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66 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER VII.

TELEGRAPHIC COLLISIONS.

AND yet, even with the wires in active use, collisions will occasionally take place. They have sometimes, indeed, even been caused by the telegraph, so that railroad officials at two adjacent stations on the same road, having launched trains at each other beyond recall, have busied themselves while waiting for tidings of the inevitable collision in summoning medical assistance for those sure soon to be injured. In such cases, however, the mishap can almost invariably be traced to some defect in the system under which the telegraph is used ;-such as a neglect to exact return messages to insure accuracy, or the delegating to inexperienced subordinates the work which can be properly performed only by a principal. This was singularly illustrated in a terrible collision which took place at Thorpe, between Norwich and Great Yarmouth, on the Great Eastern Railway in England, on the 10th of September,

THE COLLISION AT THORPE 67

1874. The line had in this place but a single track, and the mail train to Norwich, under the rule, had to wait at a station called Brundell until the arrival there of the evening express from Yarmouth, or until it received permission by the telegraph to proceed. On the evening of the disaster the express train was somewhat behind its time, and the inspector wrote a dispatch directing the mail to come forward without waiting for it. This dispatch he left in the telegraph office unsigned, while he went to attend to other matters. just then the express train came along, and he at once allowed it to proceed. Hardly was it under way when the unsigned dispatch occurred to him, and the unfortunate man dashed to the telegraph office only to learn that the operator had forwarded it. Under the rules of the company no return message was required. A second dispatch was instantly sent to Brundell to stop the mail; the reply came back that the mail was gone. A collision was inevitable.

The two trains were of very equal weight, the one consisting of fourteen and the other of thirteen carriages. They were both drawn by powerful locomotives, the drivers of which had reason for putting on an increased speed, believing, as each had cause to believe, that the other was waiting for him. The night was intensely dark and it was raining heavily, so that, even if the brakes were applied, the wheels would slide along the slippery track. Under these circumstances the two trains rushed upon each 

68 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

other around a slight curve which sufficed to conceal their head-lights. The combined momentum must have amounted to little less than sixty miles an hour, and the shock was heard through all the neighboring village. The smoke-stack of the locomotive drawing the mail train was swept away as the other locomotive seemed to rush on top of it, while the carriages of both trains followed until a mound of locomotives and shattered cars was formed which the descending torrents alone hindered from becoming a funeral pyre. So sudden was the collision that the driver of one of the engines did not apparently have an opportunity to shut off the steam, and his locomotive, though forced from the track and disabled, yet remained some time in operation in the midst of the wreck. In both trains, very fortunately, there were a number of empty cars between the locomotives and the carriages in which the passengers were seated, and they were utterly demolished; but for this fortunate circumstance the Thorpe collision might well have proved the most disastrous of all railroad accidents. As it was, the men on both the locomotives were instantly killed, together with seventeen passengers, and four other passengers subsequently died of their injuries; making a total of twenty-five deaths, besides fifty cases of injury.

It would be difficult to conceive of a more violent collision than that which has just been described; and yet, as curiously illustrating the rapidity with

THE TYRONE COLLISION. 69

which the force of the most severe shock is expended, it is said that two gentlemen in the last carriage of one of the trains, finding it at a sudden standstill close to the place to which they were going, supposed it had stopped for some unimportant cause and concluded to take advantage of a happy chance which left them almost at the doors of their homes. They accordingly got out and hurried away in the rain, learning only the next morning of the catastrophe in which they had been unconscious participants.

The collision at Thorpe occurred in September, 1874. Seven months later, on the 4th of April, 1875, there was an accident similar to it in almost every respect, except fatality, on the Burlington & Missouri road in Iowa. In this case the operator at Tyrone had telegraphic orders to hold the east-bound passenger express at that point to meet the west-bound passenger express. This order he failed to deliver, and the train accordingly at once went on to the usual passing place at the next station. It was midnight and intensely dark, with a heavy mist in the air which at times thickened to rain. Both of the trains approaching each other were made up in the way usual with through night trains on the great western lines, and consisted of locomotives, baggage and smoking cars, behind which were the ordinary passenger cars of the company followed by several heavy Pullman sleeping coaches. Those in charge of the east-bound

70 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

train, knowing that it was behind time, were running it rapidly, so as to delay as little as possible the west-bound train, which, having received the order to pass at Tyrone was itself being run at speed. Both trains were thus moving at some thirty-five miles an hour, when suddenly in rounding a sharp curve they came upon each other. Indeed so close were they that the west-bound engineer had no time in which to reverse, but, jumping straight from the gangway, he afterwards declared that the locomotives came together before he reached the ground. The engineer of the eastbound train succeeded both in reversing his locomotive and in applying his airbrake, but after reversal the throttle flew open. The trains came together, therefore, as at Thorpe, with their momentum practically unchecked, and with such force that the locomotives were completely demolished, the boilers of the two, though on the same line of rails, actually, in some way, passing each other. The baggage-cars were also destroyed, and the smoking cars immediately behind them were more or less damaged, but the remaining coaches of each train stood upon the tracks so wholly uninjured that four hours later, other locomotives having been procured but the track being still blocked, the passengers were transferred from one set of cars to the other, and in them were carried to their destinations. So admirably did Miller's construction serve its purpose in this case, that, while the superintendent of the road, who happened to be in the

THE MILLER PLATFORM. 71

rear sleeping car of one of the trains, merely reported that he "felt the shock quite sensibly," passengers in the rear coaches of the other train hardly felt it at all.

At Tyrone the wrecks of the trains caught fire from the stoves thrown out of the baggage cars and from the embers from the fire-boxes of the locomotives, but the flames were speedily extinguished. Of the train hands three were killed and two injured, but no passenger was more than shaken or slightly bruised. This was solely due to strength of car construction. Heavy as the shock was,—so heavy that in the similar case at Thorpe the carriages were crushed like nut-shells under it,—the resisting power was equal to it. The failure of appliances at one point in the operation of the road was made good by their perfection at another.


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