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250 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

CHAPTER XXIII.

AMERICAN AS COMPARED WITH FOREIGN RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

Up to this point, the statistics and experience of Massachusetts only have been referred to. This is owing to the fact that the railroad returns of that state are more carefully prepared and tabulated than are those of any other state, and afford, therefore, more satisfactory data from which to draw conclusions. The territorial area from which the statistics are in this case derived is very limited, and it yet remains to compare the results deduced from them with those derived from the similar experience of other communities. This, however, is not an easy thing to do; and, while it is difficult enough as respects Europe, it is even more difficult as respects America taken as a whole. This last fact is especially unfortunate in view of the circumstance that, in regard to railway accidents, the United States, whether deservedly or not, enjoy a most undesirable reputation. Foreign authorities have a

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way of referring to our "well-known national disregard of human life," with a sort of complacency, at once patronizing and contemptuous, which is the reverse of pleasing. Judging by the tone of their comments, the natural inference would be that railroad disasters of the worst description were in America matters of such frequent occurrence as to excite scarcely any remark. As will presently be made very apparent, this impression, for it is only an impression, can, so far as the country as a whole is concerned, neither be proved nor disproved, from the absence of sufficient data from which to argue. As respects Massachusetts, however, and the same statement may perhaps be made of the whole belt of states north of the Potomac and the Ohio, there is no basis for it. There is no reason to suppose that railroad traveling is throughout that region accompanied by any peculiar or unusual degree of danger.

The great difficulty, just referred to, in comparing the results deduced from equally complete statistics of different countries, lies in the variety of the arbitrary rules under which the computations in making them up are effected. As an example in point, take the railroad returns of Great Britain and those of Massachusetts. They are in each case prepared with a great deal of care, and the results deduced from them may fairly be accepted as approximately correct. As respects accidents, the number of cases of death and of personal injury are annually

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reported, and with tolerable completeness, though in the latter respect there is probably in both cases room for improvement. The whole comparison turns, however, on the way in which the entire number of passengers annually carried is computed. In Great Britain, for instance, in 1878, these were returned, using round numbers only, at 565,000,000, and in Massachusetts at 34,000,000. By dividing these totals by the number of cases of death and injury reported as occurring to passengers from causes beyond their control, we shall arrive apparently at a fair comparative showing as to the relative safety of railroad traveling in the two communities. The result for that particular year would have been that while in Great Britain one passenger in each 23,500,000 was killed, and one in each 481,600 injured from causes beyond their control, in Massachusetts none were killed and only one in each 14,000,000 was in any way injured. Unfortunately, however, a closer examination reveals a very great error in the computation, affecting every comparative result drawn from it. In the English returns no allowance whatever is made for the very large number of journeys made by season-ticket or commutation passengers, while in Massachusetts, on the contrary, each person of this class enters into the grand total as making two trips each day, 156 trips on each quarterly ticket, and 626 trips on each annual. Now in 1878 more than 418,000 holders of season tickets were returned by the railway companies

SEASON-TICKET PASSAGES. 253

of Great Britain. How many of these were quarterly and how many were annual travelers, does not appear. If they were all annual travelers, no less than 261,000,000 journeys should be added to the 565,000,000 in the returns, in order to arrive at an equal basis for a comparison between the foreign and the American roads: this method, however, would be manifestly inaccurate, so it only remains, in the absence of all reliable data, and for the purpose of comparison solely, to strike out from the Massachusetts returns the 8,320,727 season-ticket passages, which at once reduces by over 3,000,000 the number of journeys to each case of injury. As season-ticket passengers do travel and are exposed to danger in the same degree as trip-ticket passengers, no result is approximately accurate which leaves them out of the computation. At present, however, the question relates not to the positive danger or safety of traveling by rail, but to its relative danger in different communities.

Allowance for this discrepancy can, however, be made by adding to the English official results an additional nineteen per cent., that, according to the returns of 1877 and 1878, being the proportion of the season-ticket to other passengers on the roads of Great Britain. Taking then the Board of Trade returns for the eight years 1870-7, it will be found that during this period about one passenger in each 14,500,000 carried in that country has been killed in railroad accidents, and about one in each

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436,000 injured. This may be assumed as a fair average for purpose of comparison, though it ought to be said that in Great Britain the percentage of casualties to passengers shows a decided tendency to decrease, and during the years 1877-8 the percentages of killed fell from one in 15,000,000 to one in 38,000,000 and those of injured from one in 436,000 to one in 766,000. The aggregates from which these results are deduced are so enormous, rising into the thousands of millions, that a certain degree of reliance can be placed on them. In the case of Massachusetts, however, the entire period during which the statistics are entitled to the slightest weight includes only eight years, 1872-9, and offers an aggregate of but 274,000,000 journeys, or but about forty percent of those included in the British returns of the single year 1878. During these years the killed in Massachusetts were one in each 13,000,000 and the injured one in each 1,230,000;—or, while the killed in the two cases were very nearly in the same proportion,—respectively one in 14.5, and one in 13, speaking in millions,—the British injured were really three to one of the Massachusetts.

The equality as respects the killed in this comparison, and the marked discrepancy as respects the injured is calculated at first sight to throw doubts on the fullness of the Massachusetts returns. There seems no good reason why the injured should in the one case be so much more numerous than in the other.

THIRD-CLASS PASSENGERS. 255

This, however, is susceptible on closer examination of a very simple and satisfactory explanation. In case of accident the danger of sustaining slight personal injury is not so great in Massachusetts as in Great Britain. This is due to the heavier and more solid construction of the American passenger coaches, and their different interior arrangement. This fact, and the real cause of the large number of slightly injured,—" shaken" they call it,—in the English railroad accidents is made very apparent in the following extract from Mr. Calcroft's report for 1877;—

"It is no doubt a fact that collisions and other accidents to railway trains are attended with less serious consequences in proportion to the solidity of construction of passenger carriages. The accommodation and internal arrangements of third-class carriages, however, especially those used in ordinary trains, are defective as regards safety and comfort, as compared with many carriages of the same class on foreign railways. The first-class passenger, except when thrown against his opposite companion, or when some luggage falls upon him, is generally saved from severe contusion by the well-stuffed or padded linings of the carriages; whilst the second-class and third-class passenger is generally thrown with violence against the hard wood-work. If the second and third-class carriages had a high padded back lining, extending above the head of the passenger, it would probably tend to lesson the danger to life and limb which, as the returns of accidents show, passengers in carriages of this class are much exposed to in train accidents." *

* General Report to the Board of Trade upon the accidents which have occurred on the Railways of the United Kingdom during the year 1877. p 37.

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In 1878 the passenger journeys made in the second and third class carriages of the United Kingdom were thirteen to one of those made in first class carriages;—or, expressed in millions, there were but 41 of the latter to 523 of the former. There can be very little question indeed that if, during the last ten years, thirteen out of fourteen of the passengers on Massachusetts railroads had been carried in narrow compartments with wooden seats and unlined sides the number of those returned as slightly injured in the numerous accidents which occurred would have been at least three-fold larger than it was. If it had not been ten-fold larger it would have been surprising.

The foregoing comparison, relates however, simply to passengers killed in accidents for which they are in no degree responsible. When, however, the question reverts to the general cost in life and limb at which the railroad systems are worked and the railroad traffic is carried on to the entire communities served, the comparison is less favorable to Massachusetts. Taking the eight years of 1871-8, the British returns include 30,641 cases of injury, and 9,113 of death; while those of Massachusetts for the same years included 1,165 deaths, with only 1,044 cases of injury; in the one case a total of 39,745 casualties, as compared with 2,209 in the other. It will, however be noticed that while in the British returns the cases of injury are nearly threefold those of death, in the Massachusetts returns

GRADE-CROSSINGS AND TRESPASSERS. 257

the deaths exceed the cases of injury. This fact in the present case cannot but throw grave suspicion on the completeness of the Massachusetts returns. As a matter of practical experience it is well known that cases of injury almost invariably exceed those of death, and the returns in which the disproportion is greatest, if no sufficient explanation presents itself, are probably the most full and reliable. Taking, therefore, the deaths in the two cases as the better basis for comparison, it will be found that the roads of Great Britain in the grand result accomplished seventeen-fold the work of those of Massachusetts with less than eight times as many casualties; had the proportion between the results accomplished and the fatal injuries inflicted been maintained, but 536 deaths instead of 1,165 would have appeared in the Massachusetts returns. The reason of this difference in result is worth looking for, and fortunately the statistical tables are in both cases carried sufficiently into detail to make an analysis possible; and this analysis, when made, seems to indicate very clearly that while, for those directly connected with the railroads, either as passengers or as employees, the Massachusetts system in its working involves relatively a less degree of danger than that of Great Britain, yet for the outside community it involves very much more. Take, for instance, the two heads of accidents at grade-crossings and accidents to trespassers, which have been already referred to. In Great Britain highway grade-crossings are discouraged.

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In Massachusetts they are practically insisted upon. The results of the policy pursued may in each case be read with sufficient distinctness in the bills of mortality. During the years 1872-7, of 1,929 casualties to persons on the railroads of Massachusetts, no less than 200 occurred at highway grade crossings. Had the accidents of this description in Great Britain been equally numerous in proportion to the larger volume of the traffic of that country, they would have resulted in over 3,000 cases of death or personal injury; they did in fact result in 586 such cases. In Massachusetts, again, to walk at will on any part of a railroad track is looked upon as a sort of prescriptive and inalienable right of every member of the community, irrespective of age, sex, color, or previous condition of servitude. Accordingly, during the six years referred to, this right was exercised at the cost of life or limb to 591 persons,—one in four of all the casualties which occurred in connection with the railroad system. In Great Britain the custom of using the tracks of railroads as a foot-path seems to exist, but, so far from being regarded as a right, it is practiced in perpetual terror of the law. Accordingly, instead of some 9,000 cases of death or injury from this cause during these six years, which would have been the proportion under like conditions in Massachusetts, the returns showed only 2,379. These two are among the most constant and fruitful causes of accident in connection with the railroad system

FOOD FOR LEGISLATIVE THOUGHT. 259

of America. In great Britain their proportion to the whole number of casualties which take place is scarcely a seventh part of what it is in Massachusetts. Here they constitute very nearly fifty percent of all the accidents which occur; there they constitute but a little over seven. There is in this comparison a good deal of solid food for legislative thought, if American legislators would but take it in; for this is one matter the public policy in regard to which can only be fixed by law.

When we pass from Great Britain to the continental countries of Europe, the difficulties in the way of any fair comparison of results become greater and greater. The statistics do not enter sufficiently into detail, nor is the basis of computation apparent. It is generally conceded that, where a due degree of caution is exercised by the passenger, railroad traveling in continental countries is attended with a much less degree of danger than in England. When we come to the returns, they hardly bear out this conclusion; at least to the degree commonly supposed. Take France, for example. Nowhere is human life more carefully guarded than in that country; yet their returns show that of 866,000,000 passengers transported on the French railroads during the eleven years 1859-69, no less than 65 were killed and 1,285 injured from causes beyond their control; or one in each 13,000,000 killed as compared with one in 10,700,000 in Great Britain; and one in every

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674,000 injured as compared with one in each 330,000 in the other country. During the single year 1859, about 111,000,000 passengers were carried on the French lines, at a general cost to the community of 2,416 casualties, of which 295 were fatal. In Massachusetts, during the four years 1871-74, about 95,000,000 passengers were carried, at a reported cost of 1,158 casualties. This showing might well be considered favorable to Massachusetts did not the single fact that her returns included more than twice as many deaths as the French, with only a quarter as many injuries, make it at once apparent that the statistics were at fault. Under these circumstances comparison could only be made between the numbers of deaths reported; which would indicate that, in proportion to the work done, the railroad operations of Massachusetts involved about twice and a half more cases of injury to life and limb than those of the French service. As respects Great Britain the comparison is much more favorable, the returns showing an almost exactly equal general death-rate in the two countries in proportion to their volumes of traffic; the volume of Great Britain being about four times that of France, while its death-rate by railroad accidents was as 1,100 to 295.

With the exception of Belgium, however, in which country the returns cover only the lines operated by the state, the basis hardly exists for a useful comparison between the dangers of injury from accident 

THE AMERICAN DATA. 261

on the continental railroads and on those of Great Britain and America. The several systems are operated on wholly different principles, to meet the needs of communities between whose modes of life and thought little similarity exists. The continental trains are far less crowded than either the English or the American, and, when accidents occur, fewer persons are involved in them. The movement, also, goes on under much stricter regulation and at lower rates of speed, so that there is a grain of truth in the English sarcasm that on a German railway "it almost seems as if beer-drinking at the stations were the principal business, and traveling a mere accessory."

Limiting, therefore, the comparison to the railroads of Great Britain, it remains to be seen whether the evil reputation of the American roads as respects accidents is wholly deserved. Is it indeed true that the danger to a passenger's life and limbs is so much greater in this country than elsewhere?—Locally, and so far as Massachusetts at least is concerned, it certainly is not. How is it with the country taken as a whole?—The lack of all reliable statistics as respects this wide field of inquiry has already been referred to. We have no trustworthy data. We do not know with accuracy even the number of miles of road operated; much less the number of passengers annually carried. As respects accidents, and the deaths and injuries resulting therefrom, some information may be gathered from a careful and very  

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valuable, because the only, record which has been preserved during the last six years in the columns of the Railroad Gazette. It makes, of course, no pretence at either official accuracy or fullness, but it is as complete probably as circumstances will permit of its being made. During the five years 1874-8 there have been included in this record 4,846 accidents, resulting in 1,160 deaths and 4,650 cases of injury;—being an average of 969 accidents a year, resulting in 232 deaths and 930 cases of injury. These it will be remembered are casualties directly resulting either to passengers or employees from train accidents. No account is taken of injuries sustained by employees in the ordinary operation of the roads, or by members of the community not passengers. In Massachusetts the accidents to passengers and employees constitute one-half of the whole, but a very small portion of the injuries reported as sustained by either passengers or employees are the consequence of train accidents,—not one in three in the case of passengers or one in seven in that of employees. In fact, of the 2,350 accidents to persons reported in Massachusetts in the nine years 18708, but 271, or less than twelve per cent., belonged to the class alone included in the reports of the Railroad Gazette. In England during the four years 1874-7 the proportion was larger, being about twenty-five instead of twelve per cent. For America at large the Massachusetts proportion is undoubtedly the most nearly correct, and the probabilities would 

GUESSING AT STATISTICS. 263

seem to be that the annual average of injuries to persons incident to operating the railroads of the United States is not less than 10,000, of which at least 1,200 are due to train accidents. Of these about two-thirds may be set down as sustained by passengers, or, approximately, 800 a year.

It remains to be ascertained what proportion this number bears to the whole number carried. There are no reliable statistics on this head any more than on the other. Nothing but an approximation of the most general character is possible. The number of passengers annually carried on the roads of a few of the states is reported with more or less accuracy, and averaging these the result would seem to indicate that there are certainly not more than 350,000,000 passengers annually carried on the roads of all the states. There is something barbarous about such an approximation, and it is disgraceful that at this late day we should in America be forced to estimate the passenger movement on our railroads in much the same way that we guess at the population of Africa. Such, however, is the case. We are in this respect far in the rear of civilized communities. Taking, however, 350,000,000 as a fair approximation to our present annual passenger movement, it will be observed that it is as nearly as may be half that of Great Britain. In Great Britain, in 1878, there were 1,200 injuries to passengers from accidents to trains, and 675 in 1877. The average of the last eight years has been 1,226. If, therefore,

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the approximation of 800 a year for America is at all near the truth, the percentage would seem to be considerably larger than that arrived at from the statistics of Great Britain. Meanwhile it is to be noted that while in Great Britain about 25 cases of injury are reported to each one of death, in America but four cases are reported to each death—a discrepancy which is extremely suggestive. Perhaps, however, the most valuable conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that in America we as yet are absolutely without any reliable railroad statistics on this subject at all.

Taken as a whole, however, and under the most favorable showing, it would seem to be a matter of fair inference that the dangers incident to railroad traveling are materially greater in the United States than in any country of Europe. How much greater is a question wholly impossible to answer. So that when a statistical writer undertakes to show, as one eminent European authority has done, that in a given year on the American roads one passenger in every 286,179 was killed, and one in every 90,737 was injured, it is charitable to suppose that in regard to America only is he indebted to his imagination for his figures.

Neither is it possible to analyze with any satisfactory degree of precision the nature of the accidents in the two countries, with a view to drawing inferences from them. Without attempting to do so it maybe said that the English Board of Trade 

CAUSES OF ACCIDENTS. 265

reports for the last five years, 1874-8,* include inquiries into 755 out of 11,585 accidents, the total number of every description reported as having taken place. Meanwhile the Railroad Gazette contains mention of 4,846 reported train accidents which occurred in America during the same five years. Of these accidents, 1,310 in America and 81 in Great Britain were due to causes which were either unexplained or of a miscellaneous character, or are not common to the systems of the two countries. In so far as the remainder admitted of classification, it was somewhat as follows:—

* During these five years there were in Great Britain four cases of collision between locomotives or trains at level crossings of one railroad by another; in America there were 79. The probable cause of this discrepancy has already been referred to (ante pp. 194-7).

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The above record, though almost valueless for any purpose of exact comparison, reveals, it will be noticed, one salient fact. Out of 755 English accidents, no less than 406 came under the head of collisions—whether head collisions, rear collisions, or collisions on sidings or at junctions. In other words, to collisions of some sort between trains were due considerably more than half (54 per cent.) of the accidents which took place in Great Britain, while only 88, or less than 13 per cent. of the whole, were due to derailments from all causes. In America on the other hand, while of the 3,763 accidents recorded, 1,324, or but one-third part (35 per cent.) were due to collisions, no less than 586, or 24 percent, were classed under the head of derailments, due to defects in the permanent way. During the six years 1873-8 there were in all 1698 cases of collision of every description between trains reported as occurring in America to 1495 in the United Kingdom; but while in America the derailments amounted to no less than 4016, or more than twice the collisions, in the United Kingdom they were but 817, or a little more than half their number. It has already been noticed that the most disastrous accidents in America are apt to occur on bridges, and Ashtabula and Tariffville at once suggest themselves. This is not the case in Great Britain. Under the heading of "Failures of Tunnels, Bridges, Viaducts or Culverts," there were returned in that country during the six years 1873-8

THE COST OF ACCIDENTS. 267

only 29 accidents in all; while during the same time in America, under the heads of broken bridges or tressels and open draws, the Gazette recorded no less than 165. These figures curiously illustrate the different manner in which the railroads of the two countries have been constructed, and the different circumstances under which they are operated. The English collisions are distinctly traceable to constant overcrowding; the American derailments and bridge accidents to inferior construction of our roadbeds.

Finally, what of late years has been done to diminish the dangers of the rail?—What more can be done?—Few persons realize what a tremendous pressure in this respect is constantly bearing down upon those whose business it is to operate railroads. A great accident is not only a terrible blow to the pride and prestige of a corporation, not only does it practically ruin the unfortunate officials involved in it, but it entails also portentous financial consequences. Juries proverbially have little mercy for railroad corporations, and, when a disaster comes, these have practically no choice but to follow the scriptural injunction to settle with their adversaries quickly. The Revere catastrophe, for instance, cost the railroad company liable on account of it over half a million of dollars; the Ashtabula accident over $600,000; the Wollaston over $300,000. A few years ago in England a jury awarded a sum of $65,000 for damages sustained through the death of a single individual.

268 RAILROAD ACCIDENTS.

During the five years, 1867-71, the railroad corporations of Great Britain paid out over $11,000,000 in compensation for damages occasioned by accidents. In view, merely, of such money consequences of disaster, it would be most unnatural did not each new accident lead to the adoption of better appliances to prevent its recurrence.*

To return, however, to the subject of railroad accidents, and the final conclusion to be drawn from the statistics which have been presented. That conclusion briefly stated is that the charges of recklessness and indifference so generally and so widely advanced against those managing the railroads cannot for an instant be sustained. After all, as was said in the beginning of the present volume, it is not the danger but the safety of the railroad which should excite our special wonder. If any

* The other side of this proposition has been argued with much force by Mr. William Galt in his report as one of the Royal Commission of 1874 on Railway Accidents. Mr. Galt's individual report bears date February 5, 1877, and in it he asserts that, as a matter of actual experience, the principle of self-interest on the part of the railway companies has proved a wholly insufficient safeguard against accidents. However it may be in theory, he contends that, taking into consideration the great cost of the appliances necessary to insure safety to the public on the one side, and the amount of damages incident to a certain degree of risk on the other side, the possible saving in expenditure to the companies by assuming the risk far exceeds the loss incurred by an occasional accident. The companies become, in a word, insurers of their passengers,—the premium being found in the economics effected by not adopting improved appliances of recognized value, and the losses being the damages incurred in case of accident. He treats the whole subject at great length and with much knowledge and ability. His report is a most valuable compendium for those who are in favor of a closer government supervision over railroads as a means of securing an increased safety from accident.

AND YET IT IS SAFE! 269

one doubts this, it is very easy to satisfy himself of the fact,—that is, if by nature he is gifted with the slightest spark of imagination. It is but necessary to stand once on the platform of a way-station and to look at an express train dashing by. There are few sights finer; few better calculated to quicken the pulse. It is most striking at night. The glare of the head-light, the rush and throb of the locomotive,—the connecting rod and driving-wheels of which seem instinct with nervous life,—the flashing lamps in the cars, and the final whirl of dust in which the red tail-lights vanish almost as soon as they are seen,—this is well calculated to excite our admiration; but the special and unending cause for wonder is how, in case of accident, anything whatever is left of the train. As it plunges into the darkness it would seem to be inevitable that something must happen, and that, whatever happens, it must necessarily involve both the train and every one in it in utter and irremediable destruction. Here is a body weighing in the neighborhood of two hundred tons, moving over the face of the earth at a speed of sixty feet a second and held to its course only by two slender lines of iron rails;—and yet it is safe!—We have seen how when, half a century ago, the possibility of something remotely like this was first discussed, a writer in the British Quarterly earned for himself a lasting fame by using the expression that "We should as soon expect people to suffer themselves

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to be fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochet rockets, as to trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine, going at such a rate;"—while Lord Brougham exclaimed that "the folly of seven hundred people going fifteen miles an hour, in six trains, exceeds belief." At the time they wrote, the chances were ninety-nine in a hundred that both reviewer and correspondent were right; and yet, because reality, not for "he first nor the last time, saw, fit to outstrip the wildest flights of imagination, the former at least blundered, by being prudent, into an immortality of ridicule. The thing, however, is still none the less a miracle because it is with us matter of daily observation. That, indeed, is the most miraculous part of it. At all hours of the day and of the night, during every season of the year, this movement is going on. It never wholly stops. It depends for its even action on every conceivable contingency, from the disciplined vigilance of thousands of employees to the condition of the atmosphere, the heat of an axle, or the strength of a nail. The vast machine is in constant motion, and the derangement of a single one of a myriad of conditions may at any moment occasion one of those inequalities of movement which are known as accidents. Yet at the end of the year, of the hundreds of millions of passengers fewer have lost their lives through these accidents than have been murdered in cold blood. Not without reason, therefore, has it been asserted that, viewing at

A CREDITABLE MONUMENT. 271

once the speed, the certainty, and the safety with which the intricate movement of modern life is carried on, there is no more creditable monument to human care, human skill, and human foresight than the statistics of railroad accidents.


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