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144 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER XV.

REAR END COLLISIONS.

THE annals of railroad accidents are full of cases of "rear-end collision," as it is termed.* Their frequency may almost be accepted as a very accurate gauge of the pressure of traffic on any given system of lines, and because of them the companies are continually compelled to adopt new and more intricate systems of operation. At first, on almost all roads, trains follow each other at such great intervals that no precaution at all, other than flags and lanterns, are found necessary. Then comes a succeeding period when an interval of time between following trains is provided for, through a system of signals which at given points indicate danger during a certain number

* In the nine years 1870-8, besides those which occurred and were not deemed of sufficient importance to demand special inquiry, 86 cases of accidents of this description were investigated by the inspecting officers of the English Board of Trade and reported upon in detail. In America, 732 cases were reported as occurring during the six years 1874-8, and 138 cases in 1878 alone.

THE BLOCK SYSTEM. 145

of minutes after the passage of every train. Then, presently, the alarming frequency of rear collisions demonstrates the inadequacy of this system, and a new one has to be devised, which, through the aid of electricity, secures between the trains an interval of space as well as of time. This last is known as the "block-system," of which so much has of late years been heard.

The block-system is so important a feature in the modern operation of railroads, and in its present stage of development it illustrates so strikingly the difference between the European and the American methods, that more particular reference will have presently to be made to it.* For the present it is enough to say that rear-end collisions occur notwithstanding all the precautions implied in a thoroughly perfected "block-system." There was such a case on the Metropolitan road, in the very heart of London, on the 29th of August, 1873. It happened in a tunnel. A train was stalled there, and an unfortunate signal officer in a moment of flurry gave line clear" and sent another train directly into it.

A much more impressive disaster, both in its dramatic features and as illustrating the inadequacy of every precaution depending on human agency to avert accident under certain conditions, was afforded in the case of a collision which occurred on the London & Brighton, Railway on August 25, 1861; ten years almost to a day before that at Revere.

* Chapter XVII.

146 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

Like the Eastern railroad, the London & Brighton enjoyed an enormous passenger traffic, which became peculiarly heavy during the vacation season towards the close of August; and it was to the presence of the excursion trains made necessary to accommodate this traffic that the catastrophes were in both cases due. In the case of the London & Brighton road it occurred on a Sunday. An excursion train from Portsmouth on that day was to leave Brighton at five minutes after eight AM, and was to be followed by a regular Sunday excursion train at 8:15 or ten minutes later, and that again, after the lapse of a quarter of an hour, by a regular parliamentary train at 8:30 These trains were certainly timed to run sufficiently near to each other; but, owing to existing pressure of traffic on the line, they started almost simultaneously. The Portsmouth excursion, which consisted of sixteen carriages, was much behind its time, and did not leave the Brighton station until 8:28; when, after a lapse of three minutes, it was followed by the regular excursion train at 8:31, and that again by the parliamentary train at 8:35. Three passenger trains had thus left the station on one track in seven minutes! The London and Brighton Railway traverses the chalky downs, for which that portion of England is noted, through numerous tunnels, the first of which after leaving Brighton is known as the Patcham Tunnel, about five hundred yards in length, while two and a half miles farther on is the Croydon Tunnel,

THE CROYDON TUNNEL COLLISION. 147

rather more than a mile and a quarter in length. The line between these tunnels was so crooked and obscured that the managers had adopted extraordinary precautions against accident. At each end of the Croydon Tunnel a signal-man was stationed, with a telegraphic apparatus, a clock and a telegraph bell in his station. The rule was absolute that when any train entered the tunnel the signal-man at the point of entry was to telegraph "train in," and no other train could follow until the return signal of "train out" came from the other side. In face of such a regulation it was difficult to see how any collision in the tunnel was possible. When the Portsmouth excursion train arrived, it at once entered the tunnel and the fact was properly signaled to the opposite outlet. Before the return signal that this train was out was received, the regular excursion train came in sight. It should have been stopped by a self-acting signal which was placed about a quarter of a mile from the mouth of the tunnel, and which each passing locomotive set at "danger," where it remained until shifted to "safety," by the signal-man, on receipt of the message, "train out.' Through some unexplained cause, the Portsmouth excursion train had failed to act on this signal, which consequently still indicated safety when the Brighton excursion train came up. Accordingly the engine-driver at once passed it, and went on to the tunnel As he did so, the signal-man, perceiving some mistake and knowing that he had not yet got his return

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signal that the preceding train was out, tried to stop him by waving his red flag. It was too late, however, and the train passed in. A moment later the parliamentary train also came in sight, and stopped at the signal of danger. Now ensued a most singular misapprehension between the signal-men, resulting in a terrible disaster. The second train had run into the tunnel and was supposed by the signal-man to be on its way to the other end of it, when he received the return message that the first train was out. To this he instantly responded by again telegraphing "train in," referring now to the second train. This dispatch the signal-man at the opposite end conceived to be a repetition of the message referring to the first train, and he accordingly again replied that the train was out. This reply, however, the other operator mistook as referring to the second train, and accordingly he signaled "safety," and the third train at once got under way and passed into the tunnel. Unfortunately the engineer of the second train had seen the red flag waved by the signal-man, and, in obedience to it, stopped his locomotive as soon as possible in the tunnel and began to back out of it. In doing so, he drove his train into the locomotive of the third train advancing into it. The tunnel was twenty-four feet in height. The engine of the parliamentary train struck the rear carriage of the excursion train and mounted upon its fragments, and then on those of the carriage in front of it, until its smokestack came

THE WELWYN TUNNEL COLLISION. 149

in contact with the roof of the tunnel. It rested finally in a nearly upright position. The collision had taken place so far within the tunnel as to be beyond the reach of daylight, and the wreck of the trains had quite blocked up the arch, while the steam and smoke from the engines poured forth with loud sound and in heavy volumes, filling the empty space with stifling and scalding vapors. When at last assistance came and the trains could be separated, twenty-three corpses were taken from the ruins, while one hundred and seventy-six other persons had sustained more or less severe injuries.

A not less extraordinary accident of the same description, unaccompanied, however, by an equal loss of life, occurred on the Great Northern Railway upon the 10th of June, 1866. In this case the tube of a locomotive of a freight train burst at about the centre of the Welwyn Tunnel, some five miles north of Hatfield, bringing the train to a stand-still. The guard in charge of the rear of the train failed from some cause to go back and give the signal for an obstruction, and speedily another freight train from the Midland road entered and dashed into the rear of the train already there. Apparently those in charge of these two trains were in such consternation that they did not think to provide against a further disaster; at any rate, before measures to that end had been taken, an additional freight train, this time belonging to the Great Northern road, came up and plowed into the ruins which already

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blocked the tunnel. One of the trains had contained wagons laden with casks of oil, which speedily became ignited from contact with the coals scattered from the fire-boxes, and there then ensued one of the most extraordinary spectacles ever witnessed on a railroad. The tunnel was filled to the summit of its arch and completely blocked with the wrecked locomotives and wagons. These had ignited, and the whole cavity, more than a half a mile in length, was converted into one huge furnace, belching forth smoke and flame with a loud roaring sound through its several air shafts. So fierce was the fire that no attempt was made to subdue it, and eighteen hours elapsed before any steps could be taken towards clearing the track. Strange to say, in this disaster the lives of but two persons were lost.

Rear-end collisions have been less frequent in this country than in England, for the simple reason that the volume of traffic has pressed less heavily on the capacity of the lines. Yet here, also, they have been by no means unknown. In 1865 two occurred, both of which were accompanied with a considerable loss of life; though, coming as they did during the exciting scenes which marked the close of the war of the Rebellion, they attracted much less public notice than they otherwise would. The first of these took place in New Jersey(PA?) on the 7th of March, 1865, just three days after the second inauguration of President Lincoln. As the express train from Washington to New York over the Camden & Amboy(?)

TWO AMERICAN COLLISIONS. 151

road was passing through Bristol, about thirty miles from Philadelphia, at half-past-two o'clock in the morning, it dashed into the rear of the twelve o'clock "owl train," from Kensington to New York, which had been delayed by meeting an oil train on the track before it. The case appears to have been one of very culpable negligence, for, though the owl train was some two hours late, those in charge of it seem to have been so deeply engrossed in what was going on before them that they wholly neglected to guard their rear. The express train accordingly, approaching around a curve, plunged at a high rate of speed into the last car, shattering it to pieces; the engine is even said to have passed completely through that car and to have imbedded itself in the one before it. It so happened that most of the sufferers by this accident, numbering about fifty, were soldiers on their way home from the army upon furlough.

The second of the two disasters referred to, occurred on the 16th of August, 1865, upon the Housatonic road of Connecticut. A new engine was out upon an experimental trip, and in rounding a curve it ran into the rear of a passenger train, which, having encountered a disabled freight train, had coupled on to it and was then backing down with it to a siding in order to get by. In this case the impetus was so great that the colliding locomotive utterly destroyed the rear car of the passenger train and penetrated some distance into 

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the car preceding it, where its boiler burst. Fortunately the train was by no means full of passengers; but, even as it was, eleven persons were killed and some seventeen badly injured.


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