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MAY 6, 1853. 89

CHAPTER X.

THE NORWALK ACCIDENT.

THE railroad at Norwalk crosses a small inlet of Long Island Sound by means of a draw-bridge, which is approached from the direction of New York around a sharp curve. A ball at the mast-head was in 1853 the signal that the draw was open and the bridge closed to the passage of trains. The express passenger train for Boston, consisting of a locomotive and two baggage and five passenger cars, containing about one hundred and fifty persons, left New York as usual at eight o'clock that morning. The locomotive was not in charge of its usual engine-driver but of a substitute named Tucker; a man who some seven years before had been injured in a previous collision on the same road, for which he did not appear to have been in any way responsible, but who had then given up his position and gone to California, whence he had recently returned and was now again an applicant for an engineer's situation. This was his

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third trip over the road, as substitute. In approaching the bridge at Norwalk he apparently wholly neglected to look for the draw-signal. He was running his train at about the usual rate of speed, and first became aware that the draw was open when within four hundred feet of it and after it had become wholly impossible to stop the train in time. He immediately whistled for brakes and reversed his engine, and then, without setting the brake on his tender, both he and the fireman sprang off and escaped with trifling injuries. The train at this time did not appear to be moving at a speed of over fifteen miles an hour. The draw was sixty feet in width; the water in the then state of the tide was about twelve feet deep, and the same distance below the level of the bridge. Although the speed of the train had been materially reduced, yet when it came to the opening it was still moving with sufficient impetus to send its locomotive clean across the sixty foot interval and to cause it to strike the opposite abutment about eight feet below the track; it then fell heavily to the bottom. The tender lodged on top of the locomotive, bottom up and resting against the pier, while on top of this again was the first baggage car. The second baggage car, which contained also a compartment for smokers, followed, but in falling was canted over to the north side of the draw in such a way as not to be wholly submerged, so that most of those in it were saved. The first passenger car next plunged into

THE BELOEIL DRAW-BRIDGE. 91

the opening; its forward end crushed in, as it fell against the baggage car in front of it, while its rear end dropped into the deep water below; and on top of it came the second passenger car, burying the passengers in the first beneath the debris, and itself partially submerged. The succeeding or third passenger car, instead of following the others, broke in two in the middle, the forward part hanging down over the edge of the draw, while the rear of it rested on the track and stayed the course of the remainder of the train. Including those in the smoking compartment more than a hundred persons were plunged into the channel, of whom forty-six lost their lives, while some thirty others were more or less severely injured. The killed were mainly among the passengers in the first car; for, in falling, the roof of the second car was split open, and it finally rested in such a position that, as no succeeding car came on top of it, many of those in it were enabled to extricate themselves; indeed, more than one of the passengers in falling were absolutely thrown through the aperture in the roof, and, without any volition on their part, were saved with unmoistened garments.

Shocking as this catastrophe was, it was eclipsed in horror by another exactly similar in character, though from the peculiar circumstances of the case it excited far less public notice, which occurred eleven years later on the Grand Trunk railway of Canada. In this case a large party of emigrants, over 500 in number and chiefly Poles, Germans and

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Norwegians of the better class, had landed at Quebec and were being forwarded on a special train to their destination in the West. With their baggage they filled thirteen cars. The Grand Trunk on the way to Montreal crosses the Richelieu river at Beloeil by an iron bridge, in the westernmost span of which was a draw over the canal, some 45 feet below it. Both by law and under the running rules of the road all trains were to come to a dead stand on approaching the bridge, and to proceed only when the safety signal was clearly discerned. This rule, however, as it appeared at the subsequent inquest, had been systematically disobeyed, it having been considered sufficient if the train was "slowed down." In the present case, however—the night of June 29, 1864,—though the danger signal was displayed and in full sight for a distance of 1,600 feet, the engine-driver, unfamiliar with the road and its signals, failed to see it, and, without slowing his train even, ran directly onto the bridge. He became aware of the danger when too late to stop. The draw was open to permit the passage of a steamer with six barges in tow, one of which was directly under the opening. The whole train went through the draw, sinking the barge and piling itself up in the water on top of it. The three last cars, falling on the accumulated wreck, toppled over upon the west embankment and were thus less injured than the others. The details of the accident were singularly distressing. "As soon as possible a strong cable was

JUNE 29, 1864. 93

attached to the upper part of the piling, and by this means two cars, the last of the ill-fated train, were dragged onto the wharf under the bridge. Their removal revealed a horrible sight. A shapeless blue mass of hands and heads and feet protruded among the splinters and frame-work, and gradually resolved itself into a closely-packed mass of human beings, all ragged and bloody and dinted from crown to foot with blue bruises and weals and cuts inflicted by the ponderous iron work, the splinters and the enormous weight of the train.
* * * A great many of the dead had evidently been asleep; the majority of them had taken off their boots and coats in the endeavor to make themselves as comfortable as possible. They Jay heaped upon one another like sacks, dressed in the traditional blue clothing of the German people. * * * A child was got at and removed nine hours after the accident, being uninjured in its dead mother's arms."

The accident happened at 2 AM, and before sundown of the next day 86 bodies had been taken out of the canal; others were subsequently recovered, and yet more died from their hurts. The injured were numbered by hundreds. It was altogether a disaster of the most appalling description, in extenuation of which nothing was to be said. It befell, however, a body of comparatively friendless emigrants, and excited not a tithe of the painful interest which yet attaches to the similar accident to the Boston express at Norwalk. 

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These terrible disasters were both due, not alone to the carelessness of the two engine-drivers, but to the use of a crude and inadequate system of signals. It so happened, however, that the legislature of Connecticut was unfortunately in session at the time of the Norwalk disaster, and consequently the public panic and indignation took shape in a law compelling every train on the railroads of that state to come to a dead stand-still before entering upon any bridge in which there was a draw. This law is still in force, and from time to time, as after the New Hamburg catastrophe, an unreasoning clamor is raised for it in other states. In point of fact it imposes a most absurd, unnecessary and annoying delay on travel, and rests upon the Connecticut statute book a curious illustration of what usually happens when legislators undertake to incorporate running railroad regulations into the statutes-at-large. It is of a par with another law, which has for more than twenty-five years been in force in Connecticut's sister state of Massachusetts, compelling in all cases where the tracks of different companies cross each other at a level the trains of each company to stop before reaching the crossing, and then to pass over it slowly. The danger of collision at crossings is undoubtedly much greater than that of going through open draws. Precautions against danger in each case are unquestionably proper and they cannot be too perfect, but to have recourse to stopping either in the one case or

AN INADEQUATE PROTECTION. 95

the other simply reveals an utter ignorance of the great advance which has been made in railroad signals and the science of interlocking. In both these cases it is, indeed, entitled to just about the same degree of respect as would be a proposal to recur to pioneer engines as a means of preventing accidents to night trains.

The machinery by means of which both draws and grade crossings can be protected, will be referred to in another connection,* meanwhile it is a curious fact that neither at grade crossings nor at draws has the mere stopping of trains proved a sufficient protection. Several times in the experience of Massachusetts' roads have those in charge of locomotives, after stopping and while moving at a slow rate of speed, actually run themselves into draws with their eyes open, and afterwards been wholly unable to give any satisfactory explanation of their conduct. But the insufficiency of stopping as a reliable means of prevention was especially illustrated in the case of an accident which occurred upon the Boston & Maine railroad on the morning of the 21st of November, 1862, when the early local passenger train was run into the open draw of the bridge almost at the entrance to the Boston station. It so happened that the train had stopped at the Charlestown station just before going onto the bridge, and at the time the accident occurred was moving at a speed scarcely faster than

* Chapters XVII and XVIII. 

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a man could walk; and yet the locomotive was entirely submerged, as the water at that point is deep, and the only thing which probably saved the train was that the draw was so narrow and the cars were so long that the foremost one lodged across the opening, and its forward end only was beneath the water. At the rate at which the train was moving the resistance thus offered was sufficient to stop it, though, even as it was, no less than six persons lost their lives and a much larger number were more or less injured. Here all the precautions imposed by the Connecticut law were taken, and served only to reveal the weak point in it. The accident was due to the neglect of the corporation in not having the draw and its system of signals interlocked in such a way that the movement of the one should automatically cause a corresponding movement of the other; and this neglect in high quarters made it possible for a careless employee to open the draw on a particularly dark and foggy morning, while he forgot at the same time to shift his signals. An exactly similar instance of carelessness on the part of an employee resulted in the derailment of a train upon the Long Branch line of the Central Road of New Jersey at the Shrewsbury river draw on August 9, 1877. In this case the safety signal was shown while the draw fastening had been left unsecured. The jar of the passing train threw the draw slightly open so as to disconnect the tracks; thus causing the derailment of the train, which subsequently 

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plunged over the side of the bridge. Fortunately the tide was out, or there would have been a terrible loss of life; as it was, some seventy persons were injured, five of whom subsequently died. This accident also, like that on the Boston & Maine road in 1862, very forcibly illustrated the necessity of an interlocking apparatus. The safety signal was shown before the draw was secured, which should have been impossible.

Prior to the year 1873 there is no consecutive record of this or any other class of railroad accidents occurring in America, but during the six years 1873-8 there occurred twenty-one cases of minor disaster at draws, three only of them to passenger trains. Altogether, excluding the Shrewsbury river accident, these resulted in the death of five employees and injury to one other. No passenger was hurt. In Great Britain not a single case of disaster of any description has been reported as occurring at a drawbridge since the year 1870, when the present system of official Board of Trade reports was begun. The lesson clearly to be drawn from a careful investigation of all the American accidents reported would seem to be that a statute provision making compulsory the interlocking of all draws in railroad bridges with a proper and infallible system of signals might have claims on the consideration of an intelligent legislature; not so an enactment which compels the stopping of trains at points where danger is small, and makes no provision as respects other points where it is great.


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