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ALBANY, June 8, 1891. F. J. TOWNSEND, Esq., Painted Post, N. Y.:
SIR.— Your communication of June 6, 1891, is received.
Section 33 of the new railroad law, i. e., chapter 565, Laws of 1890, provides that, "at any point where a railroad crosses a street, highway, turnpike, plankroad or traveled way at grade, and the corporation owning or operating such railroad, refuses, upon request of the local authorities to station a flagman or erect gates, to be opened and closed when an engine or train passes, the Supreme Court, or the County Court may, upon the application of the local authorities and upon ten days' notice to the corporation, order that a flagman be stationed at such point, or that gates shall be erected thereat, and that a person be stationed to open and close them when an engine or train passes, or may make such other order respecting the same as it deems proper."
Your proper course would be to apply to the highway commissioners of the town of Corning to request the corporation to station a flagman. The statute clearly points out the further proceedings.
By the Board.
IN THE MATTER OF A HEAD-ON COLLISION AT LOCKPORT STATION ON THE
NIAGARA Falls BRANCH OF THE NEW YORK CENTRAL AND HUDSON RIVER RAILROAD, ON SEPTEMBER 8, 1890, RESULTING IN DEATH OF W. A. FIDLER, BAGGAGEMAN ON TRAIN No. 19.
November 24, 1890.
From testimony taken by a coroner and a personal examination of the premises by a member of the Board, the facts and circumstances attending this accident are shown to be substantially as follows:
On the morning of September 8, west-bound train No. 19, North Shore limited passenger train, arrived at Lockport forty-seven minutes late, or about 4.07 A. M.; on the same date eastbound North Shore limited passenger train No. 20 arrived at this station about 4.08 A. M., and on a single track about fifteen feet west of the middle semaphore came in collision with train No. 19, the tender of the locomotive on train No. 19 telescoping its baggage car, causing the death of the baggageman.
This station is located on a sharp grade descending eastward. Approaching it from the east, the bridge known as the “Eighteen Mile Creek bridge” is crossed. At the west end of the grade is the canal bridge of several hundred feet span, and about 100 feet above the water. The distance between the extreme of these points is about 1,925 feet, and for the purpose of operating this specified distance, semaphores were erected in accordance with a notice posted January 28, 1890.
West of the canal bridge at the junction of the double track (which is used to Lockport junction), is an interlocking switch and target system, the latter known as the "double throw,” the lever being connected with the semaphore west of the canal bridge, and with the middle semaphore in the center of the yard. One movement of this lever gives east-bound trains the right of way and blocks west bound, and vice versa.
At the east side of Eighteen Mile creek is a semaphore connected with an interlocking switch system, that is located west of the bridge, about fifty-three feet from the switchman's shanty.
The middle semaphore is about in the center of the yard. It is thirty-seven feet high, and a signal displayed thereon can be seen by the switchman at either end of the yard.
The following order was issued on January 28, 1890, in reference to this piece of track:
"BUFFALO STATION, January 28, 1890. “All concerned:
"That portion of track at Lockport between east end of gulf bridge and double-track junction, will be operated and controlled by semaphore signals, which have been erected east of canal bridge and east of gulf bridge. All trains and engines from both directions must keep a sharp lookout for tbese sigoals and be governed accordingly. (Signed) “GEORGE H. BURROWS,
Superintendent.” It will be seen by this order that the tracks between the west side of the canal bridge and the east side of Eighteen Mile creek (or Gulf bridge) are operated wholly by a system of semaphore signals independent of any right of way or other time-card order, and the safety of such operation is only effected by a rigid observance of the above order by all persons connected with the movements of trains at this point.
A. H. Rebasz, the switchman at the east end of the yard, testified that it was his duty to tend to the east semaphore and also to see that the light in the middle one was kept burning; that five or ten minutes before the accident this light was all right; that when he heard the whistle of train No. 20 from the west, he turned his semaphore against trains from the east; that while in the act of changing it he saw No. 19 coming around the curve; tbat the signal was at danger when the engine passed it; that the train did not slow up but passed him at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour; that he stood in the center of the track as long as it was safe signalling it to stop.
James Collins, the switchman west of the canal bridge, testified that when No. 20 approached he gave it the target (that is, pulled the west semaphore to safety and the middle semaphore to danger) and then changed the switch; that the train came in slowly and after passing over to the single track went still slower; that he could not swear whether the light on the middle semaphore was burning when he changed the switch, but that it was burning about 4 o'clock. It is proper to state that immediately after the accident it was discovered that this light was not burning.
R. S. Brown, the engineer of train No. 20, east bound, testified that on this date he approached Lockport slowly; that the western semaphore was turned for him; that the switch was then changed to allow him to pass from the double to the single track; this gave him the right of way and blocked trains from the east; that he was running three or four miles an hour when the collision occurred.
Edson Bradley, engineer of train No. 19, west bound, testified that when he approached the east semaphore, the signal was at safety, giving him the right to proceed and it remained so until he passed it; that at a point about the middle of the bridge he saw a light moved twice as a signal to go ahead; that he passed the station about ten miles an hour and was not running to exceed that speed when the accident occurred.
William Houston, fireman of train No. 19, verified the engineer's statement, and in addition testified that the engineer applied the brakes between the semaphore and bridge and when the switchman gave the signal to come ahead the engineer released the brakes and the train passed the station at about ten miles an hour.
A conflict of testimony as to the speed of No. 19 and the condition of the signals is apparent. Rebasz swears that the speed was thirty or forty miles an hour and that his signal was to stop. The engineer and fireman testify positively to a speed of only ten miles an hour and signals to go ahead.
At an examination of the locality on September 12 & locomotive was placed on the curve in the cut east of Eighteen Mile creek, the point where Rebasz testifies he first observed No. 19 approaching. From this point to the semaphore is 300 feet. An employee was then placed at the point where the switchman swears he was when he first saw the engine. This employee did just what Rebasz would have to do to turn the semaphore, and it took him eight seconds.
Train No. 19 is scheduled to run at about thirty-eight miles per hour, and on this date had made up three minutes. Allowing for the fact that it was going up grade it is fair to presume that its speed was at least in this cut thirty miles an hour.
A train at the latter speed passes over the track forty-four feet per second; consequently, the engine must have passed the semaphore before the switchman had turned the target. In other words, the . train moving at schedule speed passed over this 300 feet before the switchman could run fifty-three feet and then change the signal.
The slight damage done to the rolling stock, however, indicates that the speed at the point of accident was much nearer the limit sworn to by the engineer and fireman than that testified to by the switchman, which reduction had taken place after passing the semaphore.
Lockport is an important station on this road and is the terminus of the Buffalo and Lockport branch of this division. Ten passenger trains leave and arrive each day, and in addition there are eleven through passenger trains, twenty-one regular freight trains (and as many extras as the traffic requires), making forty-two regular trains, that pass over this single track, the safety of which is governed wholly by the proper observance of the signals displayed on these semaphores. That these signals were not properly displayed and observed on this date is beyond doubt. It is proper to say that Rebasz and Collins had been employed at these points about one month, but this was ample time for them to become accustomed to their duties, and to a strict performance thereof.
Trains going west, generally, on this line have the right of way. The middle semaphore when at rest is placed to gives such trains this right. Such being the fact it was the duty of Collins the switchman at the west end not to allow a train to pass on to the single track going east until he knew that the signal at the middle semaphore was properly displayed. In the absence of a light at this point he should have held No. 20 until he was positive that the way was clear.
It was also the duty of Rebasz, the switchman at the east end of the yard, to know that the lamp on the middle semaphore was burning and knowing that these fast trains were both due, he should have particularly observed this light, and if for any reason it was not burning, he should have thrown his semaphore east of Eighteen Mile creek at danger, stopping west-bound trains, and then learn the cause of the failure of the light.
While engineer Brown used good judgment in approaching and passing over this single track at a very slow rate of speed, and while he had not reached the middle semaphore when the accident occurred, yet it would have been more prudent to have refused to proceed until he saw the light on the middle semaphore displayed against westbound trains, or had been informed why the light was not burning, and that other precautions had been taken.
In the absence of any testimony that the light on the middle semaphore was burning at the time of the accident, and from testimony that it was not immediately after the accident, the conclusion must be reached that this light was not burning when Bradley passed through the station and by the semaphore. Bradley knew that it was time for No. 20, and this fact, together with the instructions in the special order, should have positively called his attention to the condition of the signal on the middle semaphore, and in the absence of a light (although the arm was at danger) he should have stopped at the station and ascertained the cause thereof.
It will be seen in connection with this accident that a few seconds in time was an important factor; that if the interlocking system at Eighteen Mile creek had been located closer to the switchman's shanty, the eight seconds of time on this occasion would have been saved and the signal placed at danger before the locomotive passed it, and this accident in all probability would not have occurred.
The Board is impressed, however, with the confusion likely to arise on this piece of single track, from the fact that different switches operate the semaphore signals at the west end and east end of the yard. It appears quite possible that the switchman at the east end might display the semaphore at safety admitting a train, perhaps at a high rate of speed, while at the same time the switchman at the west end might have done the same thing.
The Board deems that it would be safer to have both signals interlocked and operated from a central point near the station by one man, and so arranged that the east semaphore would always be at danger if the west was at safety, and vice versa. The Board understands from correspondence with the superintendent of the road that this is substantially his opinion.
RECOMMENDATIONS. The Board recommends that the system of signalling be reconstructed at this point so that the signals shall be interlocked and operated from a central point near the station by one man, and so arranged that the east semaphore will always be at danger if the west is at safety, and vice versa.
By the Board.