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STATISTICS OF VITALITY. 241

CHAPTER XXII.

THE RAILROAD DEATH RATE.

IN connection with the statistics of railroad casualties it is not without interest to examine the general vital statistics of some considerable city, for they show clearly enough what a large degree of literal truth there was in the half jocose proposition attributed to John Bright, that the safest place in which a man could put himself was inside a first-class railroad carriage of a train in full motion. Take the statistics of Boston, for instance, for the year 1878. During the four years 1875-8, it will be remembered, a single passenger only was killed on the railroads of Massachusetts in consequence of an accident to which he by his own carelessness in no way contributed.* The average number of persons annually injured, not fatally, during those years was about five.

* This period did not include the Wollaston disaster, as the Massachusetts railroad year closes on the last day of September. The Wollaston disaster occurred on the 8th of October, 1878, and was accordingly included in the next railroad year. 

242 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

Yet during the year 1878, excluding all cases of mere injury of which no account was made, no less than 53 persons came to their deaths in Boston from falling down stairs, and 37 more from falling out of windows; seven were scalded to death in 1878 alone. In the year 1874 seventeen were killed by being run over by teams in the streets, while the pastime of coasting was carried on at a cost of ten lives more. During the five years 1874-8 there were more persons murdered in the city of Boston alone than lost their lives as passengers through the negligence of all the railroad corporations in the whole state of Massachusetts during the nine years 1871-8; though in those nine years were included both the Revere and the Wollaston disasters, the former of which resulted in the death of 29, and the latter of 21 persons. Neither are the comparative results here stated in any respect novel or peculiar to Massachusetts. Years ago it was officially announced in France that people were less safe in their own houses than while traveling on the railroads; and, in support of this somewhat startling proposition, statistics were produced showing fourteen cases of death of persons remaining at home and there falling over carpets, or, in the case of females, having their garments catch fire, to ten deaths on the rail. Even the game of cricket counted eight victims to the railroad's ten.

It will not, of course, be inferred that the cases of death or injury to passengers from causes beyond 

CASUALTIES TO EMPLOYEES. 243

their control include by any means all the casualties involved in the operation of the railroad system. On the contrary, they include but a very small portion of them. The experience of the Massachusetts roads during the seven years between September 30, 1871, and September 30, 1878, may again be cited in reference to this point. During that time there were but 52 cases of injury to passengers from causes over which they had no control, but in connection with the entire working of the railroad system no less than 1,900 cases of injury were reported, of which 1,008 were fatal; an average of 144 deaths a year. Of these cases, naturally, a large proportion were employees, whose occupation not only involves much necessary risk, but whose familiarity with risk causes them always to incur it even in the most unnecessary and foolhardy manner. During the seven years 293 of them were killed and 375 were reported as injured. Nor is it supposed that the list included by any means all the cases of injury which occurred. About one half of the accidents to employees are occasioned by their falling from the trains when in motion, usually from freight trains and in cold weather, and from being crushed between cars while engaged in coupling them together. From this last cause alone an average of 27 casualties are annually reported. One fact, however, will sufficiently illustrate how very difficult it is to protect this class of men from danger, or rather from themselves. As is well known, on

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freight trains they are obliged to ride on the tops of the cars; but these are built so high that their roofs come dangerously near the bottoms of the highway bridges, which cross the track sometimes in close proximity to each other. Accordingly many unfortunate brakemen were killed by being knocked off the trains as they passed under these bridges. With a view to affording the utmost possible protection against this form of accident, a statute was passed by the Massachusetts legislature compelling the corporations to erect guards at a suitable distance from every overhead bridge which was less than eighteen feet in the clear above the track. These guards were so arranged as to swing lightly across the tops of the cars, giving any one standing upon them a sharp rap, warning him of the danger he was in. This warning rap, however, so annoyed the brakemen that the guards were on a number of the roads systematically destroyed as often as they were put up; so that at last another law had to be passed, making their destruction a criminal offense. The brakemen themselves resisted the attempt to divest their perilous occupation of one of its most insidious dangers.

In this respect, however, brakemen differ in no degree from the rest of the community. On all hands railroad accidents seem to be systematically encouraged, and the wonder is that the list of casualties is not larger. In Massachusetts, for instance, even in the most crowded portions of the largest

CHALLENGING DANGER. 245

cities and towns, not only do the railroads cross the highways at grade, but whenever new thoroughfares are laid out the people of the neighborhood almost invariably insist upon their crossing the railroads at a grade and not otherwise. Not but that, upon theory and in the abstract, every one is opposed to grade-crossings; but those most directly concerned always claim that their particular crossing is exceptional in character. In vain do corporations protest and public officials argue; when the concrete case arises all neighborhoods become alike and strenuously insist on their right to incur everlasting danger rather than to have the level of their street broken. During the last seven years to September 30, 1878; 191 persons have been injured, and 98 of them fatally injured, at these crossings in Massachusetts, and it is certain as fate that the number is destined to annually increase. What the result in a remote future will be, it is not now easy to forecast. One thing only would seem certain: the time will come when the two classes of traffic thus recklessly made to cross each other will at many points have to be separated, no matter at what cost to the community which now challenges the danger it will then find itself compelled to avoid.

The heaviest and most regular cause of death and injury involved in the operation of the railroad system yet remains to be referred to; and again it is recklessness which is at the root of it, and this time recklessness in direct violation of law. The railroad

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tracks are everywhere favorite promenades, and apparently even resting-places, especially for those who are more or less drunk. In Great Britain physical demolition by a railroad train is also a somewhat favorite method of committing suicide, and that, too, in the most deliberate and cool-blooded manner. Cases have not been uncommon in which persons have been seen to coolly Jay themselves down in front of an advancing train, and very neatly effect their own decapitation by placing their necks across the rail. In England alone, during the last seven years, there have been no less than 280 cases of death reported under the head of suicides, or an average of 40 each year, the number in 1878 rising to 60. In America these cases are not returned in a class by themselves. Under the general head of accidents to trespassers, however, that is, accidents to men, women and children, especially the latter, illegally lying, walking, or playing on the tracks or riding upon the cars,—under this head are regularly classified more than one third of all the casualties incident to working the Massachusetts railroads. During the last seven years these have amounted to an aggregate of 724 cases of injury, no less than 494 of which were fatal. Of course, very many other cases of this description, which were not fatal, were never reported. And here again the recklessness of the public has received further illustration, and this time in a very unpleasant way. Certain corporations operating roads terminating in

TRESPASSERS 247

Boston endeavored at one time to diminish this slaughter by enforcing the laws against walking on railroad tracks. A few trespassers were arrested and fined, and then the resentment of those whose wonted privileges were thus interfered with began to make itself felt. Obstructions were found placed in the way of night trains. The mere attempt to keep people from risking their lives by getting in the way of locomotives placed whole trains full of passengers in imminent jeopardy.

Undoubtedly, however, by far the most effective means of keeping railroad tracks from becoming foot-paths, and thus at once putting an end to the largest item in the grand total of the expenditure of life incident to the operation of railroads, is that secured by the Pennsylvania railroad as an unintentional corollary to its method of ballasting That superb organization, every detail of whose wonderful system is a fit subject for study to all interested in the operation of railroads, has a roadway peculiar to itself. A principal feature in this is a surface of broken stone ballast, covering not only the space between the rails, but also the interval between the tracks as well as the road-bed on the outside of each track for a distance of some three feet. It resembles nothing so much as a newly macadamized highway. That, too, is its permanent condition. To walk on the sharp and uneven edges of this broken stone is possible, with a sufficient expenditure of patience and shoe-leather; but certainly

248 RA1LROAD ACCIDENTS.

no human being would ever walk there from preference, or if any other path could be found. Not only is it in itself, as a system of ballasting, looked upon as better than any other, but it confounds the tramp. Its systematic adoption in crowded, suburban neighborhoods would, therefore, answer a double purpose. It would secure to the corporations permanent road-beds exclusively for their own use, and obviate the necessity of arrests or futile threats to enforce the penalties of the law against trespassers. It seems singular that this most obvious and effective way of putting a stop to what is both a nuisance and a danger has not yet been resorted to by men familiar with the use of spikes and broken glass on the tops of fences and walls.

Meanwhile, taken even in its largest aggregate, the loss of life incident to the working of the railroad system is not excessive, nor is it out of proportion to what might reasonably be expected. It is to be constantly borne in mind, not only that the railroad performs a great function in modern life, but that it also and of necessity performs it in a very dangerous way. A practically irresistible force crashing through the busy hive of modern civilization at a wild rate of speed, going hither and thither, across highways and byways and along a path which is in itself a thoroughfare,—such an agency cannot be expected to work incessantly and yet never to come in contact with the human frame. Naturally, however, it might be a very car of Juggernaut.

ARE THE CASUALTIES EXCESSIVE? 249

Is it so in fact?—To demonstrate that it is not, it is but necessary again to recur to the comparison between the statistics of railroad accidents and those which necessarily occur in the experience of all considerable cities. Take again those of Boston and of the railroad system of Massachusetts. These for the purpose of illustration are as good as any, and in their results would only be confirmed in the experience of Paris as compared with the railroad system of France, or in that of London as compared with the railroad system of Great Britain. During the eight years between September 30, 1870, and September 30, 1878, the entire railroad system of Massachusetts was operated at a cost of 1,165 lives, apart from all cases of injury which did not prove fatal. The returns in this respect also may be accepted as reasonably accurate, as the deaths were all returned, though the cases of merely personal injury probably were not. The annual average was 146 lives. During the ten years, 1868-78, 2,587 cases of death from accidental causes, or 259 a year, were recorded as having taken place in the city of Boston. In other words, the annual average of deaths by accident in the city of Boston alone exceeds that consequent on running all the railroads of the state by eighty per cent. Unless, therefore, the railroad system is to be considered as an exception to all other functions of modern life, and as such is to be expected to do its work without injury to life or limb, this showing does not constitute a very heavy indictment against it.


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