LONG, varied and terrible as the record of bridge disasters has become, there are, nevertheless, certain very simple and inexpensive precautions against them, which, altogether too frequently, corporations do not and will not take. At Ashtabula the bridge gave way. There was no derailment as there seems to have been at Tariffville. The sustaining power of a bridge is, of course, a question comparatively difficult of ascertainment. A fatal weakness in this respect may be discernable only to the eye of a trained expert. Derailment, however, either upon a bridge or when approaching it, is in the vast majority of cases a danger perfectly easy to guard against. The precautions are simple and they are not expensive, yet, taking the railroads of the United States as a whole, it may well be questioned whether the bridges at which they have been taken do not constitute the exception rather than the rule. Not


only is the average railroad superintendent accustomed to doing his work and running his road under a constant pressure to make both ends meet, which, as he well knows, causes his own daily bread to depend upon the economies he can effect; but, while he finds it hard work at best to provide for the multifarious outlays, long immunity from disaster breeds a species of recklessness even in the most cautious:—and yet the single mishap in a thousand must surely fall to the lot of some one. Many years ago the terrible results which must soon or late be expected wherever the consequences of a derailment on the approaches to a bridge are not securely guarded against, were illustrated by a disaster on the Great Western railroad of Canada, which combined many of the worst horrors of both the Norwalk and the New Hamburg tragedies; more recently the almost forgotten lesson was enforced again on the Vermont & Massachusetts road, upon the bridge over the Miller River, at Athol. The accident last referred to occurred on the 16th of June, 1870, but, though forcible enough as a reminder, it was tame indeed in comparison with the Des Jardines Canal disaster, which is still remembered though it happened so long ago as the 17th of March, 1857.

The Great Western railroad of Canada crossed the canal by a bridge at an elevation of about sixty feet. At the time of the accident there were some eighteen feet of water in the canal, though, as is


usual in Canada at that season, it was covered by ice some two feet in thickness. On the afternoon of the 17th of March as the local accommodation train from Hamilton was nearing the bridge, its locomotive, though it was then moving at a very slow rate of speed, was in some way thrown from the track and onto the timbers of the bridge. These it cut through, and then falling heavily on the string-pieces it parted them, and instantly pitched headlong down upon the frozen surface of the canal below, dragging after it the tender, baggage car and two passenger cars, which composed the whole train. There was nothing whatever to break the fall of sixty feet; and even then two feet of ice only intervened between the ruins of the train and the bottom of the canal eighteen feet below. Two feet of solid ice will afford no contemptible resistance to a falling body; the locomotive and tender crushed heavily through it and instantly sank out of sight. In falling the baggage car struck a corner of the tender and was thus thrown some ten yards to one side, and was followed by the first passenger car, which, turning a somersault as it went, fell on its roof and was crushed to fragments, but only partially broke through the ice, upon which the next car fell endwise, and rested in that position. That every human being in the first car was either crushed or drowned seems most natural; the only cause for astonishment is found in the fact that any one should have survived such a catastrophe,—a tumble of sixty feet on ice


as solid as a rock! Yet of four persons in the baggage car three went down with it, and not one of them was more than slightly injured. The engineer and fireman, and the occupants of the second passenger car, were less fortunate. The former were found crushed under the locomotive at the bottom of the canal; while of the latter ten were killed, and not one escaped severe injury. Very rarely indeed in the history of railroad accidents have so large a portion of those on the train lost their lives as in this case, for out of ninety persons sixty perished, and in the number was included every woman and child among the passengers, with a single exception.

There were two circumstances about this disaster worthy of especial notice. In the first place, as well as can now he ascertained in the absence of any trustworthy record of an investigation into causes, the accident was easily preventable. It appears to have been immediately caused by the derailment of a locomotive, however occasioned, just as it was entering on a swing draw-bridge. Thrown from the tracks, there was nothing in the flooring to prevent the derailed locomotive from deflecting from its course until it toppled over the ends of the ties, nor were the ties and the flooring apparently sufficiently strong to sustain it even while it held to its course. Under such circumstances the derailment of a locomotive upon any bridge can mean only destruction; it meant it then,


it means it now; and yet our country is to-day full of bridges constructed in an exactly similar way. To make accidents from this cause, if not impossible at least highly improbable, it is only necessary to make the ties and flooring of all bridges between the tracks and for three feet on either side of them sufficiently strong to sustain the whole weight of a train off the track and in motion, while a third rail, or strong truss of wood, securely fastened, should be laid down midway between the rails throughout the entire length of the bridge and its approaches. With this arrangement, as the flanges of the wheels are on the inside, it must follow that in case of derailment and a divergence to one side or the other of the bridge, the inner side of the flange will come against the central rail or truss just so soon as the divergence amounts to half the space between the rails, which in the ordinary gauge is two feet and four inches. The wheels must then glide along this guard, holding the train from any further divergence from its course, until it can be checked. Meanwhile, as the ties and flooring extend for the space of three feet outside of the track, a sufficient support is furnished by them for the other wheels. A legislative enactment compelling the construction of all bridges in this way, coupled with additional provisions for interlocking of draws with their signals in cases of bridges across navigable waters, would be open to objection that laws against dangers of accident by rail have almost invariably proved ineffective when 


they were not absurd, but in itself, if enforced, it might not improbably render disasters like those at Norwalk and Des Jardines terrors of the past.

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