rest of it remained in line and on the rails, and was so entirely uninjured that it was not found necessary to withdraw one of the cars from service for even a single trip. Not a passenger was hurt. This train consisted of fourteen cars: but at Wollaston, the fourteen forward cars were, after the head of the train was derailed, driven onward not only by their own momentum but also by the almost unchecked momentum of eight other cars behind them. The rear of the train did not leave the rails and was freely moving along them. By itself it must have weighed over 200 tons. The result was inevitable. Something had to yield; and the six forward cars were accordingly either thrown wholly to the one side or the other, or crushed between the two locomotives and the rear of the train. Two of them in fact were reduced into a mere mass of fragments. The disaster resulted in the death of 19 persons, while a much greater number were injured, more than 50 seriously. In this as in most other railroad disasters the surprising thing was that the list of casualties was not larger. Looking at the position of the two cars crushed into fragments it seemed almost impossible that any person in them could have escaped alive. Indeed that they did so was largely due to the fact that the season for car-warming had not yet arrived, while, in some way impossible to

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explain, all four of the men in charge of the locomotives, though flung violently through the air into the trees and ditch at the side of the road were neither stunned nor seriously injured. They were consequently able, as soon as they could gather themselves up, to take the measures necessary to extinguish the fires in their locomotives which otherwise would speedly have spread to the debris of the train. Had they not done so nothing could have saved the large number of passengers confined in the shattered cars.


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