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72 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER VIII.

OIL-TANK ACCIDENTS.

SIMILAR in some of its more dramatic features to the Versailles accident, though originating from a wholly different cause, was the Abergele disaster, which at the time occupied the attention of the British public to the exclusion of everything else. It occurred in 1868, and to the "Irish mail," perhaps the most famous train which is run in England, if, indeed, not in the world. Leaving London shortly after 7 A.M., the Irish mail was then timed to make the distance to Chester, 166 miles, in four hours and eighteen minutes, or at the rate of 40 miles an hour. For the next 85 miles, completing the run to Holyhead, the speed was somewhat increased, two hours and five minutes only being allowed for it. Abergele is a point on the sea-coast of Wales, nearly midway between Chester and Holyhead. On the day of the accident, August 20, 1868, the Irish mail left Chester as usual. It was made up of thirteen

THE ABERGELE ACCIDENT 73

carriages in all, which were occupied, as the carriages of that train usually were, by a large number of persons whose names at least were widely known. Among these, on this particular occasion, was the Duchess of Abercorn, wife of the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with five children. Under the running arrangements of the London & North Western road a freight, or as it is there called a goods train, left Chester half an hour before the mail, and was placed upon the siding at Llanddulas, a station about a mile and a half beyond Abergele, to allow the mail to pass. From Abergele to Llanddulas the track ascended by a gradient of some sixty feet to the mile. On the day of the accident it chanced that certain wagons between the engine and the rear end of the goods train had to be taken out to be left at Llanddulas, and in doing this it became necessary to separate the train and to leave five or six of the last wagons in it standing on the tracks of the main line, while those which were to be left were backed onto a siding. The employee, whose duty it was, neglected to set the brakes on the wagons thus left standing, and consequently when the engine and the rest of the train returned for them, the moment they were touched and before a coupling could be effected, the jar set them in motion down the incline towards Abergele. They started so slowly that a brakeman of the train ran after them, fully expecting to catch and stop them, but as they went down the grade they soon out

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stripped him and it became clear that there was nothing to check them until they should meet the Irish mail, then almost due. It also chanced that the cars thus set in motion were oil cars.

The track of the North Western road between Abergele and Llanddulas runs along the sides of the picturesque Welsh hills, which rise up to the south, while to the north there stretches out a wide expanse of sea. The mail train was skirting the hills and laboring up the grade at a speed of thirty miles an hour, when its engineer suddenly became aware of the loose wagons coming down upon it around the curve, and then but a few yards off. Seeing that they were oil cars he almost instinctively sprang from his locomotive, and was thrown down by the impetus and rolled to the side of the roadbed. Picking himself up, bruised but not seriously hurt, he saw that the collision had already taken place, that the tender had ridden directly over the engine, that the colliding cars were demolished, and that the foremost carriages of the train were already on fire. Running quickly to the rear of the train he succeeded in uncoupling six carriages and a van, which were drawn away from the rest, before the flames extended to them, by an engine which most fortunately was following the train. All the other carriages were utterly destroyed, and every person in them perished.

The Abergele was probably the solitary instance of a railroad accident in which but a single survivor

DEATH WITHOUT A STRUGGLE. 75

sustained any injury. There was no maiming. It was death or entire escape. The collision was not a particularly severe one, and the engineer of the mail train especially stated that at the moment it occurred the loose cars were still moving so slowly that he would not have sprung from his engine had he not seen that they were loaded with oil. The very instant the collision took place, however, the fluid seemed to ignite and to flash along the train like lightning, so that it was impossible to approach a carriage when once it caught fire. The fact was that the oil in vast quantities was spilled upon the track and ignited by the fire of the locomotive, and then the impetus of the mail train forced all of its leading carriages into the dense mass of smoke and flame. All those who were present concurred in positively stating that not a cry, nor a moan, nor a sound of any description was heard from the burning carriages, nor did any one in them apparently make an effort to escape.

The most graphic description of this extraordinary and terrible catastrophe was that given by the Marquis of Hamilton, the eldest son of the Duke of Abercorn whose wife and family, fortunately for themselves, occupied one of those rear carriages which were unshackled and saved. In this account the Marquis of Hamilton said:— We were startled by a collision and a shock which, though not very severe, were sufficient to throw every one against his opposite neighbor. I immediately jumped out

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of the carriage, when a fearful sight met my view. Already the whole of the three passengers' carriages in front of ours, the vans, and the engine were enveloped in dense sheets of flame and smoke, rising fully twenty feet high, and spreading out in every direction. It was the work of an instant. No words can convey the instantaneous nature of the explosion and conflagration. I had actually got out almost before the shock of the collision was over, and this was the spectacle which already presented itself. Not a sound, not a scream, not a struggle to escape, not a movement of any sort was apparent in the doomed carriages. It was as though an electric flash had at once paralyzed and stricken every one of their occupants. So complete was the absence of any presence of living or struggling life in them that as soon as the passengers from the other parts of the train were in some degree recovered from their first shock and consternation, it was imagined that the burning carriages were destitute of passengers; a hope soon changed into feelings of horror when their contents of charred and mutilated remains were discovered an hour afterward. From the extent, however, of the flames, the suddenness of the conflagration, and the absence of any power to extricate themselves, no human aid would have been of any assistance to the sufferers, who, in all probability, were instantaneously suffocated by the black and fetid smoke peculiar to paraffine, which rose in volumes around the spreading flames."

THE VICTIMS' JEWELRY. 77

Though the collision took place before one o'clock, in spite of the efforts of a large gang of men who were kept throwing water on the tracks, the perfect sea of flame which covered the line for a distance of some forty or fifty yards could not be extinguished until nearly eight o'clock in the evening; for the petroleum had flowed down into the ballasting of the road, and the rails themselves were red-hot. It was therefore small occasion for surprise that, when the fire was at last gotten under, the remains of those who lost their lives were in some cases wholly undistinguishable, and in others almost so. Among the thirty-three victims of the disaster the body of no single one retained any traces of individuality; the faces of all were wholly destroyed, and in no case were there found feet, or legs, or anything at all approaching to a perfect head. Ten corpses were finally identified as those of males, and thirteen as those of females, while the sex of ten others could not be determined. The body of one passenger, Lord Farnham, was identified by the crest on his watch; and, indeed, no better evidence of the wealth and social position of the victims of this accident could have been asked for than the collection of articles found on its site. It included diamonds of great size and singular brilliancy; rubies, opals, emeralds, gold tops of smelling-bottles, twenty-four watches, of which but two or three were not gold, chains, clasps of bags, and very many bundles of keys. Of these the diamonds

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alone had successfully resisted the intense heat of the flame; the settings were nearly all destroyed.

Of the causes of this accident little need or can be said. No human appliances, no more ingenious brakes or increased strength of construction, could have averted it or warded off its consequences once it was inevitable. It was occasioned primarily by two things, the most dangerous and the most difficult to reach of all the many sources of danger against which those managing railroads have unsleepingly to contend:—a somewhat defective discipline, aggravated by a little not unnatural carelessness. The rule of the company was specific that all the wagons of every goods train should be out of the way and the track clear at least ten minutes before a passenger train was due; but in this case shunting was going actively on when the Irish-mail was within a mile and a half. A careless brakeman then forgot for once that he was leaving his wagons close to the head of an incline; a blow in coupling, a little heavier perhaps than usual, sufficed to set them in motion; and they happened to be loaded with oil.

A catastrophe strikingly similar to that at Abergele befell an express train on the Hudson River railroad, upon the night of the 6th of February, 1871. The weather for a number of days preceding the accident had been unusually cold, and it is to the suffering of employees incident to exposure, and the consequent neglect of precautions on their part,

THE NEW HAMBURG DISASTER. 79

that accidents are peculiarly due. On this night a freight train was going south, all those in charge of which were sheltering themselves during a steady run in the caboose car at its rear end. Suddenly, when near a bridge over Wappinger's Creek, not far from New Hamburg, they discovered that a car in the centre of the train was off the track. The train was finally stopped on the bridge, but in stopping it other cars were also derailed, and one of these, bearing on it two large oil tanks, finally rested obliquely across the bridge with one end projecting over the up track. Hardly had the disabled train been brought to a stand-still, when, before signal lanterns could in the confusion incident to the disaster be sent out, the Pacific express from New York, which was a little behind its time, came rapidly along. As it approached the bridge, its engineer saw a red lantern swung, and instantly gave the signal to apply the brakes. It was too late to avoid the collision; but what ensued had in it, so far as the engineer was concerned, an element of the heroic, which his companion, the fireman of the engine, afterwards described on the witness stand with a directness and simplicity of language which exceeded all art. The engineer's name was Simmons, and he was familiarly known among his companions as "Doc." His fireman, Nicholas Tallon, also saw the red light swung on the bridge, and called out to him that the draw was open. In reply Simmons told him to spring the patent brake, which he did, and

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by this time they were alongside of the locomotive of the disabled train and running with a somewhat slackened speed. Tallon had now got out upon the step of the locomotive, preparatory to springing off, and turning asked his companion if he also proposed to do the same:—"'Doc' looked around at me but made no reply, and then looked ahead again, watching his business; then I jumped and rolled down on the ice in the creek; the next I knew I heard the crash and saw the fire and smoke." The next seen of "Doc" Simmons, he was dragged up days afterwards from under his locomotive at the bottom of the river. But it was a good way to die. He went out of the world and of the sight of men with his hand on the lever, making no reply to the suggestion that he should leave his post, but "looking ahead and watching his business."

Dante himself could not have imagined a greater complication of horrors than then ensued: liquid fire and solid frost combined to make the work of destruction perfect. The shock of the collision broke in pieces the oil car, igniting its contents and flinging them about in every direction. In an instant bridge, river, locomotive, cars, and the glittering surface of the ice were wrapped in a sheet of flame. At the same time the strain proved too severe for the trestlework, which gave way, precipitating the locomotive, tender, baggage cars, and one passenger car onto the ice, through which they instantly crushed and sank deep out of sight beneath

LIQUID FIRE AND SOLID FROST. 81

the water. Of the remaining seven cars of the passenger train, two, besides several of the freight train, were destroyed by fire, and shortly, as the supports of the remaining portions of the bridge burned away, the superstructure fell on the half-submerged cars in the water and buried them from view.

Twenty-one persons lost their lives in this disaster, and a large number of others were injured; but the loss of life, it will be noticed, was only two-thirds of that at Abergele. The New Hamburg catastrophe also differed from that at Abergele in that, under its particular circumstances, it was far more preventable, and, indeed, with the appliances since brought into use it would surely be avoided. The modern train-brake had, however, not then been perfected, so that even the hundred rods at which the signal was seen did not afford a sufficient space in which to stop the train.


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