On the 15th of last April, a special Committee was appointed by the Legislature of the State of New York, to examine and report on the causes of railroad accidents, and the best means to prevent their recurrence. This Committee consisted of the State Engineer. Wm. J. McAlpine, Esq., and the Chairman of the Committee ot Railroads in the Senate, the Hon. H. Bartlett. They presented their Report on the 10th inst., and an able one it is. The report states that they (the Committee) examined personally the principal railroads in this State, and obtained information from the officers of several companies respecting the working and management of them. No less than 15 companies, however, failed to reply to certain interrogatories addressed to them. The Committee has come to the conclusion that the general causes of railroad ae-cidents are:— "1. Defective construction., 2. Improper management. 3. Impediments in the roadway. Under the first head are embraced defects in the construction of railways, of superstructures, and of rolling stock. Under the second head are included, the running of engines -andains of too gteat weight, and at too high a rate of speed'for the grade, strength and capacity of the road; the employment of incompetent or improper agents and workmen; the want of proper and vigilant supervision; an insufficient system of signals, and want of due attention thereto ; the failure of conductors to make their running time ; the running of trains too closely following each other; the running of engines and cars too great a distance, without thorough inspection ; an insufficiency of break power, and insufficient examination of the condition of the superstructure and rolling stock. Under the third head are included, slides from the cuttings ; persons and domestic animals upon the track; cars, hand-cars, gravel and wood trains, &c, left standing in improper situations ; vehicles crossing the track ; obstructions designedly placed upon the track." One of the most apparent defects of our railroad management, says the report, is the want of sufficient iraftc-power. This power must be in accordance with the speed at which trains are run. Thus a train running at 10 miles per hour, and another at 20 miles per hour, the latter will require four times the brake power to stop it in the same time and space. The interval of space required to arrest a train, increases in the ratio of the square of the speed." The remedies recommended for the prevention of accidents are " better inspection of the engines and cars; heavier rails and more substantial tracks, more competent managers, engineers, and general workmen, and more powerful brakes." It appears to us that the chief causes of railroad accidents are bad tracks and bad rolling stock. If we had double tracks on all the lines, and these built in the most solid and substantial manner, and well fenced and watched so as to have no dangerous crossings and no stray cattle on the tracks, there would be no collisions, consequently there would be little necessity for powerful brakes. On the other hand, if the rolling stock, axles, wheels, &c, of the engines and cars were sound beyond a doubt, there would b few accidents caused by the breaking of parts of the rolling stock. Competent men should always be employed, but careful steady men are more suitable than smart men. We humbly believe that a railroad can be built and managed to run trains at the rate of 80 miles per hour with greater insurance of safety to the passengers, than many of the roads now running at the rate of 20 miles per hour. And to do this requires no new discovery, nor the application of any stretch of genius, but simply the construction of double solid tracks with heavy rails, all fenced and secluded, and the employment of the best materials in the construction of those parts of engines and cars liable to tear and wear. By good tracks—, we mean no narrow curves, miserable bridges, light rails, open crossings. &c, but solid foundations, wide curves, heavy rails, &c.' We hope the Legislature will move in the matter of double tracks ; give us this reform first, and grant no charter hereafter to any railroad company unless they build a double track, and give the present companies having single tracks some space of time to make them double. Every dangerous embankment should also be . fenced up so strong as no accident could possibly take place, like that by which our President elect recently lost his only and well-beloved son. It is a disgrace to our country that there are so many steep embankments unenclosed on our railways. There are on many of them yawning gulfs, where but a few inches from the rails a whole train is liable to be precipitated and dashed to pieces on the jutting crags below, by the least obstruction on the track. It is high time there was a relorm, and a radical one in our railway system.
This article was originally published with the title "Railroad Accidents—Means of Prevention" in Scientific American 8, 21, 165 (February 1853)