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THE REVERE REVELATION. 153

CHAPTER XVI.

NOVEL APPLIANCES.

THE great peculiarity of the Revere accident, and that which gave a permanent interest to it, lay in the revelation it afforded of the degree in which a system had outgrown its appliances. At every point a deficiency was apparent. The railroads of New England had long been living on their early reputation, and now, when a sudden test was applied, it was found that they were years behind the time. In August, 1871, the Eastern railroad was run as if it were a line of stagecoaches in the days before the telegraph. Not in one point alone, but in everything, it broke down under the test. The disaster was due not to any single cause but to a combination of causes implicating not only the machinery and appliances in use by the company, but its discipline and efficiency from the highest official down to the meanest subordinate. In the first place the capacity of the road was taxed to the utmost; it was

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vital, almost, that every wheel should be kept in motion. Yet, under that very exigency, the wheels stopped almost as a matter of necessity. How could it be otherwise?—Here was a crowded line, more than half of which was equipped with but a single track, in operating which no reliance was placed upon the telegraph. With trains running out of their schedule time and out of their schedule place, engineers and conductors were left to grope their way along as best they could in the light of rules, the essence of which was that when in doubt they were to stand stock still. Then, in the absence of the telegraph, a block occurred almost at the mouth of the terminal station; and there the trains stood for hours in stupid obedience to a stupid rule, because the one man who, with a simple regard to the dictates of common sense, was habitually accustomed to violate it happened to be sick. Trains commonly left a station out of time and out of place; and the engineer of an express train was sent out to run a gauntlet the whole length of the road with a simple verbal injunction to look out for some one before him. Then, at last, when this express train through all this chaos got to chasing an accommodation train, much as a hound might course a hare, there was not a pretence of a signal to indicate the time which had elapsed between the passage of the two, and employees, lanterns in hand, gaped on in bewilderment at the awful race, concluding that they could not at any rate do anything

HARE AND HOUND. 155

to help matters, but on the whole they were inclined to think that those most immediately concerned must know what they were about. Finally, even when the disaster was imminent, when deficiency in organization and discipline had done its worst, its consequences might yet have been averted through the use of better appliances; had the one train been equipped with the Westinghouse brake, already largely in use in other sections of the country, it might and would have been stopped; or had the other train been provided with reflecting tail-lights in place of the dim hand-lanterns which glimmered on its rear platform, it could hardly have failed to make its proximity known. Any one of a dozen things, every one of which should have been but was not, ought to have averted the disaster. Obviously its immediate cause was not far to seek. It lay in the carelessness of a conductor who failed to consult his watch, and never knew until the crash came that his train was leisurely moving along on the time of another. Nevertheless, what can be said in extenuation of a system under which, at this late day, a railroad is operated on the principle that each employee under all circumstances can and will take care of himself and of those whose lives and limbs are entrusted to his care?

There is, however, another and far more attractive side to the picture. The lives sacrificed at Revere were not lost in vain. Seven complete railroad years passed by between that and the Wollaston
 

156 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

Heights accident of 1878. During that time not less than two hundred and thirty millions of persons were carried by rail within the limits of Massachusetts. Of this vast number while only 50, or about one in each four and a half millions, sustained any injury from causes beyond their own power to control, the killed were just two. This certainly was a record with which no community could well find fault; and it was due more than anything else to the great disaster of August 26, 1871. More than once, and on more than one road, accidents occurred which, but for the improved appliances introduced in consequence of the experience at Revere could hardly have failed of fatal results. Not that these appliances were in all cases very cheerfully or very eagerly accepted. Neither the Miller platform nor the Westinghouse brake won its way into general use unchallenged. Indeed, the earnestness and even the indignation with which presidents and superintendents then protested that their car construction was better and stronger than Miller's; that their antiquated handbrakes were the most improved brakes,—better, much better, than the Westinghouse; that their crude old semaphores and targets afforded a protection to trains which no block-system would ever equal,—all this certainly was comical enough, even in the very shadow of the great tragedy. Men of a certain type always have protested and will always continue to protest that they have nothing to learn;

THE LESSON LEARNED. 157

yet, under the heavy burden of responsibility, learn they still do. They dare not but learn. On this point the figures of the Massachusetts annual returns between the year 1871 and the year 1878 speak volumes. At the time of the Revere disaster, with one single honorable exception,—that of the Boston & Providence road,—both the atmospheric train-brake and the Miller platform, the two greatest modern improvements in American car construction, were practically unrecognized on the railroads of Massachusetts. Even a year later, but 93 locomotives and 415 cars had been equipped even with the train-brake. In September, 1873, the number had, however, risen to 194 locomotives and 709 cars; and another twelve months carried these numbers up to 313 locomotives and 997 cars. Finally in 1877 the state commissioners in their report for that year spoke of the train-brake as having been then generally adopted, and at the same time called attention to the very noticeable fact "that the only railroad accident resulting in the death of a passenger from causes beyond his control within the state during a period of two years and eight months, was caused by the failure of a company to adopt this improvement on all its passenger rolling-stock." The adoption of Miller's method of car construction had meanwhile been hardly less rapid. Almost unknown at the time of the Revere catastrophe in September, 1871, in October, 1873, when returns on the subject were first called for by the state

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commissioners, eleven companies had already adopted it on 778 cars out of a total number of 1548 reported. In 1878 it had been adopted by twenty-two companies, and applied to 1685 cars out of a total of 1792. In other words it had been brought into general use.


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