Train Order Accidents

A review of 68 accidents under the American system of time table and train orders from ICC reports, 1911-1966


This paper critically reviews a number of railway accidents that represent failures of the distinctively American time table and train order method of operation, taken from ICC accident reports with occasional added background. It would be more pleasant to review operations that did not involve accidents, but the stories are not available, so we must do with the pictures we have, and be satisfied with the hard lessons. The table of accidents below makes it easy to jump to any particular account. It is much easier to do this than to browse the unclassified ICC reports directly. This treatment is now deeper and more extensive and technical than that in Shaw.

The availability of historic ICC accident reports for the years 1911-1966 on the internet makes it easy to research operation under time table and train orders to find out how failures occurred. The computer search is much more powerful than poring over piles of documents, however limited its capabilities. Shaw's book discusses accidents in which there were public casualties, ignoring the more frequent events when there were few casualties, and those largely confined to employees. However, these less tragic happenings teach lessons as important as those taught by the more spectacular ones, and they are more pleasant to consider. They are also a view of operations in the classic period of American train orders, perhaps a major resource, and so are of intrinsic interest. The discussion here will carry forward Shaw's treatment, and extend it at several points. I differ with Shaw, largely on emphasis, on a few points. The reader can form his or her own opinions, since the information is freely available on the Internet, at the link given in the References.

Most train operation today, worldwide, is by signal indication. The driver of a train responds to immediate, simple stimuli and must obey them precisely. Operation by time table and train orders requires completely different skills, including memory, analysis and judgment, reference to time and to written instructions, and calculations of time and distance. It is, therefore, infinitely more interesting and stimulating. American railroad men were once proud of their skills, and rightly so. Today, many people who are employed by railroads seem to be either uninterested in developing the necessary mental skills, or are incapable of doing so, while the demands have become less challenging as the traffic is less varied, many lines have vanished, and ownership become more concentrated and bureaucratic and less personal, so that changed operating practices are essential.

Shaw says that the first ICC investigation by the Bureau of Safety under the Accidents Report Act of 6 May 1910 was of a Soo Line collision at Superior, WI on 5 June 1911, but this was actually the fifth investigation. Investigation No. 1 was of a derailment on the Pennsylvania's Belvidere Division at Martin's Creek, NJ in the same year on 29 April due to rough track, in which 12 passengers were killed. The feature of this derailment was gas. The wooden cars were lighted with acetylene or Pintsch gas, and they were completely consumed. The dining car gas tank exploded in the fire several hours after the accident, providing additional excitement. The highest-numbered investigation that I could find was No. 4099, concerning a derailment and collision on the Milwaukee on 20 July 1966.

Operation by telegraphic messages began around 1855, as soon as problems with the Morse patents were overcome and partnerships with telegraph companies established. The normal commercial telegraph lines of the period were far too unreliable for railway purposes, so that telegraph dispatching became practical only when the railway companies could control their own lines with exclusive access to them. Telegraph dispatching was overlaid on the existing well-developed time table system, making it much simpler and safer, and this relation remained until operation by signal indication superseded it. Trains can run purely on time table authority, but this means no extra trains, and no adjustment for delays of superior trains, without confusing and hazardous rules. Train orders provide for the operation of extra trains, and for the elimination of delays due to delayed trains, as well as for much else besides. Train orders are a special kind of telegraphic message, written on distinctive forms and subject to strict regulation of the methods of transmission and delivery. They are quite different from ordinary messages, and contain solely information dealing with the movement and safety of trains, which ordinary messages must not contain.

The dispatcher is the key person in the train order system, and the only one whose work is not checked or monitored. There is only one dispatcher for a given length of track, called a division, subdivision or district, so that there is no division of command that could lead to confusion. He communicated by telegraph or telephone with the operators along the line, each having a train order signal to stop trains for the delivery of orders, or to let them pass. Finally, the conductor and engineman received orders in writing, in the same words to all concerned in the movement. With radio, the dispatcher can communicate directly with the train crews, eliminating the need for operators (as on electric interurban lines). All but a very few of the accidents discussed here were before the time of train radio, so that only communication by wire with operators was available. On steam roads, labor agreements ruled out copying of orders by train crews, using the telephone, except in emergency. The use of radio to communicate between the front and rear of a train was an extremely valuable facility, nevertheless. Now, of course, there is no longer anyone on the rear, so this is no longer important. The changes of the present day are a completely different subject, and will not be considered here.

The telephone was adopted for dispatching beginning around the time of the First World War, prompted mainly by the difficulty of obtaining qualified operators and their high cost. Anyone physically capable can operate a telephone without special training, and the lower level of skill goes with lower wages. Sometimes it is viewed as an advance in technology, but most people involved would say that it is no improvement on telegraphy. Telegraphy concentrated on the individual characters of a message, and was not subject to the uncertainties of aural perception, so it was better adapted to the transmission of train orders. This explains its late survival in many places, in spite of the lack of trained Morse operators.

Failures of the train order system can be classified in three natural categories: (1) improper creation of orders; (2) failure of delivery of orders; and (3) misinterpretation or overlooking of orders, corresponding to the dispatcher, operators and train crews. The mistakes they made are discussed below. The Standard Code of train rules was adopted by the General Time Convention (Later ARA and AAR) in July 1889. It was a compilation of the best practice at the time, and was advisory, not compulsory. How well the work was done is shown by the fact that there have been no substantial changes or additions since that time, except perhaps for the introduction of the Clearance Card as a list of orders delivered, and these rules formed the basis of a uniquely North American method of operation. The Standard Code required conscientious, intelligent and disciplined employees, with the capacity to understand written instructions (such men and women may now be hard to find). In my opinion, it was a safe, efficient and economical means of controlling operations for low or moderate traffic densities, especially when supplemented by an automatic block system.

A very important element in time table and train order operation was flagging. Time table and train order give full protection against opposing trains on single track, but only limited protection against following trains, for which a man with a flag or lamp on the ballast is the main resource. This is a separate consideration, requiring rather elaborate discussion to explain it fully, so it will only be mentioned here when it has some direct bearing on the story. Flagging failures result in rear-end collisions, train-order failures in head-end collisions. We are mainly concerned with the latter. The chief role of an automatic block system is to provide protection against following trains and open switches, and to ease the job of the flagman. It is a complementary and desirable adjunct of train-order operation, permitting high speeds with safety.

The most important common factor in train order accidents revealed by this study is the abdication of the conductor's responsibility for the operation of the train jointly with the engineman, a mutual check that is the foundation of the Standard Code. In nearly every case, this is a contributing if not the principal cause of accident. Conductors are found repeatedly failing to consult with their enginemen, not showing orders to brakemen or other interested crew members, not being aware of the location of their train, not making train identification at meets, failing to observe Rule S-90 on exchanges of signals approaching meeting or waiting points, failing to supervise flagmen, and occupying their minds with waybills and tickets. When trains are operated by signal indication, conductors become as useless as firemen on diesel locomotives, and are no prettier.

The initial search strings for the reports of interest were "overlap* near authorit*" which found 16 documents, and "fail* near deliver*" which found a surprising 63. Note the use of the wild-card marker * that allows for variations in phrasing. The phrase "fail near delivery" only finds 4 documents, not 63. It does not appear possible to search for complete phrases, only individual words combined by the operator "near".

One could easily form the opinion that railway accidents are frequent and most employees are careless or incompetent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The ICC reports represent a small number of incidents where certain factors have combined to cause disaster. If we discussed all the cases in which disaster did not occur, these unfortunate incidents would be utterly buried. I recently heard that some 800 truck drivers die every year in accidents (in addition they take a lot of the rest of us with them), which is a higher toll than on the railways around the turn of the century when employee casualties were a disgrace. Our data base here is all reportable accidents for the years concerned, not just an arbitrary selection.

It must be taken into account that train rules not only changed with time but were also modified by individual companies. There were also special instructions in operating time tables that varied greatly. Dispatchers usually operated according to company policy, which was spelled out in a manual. Sometimes the peculiarities are known to me, and sometimes not. Fortunately, the principles did not vary significantly in spite of all this variety of detail, so the accidents will be discussed on this general basis. The most important thing about them is that they reflect actual, not theoretical, conditions.

Form 31 and Form 19 Orders

The reader will understand the reports better knowing what a train order is, and what the difference is between Form 31 and Form 19 orders. This section has been prepared with that in mind. To "copy" an order means to write it in manifold using double-sided carbons, as it comes in on the sounder (or telephone). To "meet" means for two opposing trains to pass by one another at a siding on single track. When a train is in the clear on a siding for a meet, its headlight is extinguished; otherwise, the headlight shows that the train is not in the clear. To "pass" means for one train to overtake another in the same direction at a siding on single track. When a train is in the clear on a siding to be passed, its markers are turned to show green (or yellow) to the rear when it is clear of the main track; otherwise, red markers show the train is not clear of the main track. A train has "right" if a train order gives it precedence over another train. Otherwise, the time table may specify the precedence of trains by "class" or "direction." Precedence is the right to move on the main track, perhaps restricted by a schedule or other provisions, with the other train, in the same or opposite direction, keeping out of the way, taking siding when necessary to be met or passed. The inferior train must usually be clear five minutes before a scheduled superior train is due, called the "clearance time," to allow a margin of safety, so the superior train will not have to approach prepared to stop. Trains of the same class, and extra trains, must approach such points prepared to stop, unless a block system is in use and signals are clear.

All train orders are essentially alike in that they are prepared, transmitted and delivered according to strict rules that ensure correctness and timely delivery. All are recorded in writing in the dispatcher's order book and are numbered. They are addressed to those who are to execute them, which includes operators in some cases, expressed in the same words, and repeated after transmission to ensure accuracy. The only real distinction between what are called Form 31 and Form 19 orders is the method of delivery. They are otherwise distinguished by being written on standard forms printed on yellow or green paper, respectively.

The original train order was similar to the later Form 31. The order was transmitted to the operator, who put out a train order signal and repeated the order to the dispatcher. The conductor and engineer would report to the telegraph office after seeing the signal, where there were formal readings of the order, by the operator or the trainmen, to ensure that the contents were understood. Then the conductor and engineer would sign the order, and their signatures would be telegraphed to the dispatcher. The dispatcher would give "complete," and this was noted on the order with the time and the superintendent's initials (symbol of authority). Now the order was in force, until it was fulfilled, superseded or annulled. An order is considered fulfilled when the train involved ceases to exist.

When a cumbersome rule that would hinder traffic is promulgated on a railroad, it is ignored or worked around in some way, and this rule was no exception. Getting the engineman off the engine and into the office with the conductor is exceedingly time-consuming and inconvenient. The engineman has important work to do and no time to stand about chatting. What was actually done was that the conductor would go to the office for the order, and forge the engineman's signature, then deliver the order to the engineman the next time he was near the engine. This alternative became the rule. The conductor would go to the office and sign for the order, together with any reading formalities (that became neglected, fortunately), and then deliver the order to the engineman. The engineman would then sign the conductor's copy as a receipt. At that time, orders were turned in at the end of a run so they could be inspected.

This procedure was still time-consuming, and it required the train to stop, and the conductor to walk the length of the train and back. To cure the problem, a method of delivery was devised that did not involve signatures. The order was made complete (effective) when it was repeated, and then the operator delivered the order to both the engineman and the conductor, as the engine and caboose passed the office. In fact, the train did not even have to stop, and the orders could be handed up attached to hoops or delivery forks. These new orders, delivered personally to engineman and conductor by the operator, were dubbed Form 19, and the traditional order called Form 31. The usual way to show that the train did not have to stop when the order signal was displayed was to show a yellow flag or yellow lamp, with the operator standing on the platform as the train approached. If the process miscarried, the train had to stop for the orders. Form 19 orders were not used to restrict a train, only to help it, and not to establish meets. A train was considered restricted when a 31 order addressed to it had been repeated, not when it was eventually made complete.

Further progress, if it can be so called, was made when the engineman no longer had to receipt for the Form 31 order. Additionally, orders were often handed up to firemen and brakemen, who were supposed to pass the orders on, which they usually did, if it was convenient (see Dewey, IN). When a train was stopped for orders, it remained the best practice for the conductor to hand orders to the engineman personally, and to discuss them, but this was not required, and often omitted, as many of the accidents below testify. Since conductors and enginemen were supposed to compare watches before starting, discussing the orders would not be inconvenient. At this point, there was really no difference between the security of delivery of 31 and 19 orders, as the 31 order no longer assured that the engineman would see and understand it. Generally, 31 and 19 orders were generally handed to the engineman in a single pile, distinguishable only by color.

It was soon realized that any difference in security between 31 and 19 orders was minimal, and the taking of signatures (except in special cases) was dropped, with the elimination of the Form 31, or by the adoption of a common train order form. There were indeed failures of delivery of train orders, but they would not have been cured by Form 31 in its later, toothless form. Many officials thought the taking of signatures had some formalistic significance that would attract the attention of trainmen more than the informal Form 19 order. Arguments along this line simply never got to the root of failure of delivery, which lay mainly with operators forgetting orders and enginemen not getting them at all. The signatures did not have to reach the dispatcher before he could help another train (except in certain situations, or when the order was to be delivered by a third party)--this would have been safe, but much too cumbersome.

The 19 order was first used to restrict trains in the "middle order" where 19 orders would be delivered on either side of the meeting point to the two trains involved, and also addressed to the operator at the meeting point, who would use the train order signal to ensure that neither train passed the meeting point. It was used for running orders for extra trains, and for train order register checks. Some roads retained 31 orders for meets, wait and run-late orders, to the trains restricted. Other trains affected received 19 orders. If a 19 order were not delivered, it could at most cause delay.

The chances of nondelivery were greatly reduced with the introduction of the clearance card as an order index. This form was originally used to authorize a train to pass a train order signal at stop when there were no orders for the train. It positively identified the train for which it was issued. The practice grew of listing the order numbers for a train on it as they were copied by the operator. Before clearing a train, the operator repeated the list of orders to the dispatcher, who gave his OK. When conscientiously done, this procedure practically eliminates nondelivery of orders. Now it was safe to restrict a train by a 19 order, and this has proved an acceptable practice. Any necessary signatures are simply forged in a blank area. It is actually the clearance card that eliminated the need for the Form 31 order.

In rare cases, simply placing an order at an office for delivery to a train is not enough to restrict it, and signatures should be obtained before the order is made complete to the train acquiring right. For example, when an extra is given a schedule and rights over all trains, it must be known that the order has actually been delivered to all trains on the road that are thereby made inferior, before the order is made complete for the extra. The reason is that the order may be sitting on an operator's desk and the extra passes before the train restricted has arrived and knows about the scheduled extra.

Trains are also sent messages, which are not subject to the rules for train orders, and must not contain information respecting the movement and safety of trains. Messages are never written on train order forms, but usually on small pieces of white or yellow paper. They may give information on cars to pick up or set out, number of cars in opposing trains, special treatment for passengers, lunch arrangements, and so on.

Index to the Accidents

Operational accidents, which are the only kind that will be discussed here, are not as common as accidents due to bad flagging, passing signals at stop, failures of equipment, track or structures, or highway crossings, and usually are not as costly in lives, except when aggravated by other factors, such as fire. Their causes involve human actions and psychological factors rather than material reasons, which makes them interesting to review and analyze. The 68 incidents discussed here are listed in the table below. These are doubtless not all of the accidents due to failures of time table and train order, but are a good sample of them, revealed by computer search of all available accident reports. Clicking on a link will take you to the part of the page that discusses that accident.

Time Table and Train Order Failures, 1911-1966
Road Location Date Major Cause
CB&Q Nodaway, MO 22 August 1960 CTC operated improperly
Southern (AGS) Woodstock, AL 11 November 1951 excessive speed on CTC siding
MStP&SSM Paynesville, MN 13 July 1950 conductor did not deliver to engineman
M&StL Waterville, MN 17 July 1953 conductor did not deliver to engineman
MP Enright, TX 21 March 1947 dispatcher failed to address annullment
Midland Valley Bokoshe, OK 1 February 1958 dispatcher completed order to superior train past signal
Kansas, Oklahoma & Gulf Kenefick, OK 20 May 1931 nonstandard procedure not properly executed
CStPM&O Cray, MN 14 June 1951 operator displayed TO signal for wrong direction
Louisiana & Arkansas Sulphur Springs, TX 12 October 1955 train number received incorrectly causing misdelivery
CRI&P Norton, KS 3 September 1944 operator cleared TO signal as block signal while holding orders
Delaware & Hudson Port Henry, NY 24 October 1954 operator forgot second train to receive orders
C&EI Goreville, IL 1 January 1944 operator forgot second train to receive orders
C&EI Dewey, IN 14 September 1944 ignored meet order
Kansas City Southern Tipton Ford, MO 5 August 1914 ignored meet order
NYC& StL (Nickel Plate) Swanville, PA 13 June 1928 ignored wait order
Northwestern Pacific Largo, CA 29 February 1929 entire crew of No. 2 ignored meet order
Northwestern Pacific Largo, CA 29 October 1952 dispatcher forgot returning helper
Northern Pacific Little Rock, WA 20 September 1944 running orders lap
Atlantic Coast Line Jesup, GA 24 March 1949 section overlooked
Atlantic Coast Line Mango, FL 10 October 1925 section overlooked
St. Louis-San Francisco Marshfield, MO 17 September 1918 dispatcher forgot to place restricting order
St. Louis-San Francisco Kellyville, OK 28 September 1917 incorrect train identification
St. Louis-San Francisco White Oak, OK 31 May 1920 faulty transfer of orders to engineman
St. Louis-San Francisco Quincy, MS 16 February 1939 misreading train order
St. Louis-San Francisco Pickensville, AL 10 August 1939 failure to take siding
Wheeling and Lake Erie Jewett, OH 16 July 1937 misreading train order
Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Angora, MN 1 December 1946 failure to deliver annulling order
Canadian Pacific Onawa, ME 20 December 1919 misreading of train order
Canadian Pacific Attean, ME 8 August 1957 clearance OK'd without including restricting order
Colorado and Southern South Park Junction, CO 1 June 1914 failure to clear time of superior train
Colorado and Southern Broomfield, CO 22 September 1958 conductor failed to observe Rule S-90
Colorado and Southern Chugwater, WY 16 September 1958 train occupying main track without protection
Colorado and Southern Royce, NM 26 March 1937 wait order ignored by superior train
Colorado and Southern Folsom, NM 16 February 1938 dispatcher's error in checking order
CB&Q Meadville, MO 4 January 1923 faulty train identification, manual block failure
CB&Q Belmont, NE 25 July 1941 failure to deliver order restricting train
D&RGW Granite, CO 20 August 1925 failure to deliver order restricting train
SL-SF Custer City, OK 3 July 1945 failure to deliver order restricting train
Ann Arbor Lake George, MI 29 July 1925 failure to deliver order restricting train
GC&SF Mullin, TX 29 December 1915 failure to deliver order restricting train
Southern Hicks, TN 4 October 1926 failure to deliver order restricting train
Erie Sloatsburg, NY 11 August 1958 failure to deliver order restricting train
B&O Lumberport, WV 21 July 1955 dispatcher overlooked extra
St Johnsbury & LC Greensboro, VT 5 May 1944 operator failed to display TO signal
MKT Alsuma, OK 19 Jul 1922 misunderstanding of train order
P&SF Cheyenne, OK 19 February 1943 misunderstanding of train order
D&RGW Toltec, NM 29 September 1922 misunderstanding of train order
Western Pacific David, CA 19 April 1931 misunderstanding of train order
Western Pacific Antelope, NV 14 April 1942 misunderstanding of train order
Western Pacific David, CA 1 November 1942 dispatcher's error
NC&StL Chickamauga, TN 24 September 1925 engineman did not read order
Northern Pacific Welch, MT 17 March 1922 engineman did not read order
CB&Q Wakeley, WY 2 April 1913 engineman did not read order correctly
CB&Q Omar, CO 27 October 1936 misunderstanding of train order
Southern Rockmart, GA 23 December 1926 orders not given to relieving engineman
Colorado Midland Idlewild, CO 27 August 1915 women in cab distract engineman
Philadelphia&Reading Woodmont, PA 5 December 1921 order misunderstood, manual block failure
Western Maryland Thurmont, MD 24 June 1915 orders improperly worded and not delivered
Western Maryland Blue Mountain, MD 27 November 1912 train register misread, section missed
Western Maryland Pen Mar, PA 6 December 1912 sections not handled properly
Seaboard Air Line Hamlet, NC 27 July 1911 message check of register incorrect
Denver and Interurban Globeville, CO 6 September 1920 conductor did not check register
Boston and Maine Nahor, NH 16 October 1929 conductor did not check register
NC&StL Nashville, TN 9 July 1918 incorrect train identification
Ligonier Valley Ligonier, PA 5 July 1912 verbal orders confused
Utah Railway Martin, UT 26 Aug 1922 single-order dispatching error
Rutland Riverside, VT 14 March 1920 order not legible
Seaboard Air Line Granite, NC 19 November 1911 order not legible

Causes of Accidents

It is possible to classify the 66 accidents under time table and train order operation by principal cause. In most cases, this is the cause as determined by the ICC investigators. We are dealing not with a sample here, but with all available accident reports, so the results may have some validity in showing what actually caused accidents in practice. Of the 66 accidents, 37 resulted from improper actions of train crew members, chiefly conductors and enginemen, who are jointly responsible for the safety of their trains. 16 resulted from improper actions of operators, who are the intermediaries between dispatcher and train crew. 13 were caused by erroneous actions by the dispatcher in creating orders and seeing that they were sent to the proper addresses at the proper places.

The dispatcher's errors were quite various, each occurring only once. The errors were: failure to send a restricting order to the train restricted when another train had been helped against it; when going on duty, not checking wording of previous orders; failing to send an annullment to a concerned train; completing an order to a train already past the station; forgetting a returning helper extra; issuing a lap order; OK'ing a clearance omitting a restricting order; overlooking an extra on the road; wording orders improperly; handling sections improperly; and issuing an erroneous check of overdue trains. Among all the possible errors, these were the ones that actually caused accidents. Dispatchers were often called upon to handle 30 or 40 trains a day on a hundred miles of single track, or on 10 or 15 miscellaneous branches aggregating hundreds of miles. In general, they performed a marvelous job. One accident reveals single-order dispatching with the knowledge of officials.

Single-order dispatching is the practice of sending orders to individual trains, telling them only what they are to do. It is the method that would be devised by experts at the present time, and may already be in use, judging from accident reports. It is also very dangerous and faulty, second in fallacy only to having several dispatchers independently giving orders to trains on the same track. The Standard Code explicitly prohibits it, requiring that all orders must be issued in the same words to all involved.

The most frequent operator's error was the failure to deliver a restricting order, either because the train was forgotten or the train order signal was improperly at Clear, which was responsible for eight accidents. In two further cases, the order was not legible, and misreading led to accident. Single accidents resulted from: forgetting that a second train was to receive orders; displaying the train order signal for the wrong direction; clearing a train order signal used as a block signal when the block was reported clear, while orders were held; failing to display the train order signal at Stop before an order was copied; failing to deliver order when engine was past train order signal; copying a train number incorrectly and not correcting it upon repetition. In several cases, an order was held restricting a train at the station of delivery, but the operator took no measures to ensure that the train crew was aware of the fact, and later cleared the train order signal. Whereas in dispatcher's errors, the dispatcher is often overworked and harried, with operators it seems more often that the operators are careless and negligent to a surprising degree. This may be a result of the introduction of the telephone for dispatching, which eliminated the requirement for skilled Morse operators and their training. Operators also had an amazing variety of duties, and were often distracted from train orders by mail, baggage, express, tickets, car reports and so forth.

The most common error of train crews is to misread an order that is perfectly legible and properly composed, which caused 13 accidents. A surprising number of these involved mistaking section numbers, though they were clearly written. In five cases, a meet or wait order was ignored by the engineman, and the conductor took no effective action to stop the train. In two cases, there was faulty delivery of orders to a relieving engine crew or engineman, and again the conductor took no effective action. In two cases, the engineman seems not to have read an order in time, but again the conductor took no effective action. In two cases, the conductor, being near the office, received orders but did not deliver them promptly to the engineman. In three cases, one of which was quite serious, an incorrect train identification was made, in which the conductor took no interest. In one case, the train register was misread and a section missed, and in two more the conductor did not check the register at all. One accident was caused by the failure of the conductor to observe Rule S-90, and another by leaving his train on the main track without protection. The time of a superior train was not properly cleared in one accident, and in another, a train did not take siding but held the main track. In one curious case, verbal orders were confused in a rare case when interurban methods were used by a steam railway. In another, a local practice at certain meets where a train had to double in was not properly observed by an engineman.

The conductor appears to be largely responsible for errors of train crews, through the common habit of leaving the running of the train up to the engineman, and taking more interest in tickets and waybills than train orders. In every case when a meet was overlooked, or a waiting time not observed, the conductor might as well have been on another planet. Junior crew members, the firemen and brakemen, are often browbeaten and excluded from consideration, when participation in the running of the train forms a valuable part of instruction of inexperienced employees. Even when they suspect that disaster looms, they are hesitant to "pull the air" in case they might face the wrath of the conductor if they are wrong. We do not know how many times cooperation has averted disaster, but from the reports it does not seem that it is the rule. In most cases, the reliance on enginemen seems well-placed, since they must realize how much depends on them alone, and they often suffer for the faults of others.

The move that contributed more to safety than any other was the restriction of the hours of service to 8 hours for dispatchers and operators, and 16 hours for train crews. Early accident reports reveal atrocious and heroic conditions; one dispatcher was on duty for 12 hours after substituting for another's 12-hour trick. Operators normally worked 12-hour shifts, and changing shifts sometimes meant 24 hours on duty. Their work, which was hard, skilled and demanding, was considered light and comfortable by railroad managers, because it was performed indoors with a nice stove nearby. In train service, everybody except the engineman could get nice, refreshing sleep if they were bored by the scenery.

Two accidents are discussed that happened under Centralized Traffic Control, one largely the fault of the control operator and the other of the engineman, to show how accidents are not confined to time table and train order operation, and that CTC is no panacea, simply a different can of worms. Most accidents today are caused by passing signals at Stop, not by the literary exercises of train orders.

One characteristic of accident investigations should be pointed out to the unwary. Usually, those most culpable, individually or as a committee, create a "fairy story" to explain events in the most favorable way possible, throwing the blame, if possible, on inanimate objects, and if not, on persons not present. As a last resort, the most junior participants are held at fault. In all these accidents, there are no failures of the air brakes or signals. All were due entirely to human causes, and most occurred in good weather. Many were due to understandable lapses, fatigue and errors of perception, very few to culpable negligence. There is no interest here in assigning blame for these long-past events, and we revere those who suffered.


Shaw, who deprecates time table and train order operation, forsaw a golden era when CTC would make all the uncertainties disappear and banish collisions to limbo. In December 1959, CTC was brought into service between St. Joseph and Napier, MO, superseding the double track that had existed between those points about 37 miles apart. This was part of the Ottumwa Division of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. The control operator was located in St. Joseph, and worked under the supervision of the dispatcher.

Just after midnight on the 22nd of August, 1960, regular freight train No. 70 was rapidly moving southward with only 31 cars and a way car, passing Napier at 1.30 am. Passenger train No. 23 had just left St. Joseph with 14 cars, including 7 sleepers, a flat car and a way car. The 2.1-mile siding at Nodaway, 16.6 miles north of St. Joseph, looked appropriate as a meeting place for the two trains. By close cooperation between the dispatcher and the control operator, they managed to get both trains on the same siding, headed up, where they bumped at 1.59 am, in clear weather. It was probably best that this embarrassment happened at night, when nobody could see. There were 12 injuries, 2 of them passengers.

The dispatcher had called the control operator at 1.30 am and directed that No. 70 should be put on the siding. He changed his mind, and phoned again at 1.40 directing that No. 23 be put on the siding instead, the control operator telling him that he had not yet lined the route for No. 70, as he wanted to do that when No. 70 was close to the end of the siding. Both men thought that No. 70 was proceeding on the main. The control operator heard the flagman of No. 70 report clear of the main track, which should have opened his eyes.

The engineman of No. 70 dimmed his headlight when he was told that the train had cleared, and proceeded toward the south end of the siding at what he said was 20 mph. There was no proof after the accident, since the speed recorder had no tape in it. No. 23 acted about the same way, dimming its headlight and crawling along, hoping that it would get a clear signal at the north end of the siding after No. 70 had passed. Each train probably saw the other, but did not appreciate that they had been put on the same track until it became obvious.

There was no track circuit on the siding, which was usual. The crewmen seemed to believe that if there were already a train on the siding, they would get a red aspect, not a red-over-yellow, but the belief was erroneous. If the control operator intended to put two trains on a siding, he had to inform them by telephone at the ends of the siding. Of course, nobody intended to have two trains on the siding here, so there were no such conversations.

When the CTC board was inspected after the accident, the control operator said it was just the way it was at the time of the accident. The switch lever was set for the main at the north end of the siding. The control operator swore that he had never lined the switch for the siding, but of course he had, and was trying to see if a brazen lie would work. One also wonders where the speed recorder tape went. The report does not say anything about a seal that I think would have to be broken.

The siding had to be used at Reduced speed, which on the Burlington seems to have been the same as Restricted speed, except that you didn't have to worry about switches not properly lined. The turnouts could be negotiated at 30 mph, but this would be a little fast for Reduced speed. The engineman of No. 70 was probably going more than 20 mph, but this was no doubt normal practice. This provision was insufficient for two opposing trains not expecting to be on the same track, however.

In the ICC website, this report is filed under a heading for Southern Pacific, Clotho, CA. That accident, whatever it was, seems lost. There is a pretty good description of how to operate a CTC panel in the report.


On 25 November 1951, two passenger trains collided in CTC territory at Woodstock, AL, killing 15 passengers and 2 employees. This accident is discussed here to show how mishaps occur under operation by signal indication, and contrast them with train order accidents. On this line, CTC had just been brought into service (10 October) between Burstall and Tuscaloosa, 44 miles, the first phase of installing CTC over the whole division from Meridian to Birmingham, 152 miles. The Woodstock siding was 1.62 miles long, with controlled signals at each end, of searchlight type. Intermediate automatic signals were one-arm semaphores. Intermittent inductive train stop was also provided, and the passenger speed limit was 80 mph.

The trains involved were northbound No. 48 with 8 cars, that had taken siding at Woodstock to meet First 47 and was moving slowly. First 47 was carrying green signals for a following section, and whistled them to No. 48, which acknowledged them. This was not required in CTC territory, but was probably a good idea since CTC did not extend over the whole division. Second 47 was a heavy L&N train of 13 cars, detoured because of a defective bridge on its own line, closely following. The engineman of No. 48 had forestalled at the restrictive aspects approaching Woodstock to prevent a penalty brake application.

Approaching the north end of the siding, the engineman of No. 48 misread the dwarf searchlight signal governing admission to the main track, and trailed through the switch, which was set for the main line, stopping 100' north of the siding switch after an ATS penalty application. The fireman went to the phone booth at the end of the siding to report events. This happened just as Second 47 passed the last intermediate signal at clear, and approached at about 65 mph. The fireman of No. 48 made a futile attempt at flagging with an orange cloth, which was all he had on hand, while the engineman jumped. The speed of Second 47 was reduced to about 45 mph at the moment of collision. The engineman was killed in the wreckage, so his testimony was not available.

There was no tape in the speed recorder of the engine of No. 48, but officials at the CTC console estimated his average speed on the siding at 26 mph. The recording paper had not been installed yet on the CTC machine. A test a day later with a similar train moving at 15 mph on the siding showed that the ATS penalty brake application could stop the train in 242' while the distance from the dwarf signal to the fouling point was 270'. This shows why the ATS did not prevent the accident.

The dwarf signal's beam was inclined upwards so it could be seen clearly at a short distance, within 800'. The high signals in the same location were easily read at 2000'. When the engineman of No. 48 first saw the signals, the high signals were clearly red, while the dwarf signal probably showed mainly an uncolored reflection from its cover glass. The fireman testified that the signal seemed Clear, and he and the engineman called the aspect to each other. It seems that nobody paid very close attention to the signal as it was approached.

This accident shows that operation by signal indications puts the responsibility on engineman in particular, instead of on the conductor and engineman mutually. Calling of signals to each other if there is more than one man in the cab, if conscientiously performed, does prevent mistakes and negligence, but is by no means infallible. In this accident, the wrong aspect was called. It seems that one set of hazards is only replaced by another set. Automatic train stop complements operation by signal indications as naturally as automatic block signals complement time table and train order operation, giving nearly perfect safety, but it still can be thwarted by determined effort.


Paynesville, MN is on the Soo Line about 85 miles northwest of Minneapolis. Early in the morning of the 13th of July 1950 a dispatching problem arose at this point on the prairie. Eastbound passenger train No. 108 was approaching from the direction of Glenwood, while westbound passenger train Second 3 was coming from Minneapolis. Eastbound freight No. 90, with 105 cars, had just arrived at Paynesville, which had a 103-car siding. The dispatcher, evidently an optimist, had expected No. 90 to make more rapid progress, and had issued Order No. 142 before midnight: "Second 3 Eng 4001 take siding and meet No 90 Eng 205 at Eden Valley." Eden Valley was 9.3 miles east of Paynesville, and Second 3 was taking siding there because the siding was not long enough for No. 90. With this taken care of, he issued another order directing No. 108 and Second 3 to meet at Regal, a siding west of Paynesville.

This should have worked fine, except that No. 108 was late, and No. 90 was about on its time as Paynesville was approached. No. 90 received a clearance at the station, which was at the west end of the siding, the train order signal was cleared, and No. 90 went on the siding to clear No. 108 before it was due. Some 105-car trains had fit on the 5162' siding, but this one did not, by about two car-lengths. When the rear end cleared, the front was only 35' from the switch, well past the clearance point.

Now we have a fully-developed problem. No. 108 cannot pass Regal. No. 90 cannot proceed against No. 108's time (we are not allowed to assume that No 108 cannot get by Regal somehow!). Second 3 cannot leave Eden Valley until No. 90 gets there. Checkmate. The distances are too great for a flagman to walk. The dispatcher, seeing that No. 90 was glued to Paynesville, issued Order No. 24: "Order No 142 of July 12th is annulled." The conductor of No. 90 received the order, which was made complete at 2.12 am. Then the order could be made complete for Second 3, which allowed it to pass Eden Valley under time table rights and froze No. 90 at Paynesville, since not all sections of No. 3 had passed. Second 3 would now get to Regal, No. 108 would proceed, and No. 90 would follow it from Paynesville. Problem solved.

There was a small catch, however. No. 90 did not fit on the siding, which they knew up at the head end a mile from the station, but did not at the rear end. They decided that the only thing to do was to protect against No. 108 by a flag, and when it arrived, to back a little and let it "saw" by. Since nobody wanted to walk all the way to the head end to tell them, they did not know that Order No. 124 no longer protected them from Second 3, and that they were encroaching on its rights by about 100 ft. While worrying about No. 108, they acquired a new worry when Second 3's headlight suddenly appeared in the east. A man started out waving a fusee, which did some good, since Second 3 had reduced to about 30 mph when it struck the units of No. 90 a glancing blow. There were no serious injuries.

The dispatcher was at fault for not getting the signatures of both conductor and engineman before making the order complete, especially as the engine had gone by a clear train order signal by about a mile. Optimism that the train was clear was not enough in this case. He did not get both signatures because he was in a hurry to move Second 3, and afterwards the conductor was unwilling to make the long trek in the darkness. One should never depend on a conductor in situations such as these, even when it is not snowing.


Waterville, MN was on the Minneapolis & St. Louis south of Minneapolis, on the way to Albert Lea, at the point where the CGW's Faribault-Mankato line was crossed. The station was at the west end, the west switch of the siding was 1127' east of it, then came the 1308' siding, and finally the CGW crossing, protected by an automatic interlocking with home signals, about 2134' east of the east switch of the siding.

At 3.35 pm on the 17th of July 1953, local freight Extra 546 East (compass direction south) arrived at the station, and began to do some switching. At Montgomery, 15.6 miles west, it had received train order No. 96: "No 1 Eng GE25 wait at Palmer until 415 four fifteen pm for Extra 546 East." Palmer was 4.4 miles east of Waterville. It was pretty obvious that Extra 546 would not finish its work in time to make Palmer for No. 1, so they decided to remain at Waterville for No. 1. The dispatcher did not let things take their natural course, but wanted to expedite matters. Although Extra 546 had passed the train order signal at clear, he directed the operator to display Stop, and issued order No. 101: "Order No 96 is annulled No 1 Eng GE25 meet Extra 456 East at Waterville Extra 456 East hold main track at Waterville." As at Paynesville, the conductor assumed that Extra 456 was pinned. The order was completed to No. 1 at Waseca, east of Palmer, at 3.59 pm. When No. 1 received order no 101, it proceeded immedately. The conductor of Extra 546 received the order at 4.10 pm.

The train was then moved to the siding, east of the station. The engineman detached the engine at 4.09 pm and moved it forward to deposit a flagman near the CGW crossing to flag for No. 1, saving a half-mile walk. He had no idea of the annullment, which gave the track he was occupying to No. 1. No. 1 was very close by this time, in fact past the signal for the CGW crossing, which Engine 546 would have sent to Stop when it entered the track circuit for the crossing. No. 1 collided with Engine 546 at 4.12 pm, moving at about 5 mph. There were no serious injuries.

It was definitely improper to help No. 1 before the order was complete to Extra 546, as well as not to have the signatures of the conductor and engineman of Extra 546, which had passed the train order signal. As at Paynesville, mischief was caused by the head end not knowing what the rear end knew. If the engine had not been detached, or the train had fit on the siding at Paynesville, no one would have been the wiser in either case.


Enright, TX was on the Missouri Pacific line from Waco to Houston, which crossed the Palestine to Austin line at Valley Junction, about 35 miles south of Valley Junction, as shown on the sketch at the right. This line was operated by time table and train orders, and the maximum speed was 65 mph passenger, 45 mph freight. The morning of 21 March 1947 was clear. Northbound second-class freight No. 70, with 47 cars and caboose, and southbound third-class local freight No. 395, with 6 cars and caboose, were to pass through this area between 9 and 10 am.

At 5.49 am train order No. 227 was made complete for northbound trains at Spring, 65 miles south, and for southbound trains at Valley Junction. This order read: "Motor car RO1 works extra 801 am until 601 pm between Cawthon and Fountain protect against second and third class trains. No. 70 Eng 1106 wait at Cawthon until 945 am Koppe 955 am." Both No. 70 and No. 395 received this order. No train was specified for No. 70 to wait for, so it could not pass the named sidings until the times given.

When No. 70 made better progress than expected, at 6.32 am the dispatcher issued order No. 231 to No. 70 at Navasota, and to No. 395 at Valley Junction, which said: "No 70 Eng 1106 wait at Enright until 920 am Koppe 930 am for No 395 Eng 334. There is a problem here, that shows the dispatcher did not have a clear grasp of what he had done. This order does not supersede order No 227, and No. 70 must still wait the later times, whether No. 395 has appeared or not. The dispatcher has forgotten the earlier order No. 227, it would appear, and assumes that order No. 231 will permit No. 395 to proceed.

At 7.46 am, the dispatcher seems to have realized his blunder, and issued order No 238 to No. 70 at Navasota, and to the work extra R01 at Cawthon, reading: "That part of order No 227 reading No 70 Eng 1106 wait at Cawthon until 945 am Koppe 955 am is annulled. No 70 Eng 1106 wait at Enright until 920 am Koppe 930 am for Work Extra R01." Now he thought he had fixed up Extra R01 as earlier he had fixed up No 395. The order was not delivered to Extra 395, since he had overlooked that Extra 395 was running on order 227. Now, the conflict between orders 227 and 231 should have raised a question, but they did not, and it was legal for No. 395 to take advantage of the situation.

Had No. 395 received the annullment, as it should, what the dispatcher intended would have taken place. Since it did not, No. 395 was running for the 9.45 time at Cawthon, while No. 70 waited at Enright only until 9.20. It was no surprise that they met at 9.26 am a mile and a half north of Enright. Speeds were reduced to 20 mph at impact, but six employees were injured.

The report incorrectly states "there is [sic] no sidings at Enright Koppe Cawthon." It normally makes no sense to wait at a point that is not a junction or siding for an opposing train, for obvious reasons.


A more fatal accident occured on the Midland Valley at Bokoshe, Oklahoma on 1 Feb 1958. The Midland Valley ran from Wichita to the vicinity of Fort Smith, and was operated in three subdivisions, Western, Middle and Eastern. The Eastern Subdivision ran from Muskogee to Fort Smith, with entry to Fort Smith over 15.4 miles of joint track with the Frisco. This was a single track, operated by time table and train order, with day offices at Porum, Stigler, Panama and Rock Island. The office at Muskogee was open continuously, since the dispatcher was located here at the headquarters of the company. Trains originated at Shopton, 1.1 miles east of Muskogee, but called for orders at Muskogee. The speed limit was 30 mph.

Eastward trains were superior to westward trains of the same class on the Eastern Subdivision. The only scheduled trains were No. 42, eastward, and No. 41, westward, both local freight trains, scheduled to leave their initial stations in the morning and complete their 100-mile runs a little after noon. 1 February 1958 was a Saturday, so normally there would be no open offices, except Panama for a couple of hours around noon. However, the dispatcher had notified the operator at Stigler to go on duty at 10 am to handle some paperwork there.

No. 41 had departed Rock Island at 9.35 am, 2 hours and 20 minutes late, and arrived Panama at 9.55 am. The time table meet with No. 42 was at Stigler, but No. 41 could not leave Panama because it could not clear at Keota in time. No. 42 left Shopton at 8.30 am, 30 minutes late, with work to do at Warner, Briartown and Keota. Stigler was the next station west of Keota, and this morning the dispatcher had an operator there, so he decided to restrict No. 42 at Keota so that No. 41 could leave Panama. Order No. 27 said: "No 41 Eng 152 meet No 42 Eng 153 at Keota No 41 hold main track at Keota." The order was made complete at 10.34 am at Panama and No. 41 left at 10.35.

Of course, before this occurred, the dispatcher asked the operator at Stigler if No. 42 had arrived. The operator said he had not seen it. The operator had gone on duty at 10 am, so all he could say is that it had not passed in the last half hour. In fact, No. 42 had passed Briartown (the station next west of Stigler) at 9.40 am, Stigler at 9.55 am, and arrived in Keota at 10.20 am. After doing its work, it left at 10.30 am. No. 42 was almost to Panama before No. 41 left there! The lack of open offices meant that the dispatcher had no idea of what progress the trains were making, and he made an incorrect assumption.

The Fort Smith and Van Buren crossed the Midland Valley at Bokoshe, which had no siding, only a station sign. The crossing was gated against the FS&VB, so MV trains could cross at restricted speed without stopping. No 41 and No 42 collided on a curve 1213' west of the station sign, No. 41 moving at 30 mph and No. 42 at 25 mph. No. 41 had 4 cars and a caboose, No. 42 12 cars and a caboose. The collision split the diesel tanks of both locomotives, and ruptured a tank car loaded with gasoline. The fire destroyed both locomotives and several cars of their trains. The engineman and front brakeman of No. 42, and the fireman of No. 41 were killed.

Rule 36 of the company's rules for dispatchers stated that a train must not be restricted on an operator's statement when the operator has been absent from the office. It is a rather fundamental principle that a train cannot be restricted at a station that it has passed, and this accident illustrates the danger very well.

This appears to be the only serious accident in the history of the Midland Valley system, which consisted of the MV, the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf, and the Oklahoma City-Ada-Atoka. The MV also had an encounter with the CRI&P at Midland Tower, KS. The OC-A-A had a collision between a passenger train and a freight at Konawa in 1927, but no passengers were killed, and a work train difficulty at Ada in 1929. The Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf, a predecessor of the KO&G, had a freight derailment on unballasted track in 1916, and the KO&G a head-end collision of freights at Kenefick, OK in 1931, discussed next. That's all there is in the ICC investigations.


Kenefick, OK was 11.5 miles north of Durant, on the Southern Division of the KO&G, which extended from Muskogee (South Junction) to Dension, and was an important but independent link in the Missouri Pacific's route to north Texas. Like most U.S. railroads, and especially small ones, the KO&G was capital-starved and had to make do. This was especially noted in yard and siding capacity. Though trains grew in length in the 20th century, siding lengths did not. At Kenefick, for example, the siding was 1986' long, holding at most 58 cars (the 1950 timetable lists the capacity at 34 cars). There was also a house track (for cars to be unloaded at the freight house) 1862' long, connected only at the north end, the switch located 954' north of the north siding switch.

A northbound train too long to fit into the siding could "double over" by pulling onto the siding until the caboose cleared at the south end, then cutting the train short of the fouling point at the north end. The engine and front part of the train would then pull forward, and back in on the house track until in the clear. This was not quite as convenient for a southbound train, but could still be done with more backing. When a meet was to take place, the northbound inferior train, the one taking siding, had no right to the track north of the north siding switch. In order to pass this switch to back in on the house track, it was necessary under the rules to send a flagman forward at least half a mile to warn the opposing train, even if it was slowing for the meet.

Flagging used up at least an additional quarter-hour in this case, waiting for the flagman to walk forward, although everyone involved understood what had to be done and could do it safely if they knew a train was doubling over. The Chief Dispatcher handled this by putting the notice in the meet order. For example: "Eng 503 run extra Denison to South Jct take siding meet Extra 501 South at Kenefick. Extra 501 South look out carefully for Extra 503 North doubling over at meeting point." The non-standard clause meant that Extra 501 should approach Kenefick expecting Extra 503 to be north of the siding switch by up to a train length. Extra 503 would have its headlight displayed brightly until it was clear of the main track. This form of order served the purpose quite well at other points as well as at Kenefick.

On the evening of 20 May 1931, Extra 501 South had 90 cars and caboose, and received order No. 53, Form 19, at Tupelo, 34.3 miles north of Kenefick, worded as in the preceding paragraph. Extra 501 left there at 9.01 pm, left Bromide Jct with 72 cars, and proceeded to Kenefick. Approaching Kenefick, Extra 503's headlight was seen, so Extra 501 slowed to 10 or 15 mph with a service application. Just then, the headlight disappeared, so it seemed that Extra 503 was safely in the hole. The engineman of Extra 501 released the brakes and opened the throttle. At that instant the headlight reappeared, bright as ever--the engine of Extra 503 had only gone behind the cotton gin, and was actually just pulling out of the siding. An emergency application of the brakes was ineffective so soon after they were released (a problem with type K triples), so the speed was not reduced much at the point of collison. The engineman and fireman of Extra 501 were injured, but these were the only casualties, fortunately.

This is one of the better ICC investigations, where all relevant factors were properly considered, and a just conclusion reached. Under the rules, the engineman of Extra 503 was at fault for being beyond the siding switch without flag protection. Under KO&G operating practices, however, the engineman of Extra 501 was at fault for not taking sufficient care to be sure Extra 503 was in the clear, though his mistake was understandable. The examiners found a certain laxness in making brake tests, failure to compare watches daily with standard clocks, and too-infrequent examinations on the rules, which they recommended that the company correct, and, for once, made no silly recommendations such as calling for automatic train stop.

There is a safe way to handle cases when a train has to double over or back into a siding. For example, "Extra 501 South hold main track meet Extra 503 North at Kenefick Extra 503 double over protecting according to rule 99." If Extra 501 was not seen coming, engine 501 might creep forward a half-mile or so to leave a flagman, then return to get its train on the siding. This could be made legal with an order like: "Extra 501 South wait at Cain until nine fifteen 915 pm for Extra 503 North," in which case the flagman could be taken out at any time up to 9.15 pm. Incidentally, the siding at Cain, 8.8 miles north, held 75 cars, so Extra 503 would not have had to double over there.


At 3.36 am on 14 June 1951, eastbound mail train No. 210 collided with westbound freight train No. 17 at Cray, MN on the Chicago St.Paul Minneapolis and Omaha (CNW). Then engineman of No. 17 was killed, and seven other employees were injured. The accident was created by events at Lake Crystal, a station 26 miles west of Cray. Eastbound No. 210 left St. James, 22 miles west of Lake Crystal, at 2.35 am, on time.

This was the first day on the job for the operator at Lake Crystal, but he had had previous experience as operator for another company. At about 3.05 am, he heard his address and "31 east" on the dispatcher's wire. He replied "SD east" after operating the train order signal lever. He then received and repeated order No. 14, addressed to No. 210 at Lake Crystal, and to No. 17 at Mankato, reading: "No 210 meet No 17 at Cray No 210 take siding." No. 17 had 90 cars and caboose, so it would not fit on the Cray siding. At 3.19 am, No. 17 left Mankato in possession of the order. At 3.24, No. 210 arrived at Lake Crystal. The operator went out to help with handling mail, and at 3.27 No. 210 began to move. He thought that the train was only pulling up until the single coach was opposite the station for the convenience of the conductor. Instead, the train gathered speed as he ineffectively waved stop signals at it with a flashlight.

He then noticed that the eastbound train order signal was at Clear, while the westbound signal displayed Stop. He had displayed the wrong train order signal, though the lever he operated showed a label "West" before and a letter W on a red background after. In his previous job, the levers had been in the opposite order, so he pulled the wrong one, acting out of habit.

Sulphur Springs

The Louisiana and Arkansas line between Greenville, TX and Shreveport, LA was single track, operated by time table and train order. Sulphur Springs is near the western (timetable direction: northern) end of the line, with the sidings of Brashear and Como on either side of it. Hughes Springs was the first open office east (south) of Sulphur Springs. On the 11th of October, at 10.25 pm, northbound freight No. 54 received orders there, among which were order No. 96: "No 54 Eng 73 meet Extra 76 South at Como" and order No. 97: "No 54 Eng 73 meet Extra 76 South at Brashear instead of Como." At 10.51, order No. 106 was sent simultaneously to Hughes Springs and to Hunt, the initial station on the subdivision at Greenville. Order No. 106 said: "Order No. 95 is annulled." Order No. 95 dealt with movements affecting Extra 76 and a work extra, and had nothing to do with No. 54.

At 11.15 pm, Extra 76 called for orders at Hunt, and received order No. 96, among others, but not Order No. 97 superseding it. The operator at Hunt had unaccountably written down order No. 97 instead of order No. 95, and the variation was not noticed in the repetition by the dispatcher, and neither of the operators heard the others repeat. When the clearance card was OK'd, the dispatcher did not notice the inclusion of order No. 95 or the absence of order No. 97. The operator at Hunt had filed Order No. 97, believing it annulled.

No. 54 believed it could go to Brashear for Extra 76, while Extra 76 believed it could go to Como for No. 54. The lap was caused when Extra 76 did not receive the superseding order No. 97. They collided 2.36 miles south of Sulphur Springs at 12.40 am, injuring six employees.


There was a collision near Norton, Kansas on the Rock Island on 3 September 1944 that injured a number of soldiers on a troop train and several employees. The ICC website has the place down as Morton, but I suppose that is close enough for government work.

The stations are shown in the sketch on the right. Extra 2310 received order No. 291 at Phillipsburg: "Eng 2310 run extra Phillipsburg to Goodland meet First 96 Eng 5061 at Almena." First 96 was a second-class train, a troop train running as a section of a freight train, with 11 cars including troop sleepers. At Selden, the conductor reported to the dispatcher that a journal was running hot, and would require attention at Norton. The expected delay made the dispatcher want to help Extra 2310, but he did not want to delay First 96 further waiting for orders, so he let it go on to Norton while he issued order No. 295: "First 96 Eng 5061 meet Extra 2310 West at Norton East Siding instead of Almena Order to First 96 at Norton."

Order No 295 was delivered to Extra 2310 at Prairie View, the last open station before Norton, after the dispatcher impressed on the operator at Norton of the importance of holding No. 96, which would certainly stop there. Extra 2310 left Prairie View at 6.10 pm. On this line, manual block protected following movements, and the train order signal was also the block signal. The operator at Norton had displayed Stop for First 96, and the signal also protected a passenger train that had just gone east. When this train cleared the block at Prairie View, the operator cleared the train order signal as he usually would do, forgetting the order for First 96. First 96 then came through, the hot bearing not having given any more trouble, and right by the signal, to the horror of the operator, who must have realized what had happened in an instant.

The collision occurred on a curve about 6 miles east of Norton, where the view was obscured, so the speeds of the trains could not be reduced substantially before impact.

Port Henry

An automatic block system is supposed to catch lapses in time table and train order operation and prevent accidents that would otherwise occur. An example of how this works is furnished by the accident near Port Henry, New York on 24 October 1954. This station was on the Delaware and Hudson line between Rouses Point and Whitehall, beside Lake Champlain. It was operated by time table and train order, with ABS. The speed limits for passenger trains was 65 mph, freight 45 mph. On this morning, passenger trains No. 18 and No. 34 were moving southward, No. 18 with 9 cars preceding. The train order office at Westport is 63 miles south of Rouses Point and 11 miles north of Port Henry. The siding at Port Henry is called Sherman, and its north switch is 2968' south of Port Henry.

At 10.58 am, the dispatcher transmitted order No. 9 simultaneously to No. 18 and No. 34 at Westport, and to Extra 4123 North at Whitehall, which read: "No 18 take siding meet Extra 4123 North at Gunnisons No 34 meet Extra 4123 North at Sherman." Extra 4123 had 113 cars and caboose. No. 18 received this order, and finally left Westport at 11.20. At 11.35, Extra 4123 left Whithall. Somehow the operator forgot that the order was addressed to No. 34 at all, and its omission on the clearance card was overlooked by both the dispatcher and the operator. The dispatcher had not told the operator how many copies to make, which may have contributed to the confusion. So, No. 34 left Westport without the order and proceeded on its schedule. There was now a lap of authority south of the south switch of Sherman.

As the two trains neared each other, the signals responded properly and both received Approach and Stop-and-Proceed aspects. No. 34 did indeed stop, and was standing when struck by Extra 4123 North at 12.45 pm. The extra had passed a Stop signal at 37 mph, and was even accelerating at the time of collision, as the speed recorder tape showed. No explanation was given for this behavior. The front brakeman of Extra 4123 was killed in the collison.


Inexperience is often the reason for incorrect actions, but it is often aided and abetted by more experienced superiors. The operator at Goreville, IL on the night trick on New Year's Day, 1944 was a young man who had been examined on the rules 11 months earlier, at age 16, and found not sufficiently proficient to handle train orders. In spite of this, wartime shortages of experienced operators led to his assignment at Goreville on 26 December. Telegraph was used for dispatching on this division, and the new operator was skilled enough to handle this, although the sense of a message often was not evident until after he had read the message he had copied again. This young man needed help on this night, and he did not get it.

Engines 2001 and 941 were ready to depart Thebes for Salem Yard with 61 cars and caboose. They received order No. 222: "Engine 2001 run extra Thebes to Salem Yard meet Extra 1917 South at Omar," and left. At Cypress, 16 miles south of Goreville, order No. 106 was received: "Extra 2001 North meet No 185 at Omar and meet Extra 1917 South at Goreville instead of Omar Extra 2001 take siding at Goreville Extra 1917 South gets this at Goreville." The dispatcher wanted to help Extra 2001 as much as possible, so it was necessary to restrict Extra 1917 at Goreville, since it had already passed the last open office north of Goreville, West Frankfort, 24 miles north, where it had received order No. 222 on Form 31. The northbound train was ordered to take siding, leaving the main line for the southbound train, who would arrive at Goreville not knowing better. All of this is quite correct, and properly protected.

Except, of course, for the green operator at Goreville. Two southbound trains were to receive order No. 106 there, and both were restricted. As order No. 106 was transmitted, No. 185 was waiting impatiently at Goreville at the train order signal at Stop, its normal position on the C&EI. There was pressure, and the operator did not perceive that he was to make 5 copies, not the usual 3. He copied and repeated the order, and handed it up with a clearance card to No 185, which departed. The third copy went on the hook under the desk. A while later, he was copying another order for a northbound train when Extra 1917 approached. Seeing no orders to be delivered, he cleared the train order signal, apparently not breaking the dispatcher and asking him if it was all right to clear Extra 1917.

Extra 2001 and Extra 1917 met 2.7 miles south of Goreville, and 2.0 miles north of Omar, at 2.30 am. A deadheading conductor and the fireman on engine 941 were killed. The failure to deliver order No. 106 had resulted in a lap of authority between those points. Although Extra 1917 was restricted at the point at which it would receive the order, the dispatcher did not instruct the operator on what to do in this case--to be on the platform with stop signals, and to inform the engineman immediately that his train was to be restricted there. This would have detected the lack of copies for Extra 1917. Also, the operator should know to consult the dispatcher before clearing Extra 1917. So little noise was made that it was forgotten than an order was held for it. The dispatcher should have enquired about this order when he got the OS for No. 185, and reminded the operator of it. The pressure of the moment also contributed, but all the blame should not fall on the inexperienced operator.

The ICC report states that the inclined position of the 3-position train order signal was Caution, which, of course, it was not. It simply means that a 19 order is to be handed up without stopping the train. There never was a satisfactory definition of Caution. Perhaps the best was "proceed prepared to stop short of train, obstruction or switch not properly lined, but not to exceed restricted speed," or "proceed prepared to stop within one-half the range of vision." There were also very specific meanings of Caution in connection with certain signals or events.

When a train order says a train is to be restricted at the point that it receives the order, the operator should take special action, which includes putting a red lamp on the platform, and placing torpedoes 700 ft or so in rear of the train order signal, which should be observed at Stop and lighted. He should meet the train as it stops and tell the engineman about the restriction. Compare this prescription with the actions of the operator at Custer City, OK, for example. Where the train order signal only displays Stop and Clear, the operator on the platform with the signal at Stop usually means that Form 19 orders are to be handed up, so Josserand recommends that the operator not go onto the platform if the train is to be restricted at that point. Several of the accidents discussed here show this is not safe. At Goreville, the train order signal was three-aspect, so this stricture does not apply.


On 14 September 1944, southbound First No. 95 ignored a meet with northbound No. 90 at Atherton, IN, and collided with it at Dewey, IN, 6.3 miles south of Atherton and 3.7 miles north of Terre Haute, IN on the Evansville Subdivision of the Chicago and Eastern Illinois. There were automatic block signals, but they failed to prevent the collision as the engineman of First 95 neglected to observe them as he had neglected the meet at Atherton. First 95 was a 14-car limited overnight between Chicago and Nashville, while No. 90 was a solid mail and express train of 15 cars. The C&EI had an excellent safety record, and this was one of the very few accidents to its passenger trains, but 26 passengers and 3 employees lost their lives.

The C&EI was a heavy passenger hauler on its Chicago-Evansville main line, which connected with Louisville and Nashville lines to all points south, carrying six or seven trains a day in each direction. It brought coal up from southern Illinois as well, on a line originally intended to be the Chicago main of the Frisco, crossing the Mississippi at Thebes, but this dream was defeated by the alliance of business enemies and the government around the turn of the century. The main line was double or triple track from Chicago to Clinton, IN, single track beyond to Evansville. Miller system automatic train stop, installed by the C&EI in 1911 at its own instance, not that of the ICC, extended from Dolton Junction near Chicago to Clinton. This system used lineside ramps and a shoe on a tender truck. The passenger speed limit on the main line was 80 mph. In 1944, CTC was only a few years in the future for the Evansville Subdivision, and trains were operated by time table and train order.

The night of 13-14 September was foggy along the Wabash, which was crossed on a rickety truss bridge at Clinton (10 mph speed restriction). No. 90 received the following three orders at Terre Haute just after midnight: Order No. 3, Form 31: "First and Second 95 engs 1019 and 1012 have right over No 90 eng 1011 Clinton to Terre Haute." Order No. 11, Form 19: "First 95 eng 1019 meet No 90 eng 1011 at Dewey First 95 take siding Second 95 eng 1012 gets this order and wait at Clinton until 2 40 am." Order No. 13, Form 19: "First 95 eng 1019 take siding and meet No 90 eng 1011 at Atherton instead of Dewey." These orders are clear and easy to understand, except that the reason for reversing the right and having First 95 take siding is unclear, since order No. 3 seemed to have the purpose of requiring No. 90, a less-important train, to take siding although it was superior by direction. Order No. 11 established a meet with First 95, and helped No. 90 to the end of two main tracks, as if it were more important. Order No. 13 moved the meet farther north to Atherton. No. 90 passed Haley, 2.7 miles south of Dewey, at 2.14 am, 1 hour 1 minute late. Approaching Dewey, Stop signals were encountered and the train stopped, then proceeded at restricted speed in the murky fog.

First 95 had received order No. 3 at Cory, just south of Danville. At Clinton, order No. 13 was received, but in the modified wording: "First 95 eng 1019 take siding and meet No 90 eng 1011 at Atherton." The dispatcher simplified things for First 95 by not issuing order No. 11 and then immediately superseding it, instructing the operator at Clinton to drop the "instead of" part. This got the job done, and was not dangerous in this case, but it was a blatant violation of the Standard Code to issue orders in different words to those who were to execute them. The ICC investigator did not object. First 95 passed Otter Creek Junction at 2.18 am, 37 minutes late. The Pennsylvania line from Crawfordsville came in here, 1.9 miles from Dewey. First 95 passed several signals at Proceed or Approach until the Stop signal caught the engineman's or fireman's eye and brakes were applied in emergency, reducing speed to about 35 mph at the instant of collision, so it was a very hard impact.

The orders were handed up at Clinton to the engine, and to the front brakeman, riding in the sixth car. The brakeman read and understood the order, but did not give the order to the conductor and flagman. Instead, he made his way forward so he could drop off and open the north switch at Atherton, which was only a couple of miles away by that time. He took no action as the train went on and passed Otter Creek Junction, and was still inert when the brakes went into emergency. We cannot know what went on in the engine cab, but the events are consistent with the engineman and fireman falling asleep or into deep reverie just after Clinton, though with a meet at the next station, only 4 miles away, this is hard to believe. The lack of a meeting-point whistle seems to say that the meet was ignored. The conductor, of course, knew nothing of any meet, and cannot be blamed for not observing Rule S-90, only for not finding out at once what was in the orders received at Clinton. The brakeman should have known, but he seems to have been witless.

The ICC investigator makes a great to-do over the block signals and rule 509 pertaining to stop-and-proceed actions. The situation at Dewey as First 95 approached the standing No. 90 is shown in the diagram. Signal 172-7 would have been at stop, and Signal 171-9 at Approach as soon as No. 90 entered the overlap south of Signal 173-8, and No. 90 was then moving at restricted speed. First 95 would have encountered Signal 171-9 at Approach, and then had 9587' to stop, quite ample for the maximum speed. Even if No. 90 had moved farther, the stopping distance would not be less than about 4000'. It seems to me that there was nothing whatever at fault with the automatic block signals, except that it always reduces protection against opposing trains to stop-and-proceed, and there is no way to correct this with overlap signals. See Quincy, MS for a similar example. If First 95 had observed the signals properly, there would have been no accident. Apparently, no action was taken at the Approach signal, so it is no wonder that an emergency application when the Stop came into view through the fog would not suffice. The ICC report mistakenly assumes that signal 171-9 would not display Approach until No. 90 had passed Signal 173-8, which is untrue. No comment is made about the alteration of order No. 13, and the lack of a whistle signal (though the pertinent rules are quoted). However, the causes of the accident are correctly stated.

Tipton Ford

This tragic accident was one of two involving gas-electric motor cars in which the consequent fire led to a heavy toll. The other, at Cuyahoga Falls, OH, is discussed elsewhere. Tipton Ford was a result of ignoring a meet order, but the cause is completely unknown.

Motor car 103 made up Missouri and North Arkansas train No. 209, running from Joplin, MO to Harrison, AR. Between Joplin and Neosho, the M&NA used KCS tracks. In the twenty miles, there were two sidings, Saginaw near Joplin, and Tipton Ford a little more than halfway between Joplin and Neosho. Tipton Ford no longer appears on road maps, though Saginaw does. The M&NA was a direct, branchless line from Joplin to Helena, AR, 368 miles long, through beautiful but impecunious Ozark country, paralled as a through route by a Missouri Pacific line not far to the north of it, and by the Frisco's Springfield-Memphis line. When it was largely abandoned except for a few short segments after World War II, the 65 miles between Seligman and Harrison survived for a while as the Arkansas and Ozarks Railway.

Motor car 103 was of light steel construction, 70' long and seating 65. It had a 150 gal. fuel tank, which contained 105 gal. of gasoline at the time of the accident. It was totally consumed by fire when telescoped by the engine of northbound KCS First 56, a passenger train with engine 805 and 7 cars. The collision occurred on 5 August 1914 at 6.00 pm, 3500' south of the south siding switch at Tipton Ford, with both trains running at about 35 mph. 38 passengers and 5 employees, among them the entire crew of No. 209, were killed.

No. 209 left Joplin at 5.30 pm, 1 hour and 15 minutes late (probably after waiting for a connection). First 56 left Neosho at 5.40 pm, 3 hours and 15 minutes late, superior to No. 209 by direction. It was necessary to help No. 209 from Joplin against the delayed train, so dispatcher Sebring at Pittsburg, KS composed order No. 84: "First No 56 meet No 209 at Tipton Ford and wait at Tipton Ford until 5 50 pm Saginaw 6 pm for Extra 563 South." Engine numbers are not given in the ICC report, so perhaps they were not used on the KCS at the time. Also, the time 6 pm, an even hour, was later not permitted; it would be 6 01 pm instead.

Extra 563 had arrived in Joplin at 4.10 pm, and was to follow No. 209 out. Both Extra 563 and No. 209 were given copies of order No. 84 on Form 31. Conductor Gibson of Extra 563 signed for it, and the order was made complete for him, and then Conductor Nicholas of No. 209 signed for it, and received complete at 5.08 pm. A carbon copy of the order was produced in evidence, with the signature that was not proved not to be Nicholas'. Operator Hadley was regarded as an excellent operator, but it still had to be established that he did not fake the signature himself after failing to deliver the order. Hadley had been fired from the AT&SF years earlier after he failed to deliver an order at Holly, CO, but his career at Joplin had been faultless.

The single irregular event was that Conductor Nicholas had not registered out, the first time he had been observed not to do so. This may have been evidence of some mental irregularity, but he was not noticed to act in an unusual manner. The engineman would have required a clearance card, on which Order No. 84 would have appeared, and he would have read it. Something was required on No. 56 to have left Joplin at any rate. The reason for the simultaneous lapses by conductor and engineman is completely unknown, but it is consistent with other similar accidents that if the engineman alone forgot the meet, the conductor would not have taken the required action. All the men involved were experienced and reliable.

Traffic was not handled at Saginaw and Tipton Ford--they were simply sidings, and could not economically be open offices. If they were open offices, a "middle order" could have been used, and this would have prevented the accident, as the ICC investigators pointed out. The KCS recommended middle orders, in fact, but they could not be used here.


The single track of the Nickel Plate parallelled the multiple-track main line of the New York Central System along Lake Erie in this area, which was the Buffalo Division, Buffalo to Conneaut, 116.8 miles. In 1928, it did not have automatic block signals, but a manual block was used for passenger trains only. The Form 31 train order was not used, only Form 19 and Form 17 (the latter peculiar). With both forms, complete was given upon repetition. A Form 19 had to be used to restrict a train. With this form, the operator was required to read the order to the conductor and engineman after delivering it personally to them, and then to take their signatures. This was not required for a Form 17, but this form could be used for helping orders only.

These procedures were unfortunate. Reading the order to the conductor and engineman did not ensure that they understood it, and usually meant that the order might not be read by them at all, just stuffed in a pocket. Most rule books require reading to the operator when this is required. Secondly, getting both conductor and engineman in the office simultaneously is difficult, especially on long freight trains. In fact, usually only the conductor had to sign for Form 31 orders, filling in the engineman's signature. These difficulties are underlined by this accident.

The stations in the area of interest are, from the west, Thornton Junction, then 5.9 miles to Fairview Pit siding, with Fairview station just east, 3.6 miles to Swanville, and 8.5 miles more to Erie. Thornton Junction, Fairview and Erie were train-order offices. Second 58, engine 611 and 94 cars and caboose, received order 48, Form 19, at Thornton Jct.: "2nd No 58 eng 611 will wait at Fairview Pit until four forty 440 pm for No 51 eng 640 No 13 and 2nd No 58 will meet at Swanville No 13 will take siding." This order was received at 4.12 pm, and Second 58 was 5 hours and 17 minutes late leaving. This order shows the old "will wait" and "will meet" phrasing rather than the later "wait" and "meet." It is a relatively complex order, but easily comprehensible.

What happened was that the engineman formed the impression that he had until 4.40 pm to reach Summerville, where No. 13 and No. 51 would take siding, blotting Fairview Pit from his memory. So, he approached Fairview Pit at 4.29 pm and kept going. No. 51, with engine 640, 89 cars and caboose, and running 1 hour 36 minutes late, received order No. 48, Form 17, at Erie at 4.11 pm, making good time at 30 to 40 mph. No. 51 did not reach Fairview Pit, which it could have made by 4.40 pm, but collided with Second 58 a short distance west of Swanville at 4.32 pm. Although each train was running at 15-25 mph at the instant of collision, there were fortunately no fatalities, and lots of people to give evidence later.

It did not contribute to the accident, but the method of delivery by operator Ryan at Thornton Junction to Second 58 is curious. He said that engineman Hites jumped off the engine, without stopping the train, so the order could be read to him and his signature could be obtained, then clambered back aboard somehow (a likely story!). When the caboose came by, he handed up the order with a hoop to the flagman, who was on the rear platform. We suspect that both Form 19 and Form 17 were usually handed up without stopping the trains, the reading being omitted and the signatures forged. An impractical rule will usually call forth such ingenuity. The order did, anyway, get to everyone concerned, and was read and understood by all but the engineman, who formed a deviant interpretation.

Conductor Friend had numerous reasons why he did not pull the air as his train passed Fairview Pit before 4.40 pm without seeing a train there. First, he said the engineman may have received orders at Fairview that he did not know of (but Fairview was beyond Fairview Pit!). Second, he was worried about a possible dynamiter in the train--a car brake that would go into emergency on any brake application--and this would break his train in two. Third, when he saw No. 51 coming, he was afraid the two engines would meet on the bridge if he did so. This creativity demonstrates that he knew his duty, but just did not do it. Flagman Stearns also said he thought about it, but by the time he got to the valve, the brakes were already in emergency. The story is drearily familiar.


Largo, California on the Northwestern Pacific was the site of two accidents, one in 1929 and the other in 1952. The earlier one involved northbound passenger train No. 2, which was a mail-baggage combine, baggage, smoker and coach, pulled by engine 141, and a southbound freight extra, Extra 184 South, with 31 cars and a caboose. At Hopland, the first open office south of Largo, No. 2 received order No. 32 on Form 31, which read: "No 2 Eng 141 meet Extra 184 South at Largo," and left at 11.40 am. Extra 184 received this order on Form 19 at Ukiah, 10 miles north of Largo, and departed at 11.27 am.

Every crewman on No. 2 saw the order, except for the flagman, Allen, who could not leave the last car. Though they had met other trains on the way from Tiburon, and exchanged the meeting point signals, this time the whistle was silent at Largo, and No. 2 simply passed by. The engineman and fireman of Extra 184 were killed in the subsequent collision, as well as the engineman of No. 2. We note that the two orders were in correct form, properly delivered, and were not delivered far from the point at which they were to be executed.

By the time of the later accident, the line was controlled by the Southern Pacific, so north became east and south became west, since on the SP the direction toward San Francisco is called west, whatever it may be by the compass.

On 29th October 1952, the 3rd trick dispatcher issued order No. 40 at 7.19 am: "Engine 2541 run extra Willits to Tiburon Engine 2348 help Extra 2541 West Willits to Largo then run extra Largo to Ukiah. Extra 2541 left Willits at 8.50, reached Ukiah at 1.48 and Largo at 2.15 pm, after which engine 2348 started back towards Ukiah.

At 10.38 am, the first trick dispatcher issued order No. 57: "Engine 5261 run extra Willits to Schellville." Schellville was on a branch from Ignacio, near the southern end of the line. Extra 5261 left Willits at 11.55 am, and passed Ukiah at 2.05 pm. Although the transfer had gone normally, the first trick dispatcher had overlooked the returning helper. The collision was at 2.30 pm in clear weather, both trains moving at about 20 mph. The engineer and swing brakeman of Extra 5261 were killed, and four other employees injured.

Little Rock

This is Little Rock, Washington, on the Northern Pacific branch line from Gate to St. Clair, 28.6 miles. As the diagram shows, it is about halfway between Gate and Olympia. A collision between two freight extras occurred here on the 20th of September, 1944. The collision was on a curve, and the train speeds could not be substantially reduced below the 35 mph at which they were running previously.

The dispatcher responsible for this subdivision had 11 subdivisions under his supervision, mostly branches, but which amounted to 465 miles, and there were 29 active movements at the time of the accident. At 1.07 pm he completed order No. 29 to C&E engine 1903 at Olympia: "Eng 1903 run extra Olympia to Blakeslee Jct." Extra 1903 departed with 60 cars and caboose at 2.00 pm. At 1.51 pm he completed order No. 32 to C&E engine 1802 at Gate: "Eng 1802 run extra Gate to Saint Clair." Extra 1802 then started out immediately at 1.55 pm. Nothing could now be done. The fireman and front brakeman of Extra 1903 were killed.

This is a classic case of lap running orders for extras, one of the greatest hazards faced by a dispatcher. He knows he is solely responsible for the outcome, and it is a heavy burden. This dispatcher was overworked, but this was not unusual.


Jesup was an important junction on the Atlantic Coast Line, between Waycross and Savannah in eastern Georgia. On 24 March 1949, a collision of a passenger train and a light engine occurred just south of the south switch of the siding at Jesup, on the Folkston-Jesup via Waycross line, 73.3 miles, which was operated by train orders and had no automatic block signals. The traffic on this line amounted to 12.4 trains per day, which was easily handled by train orders. The north switch of the 1.28 mile siding at Jesup was 792' south of the station. The siding was within yard limits. The next siding south of Jesup was at Slover, 4.9 miles south, and the next open train order office was at Offerman, 19.2 miles south.

No. 231 was a southbound third-class freight that arrived Jessup at 6.30 am with 93 cars and caboose, pulled by engine 1720. A clearance card and two train orders were received at the station. One of the orders, No. 34, said: "2nd 58 wait at Slover until 745 am for No 231." First 58 had not yet been met. The train stopped on the main line clear of the south switch of the siding, whistling out a flagman to protect the rear. While a switcher removed 13 cars from the rear of the train, the engine pulled forward and backed onto the siding, where it took water and coal, rejoining the train about 6.50 am.

The engine crew wrongly interpreted the order to refer to No. 58, which they had not yet met, and which was much on their minds. Not knowing that No. 58 was running in sections, they assumed the dispatcher had helped them against the schedule. No. 58 was due at Slover at 7.02 am, Jesup 7.18 am, which meant they would have to be in the clear by 6.57 am at Slover and 7.13 am at Jesup. Without the order, they would have to remain at Jesup for No. 58. However, they now believed they had until 7.40 am to make Slover, which they could easily do in the half-hour interval. The flag was whistled in at 6.56 am, and preparations made for departure.

There were delays in leaving, and time grew short. By twenty past seven, it was clear that there was not sufficient time to make Slover, so it was decided to flag No. 58. At 7.23 am, the engine was detached from the train and run south within yard limits about a mile from the south switch to put a flagman there. Just as the flagman was getting down, the headlight of First 58 was seen through the fog and the engine rapidly reversed. The flagging was too late, and the engine reached about 15 mph in reverse before it was struck at 7.27 am by First 58, running at 59 mph. The collision killed the engineman and fireman of First 58. First 58, with engine 1509 and 6 cars, had left Offerman at 7.06 am, 27 minutes late, and had made up about 15 minutes over the 19 miles.

Not much is said about what the rear end crew was doing during this time, except that they had understood the order and thought their train was remaining at Jesup for First 58. They should have fretted about their train's presence on the main line, and have seen that it was protected after 6.57 am, if they could not get it on the siding, which would have been inconvenient. Apparently, a belated effort was made to flag First 58, which we have just examined.

The claim was made that somebody's thumb covered the important word "Second," as in the accidents at Mango, also on the Coast Line, and David on the Western Pacific, in all of which an order was taken as referring to the schedule, when it only referred to a single section. This was probably a metaphorical thumb, representing an attempt at a logical explanation for a mental process that actually did not register the modifier. As has been frequently pointed out in these studies, once a perception has been formed, it is held in spite of evidence to the contrary. The mind really does not see the "Second" or similar word, though it is physically there.

Perhaps it would have been a good idea to have mentioned First 58 as well, either by delivering a copy of the order to carry signals to No. 231, or by mentioning it explicitly. On the Canadian Pacific, we have noted the practice of writing an order like this as" "First 58 on time Second 58 wait at Slover until 7.45 for No. 231." This makes the situation crystal clear, and would have avoided the misunderstanding that led to this accident. Unfortunately, this practice does not seem to have caught on.


Now it is 25 years earlier than Jesup, on the Tampa District, Third Division, which ran from Lakeland to Port Tampa, 41 miles, via Plant City. Northbound trains are superior by direction, and there are no automatic block signals. There was a short double-track segment from Tampa Union Station to Uceta, 3.2 miles. See the accident at Nashville for a discussion of how these short double track sections are operated. Mango was located 5.5 miles north of Uceta, and Seffner 2.2 miles north of Mango.

On the clear evening of 10 October 1925, southbound No. 89 with engine 473 and 7 cars departed Lakeland at 9 pm, 3 hours and 10 minutes late. At Plant City, it received the following orders: No. 137 (Form 19), "1st No 82 meet No 89 on double track at Uceta," and No. 139 (Form 31), "No 89 pull by back in siding meet 1st No 82 at Seffner instead of on double track Uceta." The first order really meant that First 82 was to wait at the end of double track for No. 89, while the second superseded this, putting the meet at the blind siding at Seffner. It would be interesting to know whether the second order would be interpreted as permitting No. 89 to move south of the siding switch at Seffner without flag protection (see the KO&G accident at Kenefick for a similar case). According to the Standard Code, it would not. No. 89 left Plant City at 9.33 pm, now 3 hours 23 minutes late.

Second 82, engine 457 and 3 cars, departed Tampa Union Station at 9.40 pm, 10 minutes late, and received order No. 139 at Uceta, permitting it to proceed, which it did at 10.03 pm. Note that Second 82 was closely following First 82. No. 89 met First 82 at Seffner on order No. 139. The green signals were whistled and acknowledged. Although it had nothing whatsoever against Second 82, No. 89 proceeded southward. The fateful thumb had covered the "First" in order No. 137, so it was supposed that all sections but the first would be at the end of double track at Uceta. The conductor and engineman both agreed to this, and did not show the orders to any other members of the crew. The innocent engineman of Second 82 was killed.

The dispatcher probably thought that mentioning First 82 would show that No. 82 was running in sections, and would keep No. 89 at Seffner. However, this was quite unsafe, and order No. 139 should have read "No 82" not "First 82," which would imply that some other arrangment had been made for Second 82. It seems that the only safe way is to mention all the sections or none of the sections, to avoid the dreaded thumb.

We note that trains were directed to meet "on double track" at Uceta. Under the Standard Code, a meet is always a meet, and if the trains are directed to meet at Uceta, then the train going on double track must wait there for the train coming off. In this case, the nonstandard phrase "on double track" surely meant that the train would proceed at once, effectively making the double track a long siding. In fact, these short sections of double track, as is remarked elsewhere, are just that, and trains meeting must identify one another to avoid having to check a register at the end of double track (which is not provided). The purpose of these sections was to reduce congestion, and they could not do that unless operated in this manner, which was relatively safe, in spite of the disaster at Nashville. Josserand (p. 309) says that the train going on to double track can proceed at once if ordered to meet there, but such a meet order should not be issued. It is better to give the train right over the other to the end of double track.


Shaw discusses the accident on the Frisco at Marshfield, MO on 17 September 1918 fairly well, but since this is such an important example of the rare dispatcher's error it is worth comment here. Shaw does not give a totally coherent account of the train orders involved, for one thing. The fact is that Second 39, a westbound freight had no knowledge of Passenger Extra 1260 until they collided at Marshfield, while Extra 1260 held an order helping it against Second 39. This could be either a failure to deliver the order at Conway, or a failure of the dispatcher to transmit the order to Conway compounded by clearing the train at that point. The preponderance of evidence indicates that the latter was the case.

An extra train can either clear an opposing regular train's schedule time or be "helped" against the possibly delayed regular train by train order. An important extra will usually be instructed to meet a less important regular train by an explicit order, such as: "Second 39 eng 56 meet Extra 1260 East at Marshfield." This order restricts Second 39, not permitting it to pass Marshfield until Extra 1260 arrives there. It simultaneously helps Extra 1260 East by permitting it to ignore the schedule of Second 39 as far as Marshfield, where it must take siding at the west switch as the inferior train. Meet orders are the safest way to handle these situations, safer than run-late or wait orders.

The dispatcher must ensure that the order will be delivered to the superior train (Second 39) before the inferior train (Extra 1260) is allowed to act on it. This is done by having the operator who will deliver the order to Second 39 either repeat the order, or give the "X" response. This ensures that the train order signal is against Second 39, and that the operator is aware of his responsibilities. It would be best, of course, to actually have the order delivered and the signatures of the conductor and engineer sent to the dispatcher in receipt of it. The "31" order form provides for these signatures, and "complete" is given after they are sent. The "19" order form does not require signatures, and complete is given after it is correctly repeated. A completed order may be acted upon. In practice, there is no significant difference in the degree of safety of the two forms, and a train is considered "held" as soon as the order is repeated or X'd.

There is one case in which an order must not be made complete to the inferior train until a Form 31 order has been made complete, and that is when the order is sent in care of someone other than the operator. Only the signatures can guarantee that delivery has been made. This form is always available in case of need (signatures can be written on the Form 19 order if the Form 31 order is not used). In the present case, under Frisco rules of that time, a Form 31 should be sent to No. 39 at some station east of Marshfield, such as Conway, and a Form 19 to Extra 1260 at some station west of Marshfield, such as Springfield. It would have been even better if a copy of the order had been transmitted to the operator at Marshfield, who would keep his train order signal at stop until one or the other of the trains had arrived and it was obvious that they were aware of the meet. This is called a "middle order," and is excellent practice.

The actual case in 1918 was a little more complicated. The actual order helping Extra 1260, order No. 115, was a schedule wait order between Springfield and Newburg giving right over all but first class trains (and therefore over Second 39) and prescribing a maximum speed of 30 mph. Therefore, a middle order would not have been appropriate, since the meeting point was unknown. Engine 1260 was a 2-8-0, and its train was 6 sleepers, 1 baggage, 6 sleepers and a caboose. At Strafford, west of Marshfield, it received order No. 123 to run 15 minutes late on order No. 115. At Marshfield, it picked up order No. 127 stating: "No 9 eng 1069 meet passenger extra 1260 east at Conway." For its part, Second 39 received order No. 115 at Newburg and order No. 113 at Lebanon, reading: "Second 39 eng 56 has right over No 32 to Marshfield and hold main line." This order was imperfectly worded, since it should have given both limits of the right--"Lebanon to Marshfield," as well as "Second 39 hold main track at Marshfield." All the details of the orders are not given in the ICC report, and we have the digitization garble to contend with as well. These orders could be much more clearly worded.

The operator at Conway testified that he was out of the office for supper at the time the order was transmitted, and that the train order signal was fastened at clear, since he held no orders for trains in either direction. This is normal practice when the station is closed. The report does not say if Frisco practice was to keep the train order signals at stop, or to fasten them at stop only when an order was to be transmitted. He received no comment when he OS'd the train to the dispatcher. This account was supported by an insurance agent who had eaten dinner with him, and accompanied him back to the office. No record of the order was found at Conway, but then again, the evidence could very easily have been destroyed.

The dispatcher testified that he had transmitted the order to Conway for Second 39, and that it had been made complete there. The time given for the transmission of the order was when the operator was out of the office. Again, the record in the order book could have been manufactured after the accident. The dispatcher had a number of other trains to deal with, including the Meteor, No. 9. It apparently was his practice to ask operators to repeat only the words relevant to their stations, not the whole order, to save time. This practice is strongly deprecated.

What probably happened was that Extra 1260 was ready to go at Springfield, but could not leave without something on Second 39, since the schedule was overdue. The dispatcher tried to raise Conway, but could not because the operator was out of the office. He would no doubt return before Second 39 passed Conway, so the dispatcher completed the helping order at Springfield at once so that Extra 1260 could get on its way, intending to transmit the order to Conway as soon as the operator returned. Unfortunately, by that time he had forgotten all about the matter, and not even the OS of Second 39 at Conway restored his memory. The call from Marshfield did, however. The order book is supposed to prevent this sort of thing (and it does), but the critical error was completing the helping order before the superior train was held.

There were automatic block signals on this line that would have prevented the accident had they been properly observed. A signal displaying Approach was run through without slackening speed by Extra 1260, and so no stopping distance remained at the Stop signal. One possible reason was that the automatic signal was connected to the train order signal, and showed Approach when "19" orders were to be handed up. The engineman of 1260 took this to be the reason for the Approach, not the Stop aspect at the next signal. There was testimony that after the order was received, the throttle was opened. Neither the ICC report nor Shaw points this out. Second 39 was expecting to meet eastbound No. 32 at Marshfield, and so was not running rapidly (the engine, a 2-10-2, could not run fast, anyway). Three men on engine 1260 died in the collision, but not the engineman, and 12 soldiers in a wooden tourist sleeper at the front of the train.

It is never good for a signal aspect to have more than one meaning. If automatic signals are connected to the train order signal in this way, a rule is necessary stating something like: "Proceed prepared to stop at next signal or to receive train orders without stopping. A train exceeding medium speed must immediately reduce to medium speed. Speed must not be increased until the automatic block signal in advance is seen to indicate Proceed." Shaw mentions a similar happening on the Missouri Pacific in 1922 at Sulphur Springs, MO directly after he discusses Marshfield.


The most tragic railroad accident in Oklahoma happened on the SL-SF at Kellyville, OK, 8.4 miles west of Sapulpa, on 28 September 1917, almost an exact year before the Marshfield collision. All of the 32 killed, and most of the injured, were travelling in the Jim Crow coach of westbound Train No. 407. No. 407 was composed of engine 1035, a 4-6-2, a steel baggage car, mail car, two coaches, a chair car, three sleepers and an office car, all wood except for the baggage car. In the accident, the mail car was driven up and over the first coach, which it telescoped. If all the cars had been steel, there would probably have been no fatalities. No. 407 was en route from St. Louis to Lawton, OK (the location of Fort Sill), and left Sapulpa at 2.12 pm.

This accident was a classic example of misidentification. Order No. 56 stated: "Extra 1322 East has right over No 407 Depew to Kellyville" while Order No. 61 read: "No 406 gets this and meet No 407 at Kellyville." There was also an Extra 1343 moving eastward against No. 407's time in the area. Passenger trains No. 406 and No. 407 had stops at Kellyville. Extra 1322 was an empty troop train returning from Fort Sill, with 29 tourist sleepers, 2 loaded box cars and a caboose, which left Oklahoma City at 10.30 am, and passed Bristow, 13.4 miles west of Kellyville, at 2.12 pm. Extra 1322 was, like the Extra 1260 at Marshfield, a troop train pulled by a fairly new 2-8-0, but empty in this case. Extra 1343 was a freight that had some work to do in Kellyville.

At this time, Frisco cabooses displayed train identification in an illuminated box on the caboose. At this period, new Frisco locomotives had a small engine number on the cab side, with a large FRISCO on the tender. However, Frisco practice both before and after was to have a large engine number on the tender. The engine number was also painted on the sand dome, shown on a plate on the smokebox door or headlight bracket, and illuminated at the sides of the headlight. A few engines had illuminated engine numbers on the smokebox near the stack, a la Santa Fe. Illuminated numbers near the headlight are useless at night when the headlight is on bright, but are quite visible when the headlight is extinguished. The prominence of the engine number on most American locomotives is because of the use of the engine number for train identification. Train orders always state things like: "No. 407 Eng 1035." If you see a train with engine No. 1035, it will be No. 407. Extra trains are, of course, only identified by the engine number.

The right order made certain that No. 406 would reach Kellyville, or No. 407 would clear its time as far as Depew. The meet order made the meet certain, and it was there when No. 407 arrived. Since it was superior to No. 407 by direction, and also because it received the meet order there, it should have held the main line, but the report does not discuss this topic. Extra 1343 was on the siding, having decided to clear No. 407 there. When No. 407 arrived, it saw a passenger train and a freight train, just as one would expect from the train orders. Remarkably, nobody on No. 407 took care to notice the engine number on the waiting freight train, at any one of the five places where it was clearly shown on the engine and caboose. No. 407 made its station stop, with its engine near engine 1343, and left at 2.30 pm. It encountered Extra 1322 East at 2.42 pm, 2.3 miles west of Kellyville, with the results detailed above.

The dispatcher acknowledged that there was a chance Extra 1343 would be taken for Extra 1322 (the consist of the trains was not known to the crew of No. 407) when two trains were seen at Kellyville. He also observed that a "middle order" sent to the operator at the open Kellyville office would have prevented the accident. The operator would not have allowed No. 407 to leave before Extra 1322 arrived in this case. Although the middle order was recommended in the Standard Code, the Frisco had not adopted it. The reason given was that it would take too much time. The only additional time is that required for the operator at the meeting point to repeat the order. In this case, the right order instead of a meet order was a very poor choice. Unless some time order had been given to Extra 1322 (which is possible) it should be deprecated.

Again we see the neglect of the conductor's duty to be jointly responsible with the engineman for the operation of the train. He, as well as the engineman, is responsible for identifying that the proper train has been met at a meeting point. In this accident, the engineman was careless, and committed an error. The conductor, on the other hand, neglected his duty and should have been held principally responsible for the accident. The ICC report discusses the background of these two men in some detail. The conductor had been suspended, barred from passenger service, dismissed and later reinstated in passenger service due to a shortage of conductors. The engineman had been promoted to engineman, demoted to fireman, and later reinstated. It was becoming very difficult to find satisfactory men, especially in wartime.

White Oak

The trains involved in this 31 May 1920 head-end collision on the SL-SF were No. 112, the overnight Oklahoma City-Kansas City train, and No. 403, the St. Louis-Oklahoma City all-stations local train that became simply No. 3 a few years later, and even later The Will Rogers, after most of the local stops had been eliminated. White Oak was between Chelsea and Vinita on the Cherokee Subdivision of the Southwestern Division, which extended from Monett, MO to West Tulsa, OK, 143.2 miles.

No. 112, consisting of engine 1049 and 8 cars, including 4 sleeping cars, was on time and due at White Oak at 12.12 am. At Claremore, order No. 86, Form 19, was received, stating: "No 112 engine 1049 wait at White Oak until 12.17 am for No 403 engine 1330." At Chelsea, 12.4 miles west of White Oak, order No. 88, Form 19, was received, which said: "Orders No 84 and No 88 are annulled. No 403 wait at White Oak until 12.38 am Witt 12.44 am Catale 12.50 am Chelsea 1.00 am Bushyhead 1.10 am Foyil 1.14 am Sequoyah 1.20 am Degroat 1.25 am." No 403, which was running late, had become even later, and a new schedule was given in this order for the benefit of opposing inferior trains. No. 112 was mainly interested in the annullment, which meant that it could proceed from White Oak on time, instead of waiting 5 minutes for No. 403. No. 112 was superior to No. 403 by direction, but it still had to approach all sidings prepared to stop when No. 403 was overdue until the the train was met, so the schedule also helped.

No. 403 had engine 1330, a 2-8-0, and 7 cars, including one sleeper. The Frisco seems to have used these new 2-8-0's, with 63" driving wheels, as dual-service engines. We noted them handling troop trains at Marshfield and Kellyville. No. 403's schedule, if it resembled the schedule of No. 3 of a few years later, allowed 14 hours and 45 minutes for the 424.6 miles from St. Louis to Oklahoma City, an average of 29 mph. However, there were 81 intermediate stops including three meal stops of 20 or 25 minutes, so allowing 4 minutes per stop, a net running time of 8.47 hours results, for an average of 50 mph, which is no mean achievement. It was no wonder that 1330 was a couple of hours late as it approached Vinita.

Order No. 86 was received at Afton by No. 403, giving it an extra 5 minutes to make White Oak. The order board was out at Vinita when No. 403 arrived, a little before midnight. The conductor of No. 403 went to the office and received order No. 88 there, with a clearance card, from the operator. Engine crews were changed at Vinita on No. 403, and the engineman being relieved handed the clearance card and orders he had received at Afton to the relieving engineman. The crew went over to the restaurant for refreshments, where the conductor joined them later. It seems that he had decided to leave Vinita at 12.05 in order to make White Oak by 12.17, 12 minutes for 7 miles. This was very short time, even though he only had to clear the departure time, since No. 112 was of the same class. This showed that, for some reason, the import of order No. 88 had not made an impression.

The fireman said the engineman had never received a clearance card and orders for Vinita, though the order board was still at Stop, so a clearance was required in order to leave. The conductor said he left everything up to the engineman about No. 112, and devoted himself to tickets and such. Apparently, the engineman proceeded on the basis of order No. 86, No. 112 passed White Oak at 11.12, and the trains collided 2 miles east of White Oak. One passenger, and both enginemen, were killed.

The conductor made the usual noises to excuse himself, saying that he had handed the orders and clearance to his engineman, tried the communicating signal, and pulled the air at a siding between Vinita and White Oak, none of which he probably did. The engineman, however, should never have left Vinita with the train order signal at Stop without a clearance form. The conductor should have carefully reviewed the orders in force with the new engine crew, to ensure that they were fully informed.


Quincy, MS was the next station east of Amory, the division point of the Birmingham Subdivision, Southern Division, 123.6 miles from Amory to Birmingham. This single-track line was equipped with overlap automatic block signals, 3-position upper quadrant with oil lighting. The passenger speed limit was 65 tangent, 55 curve, and the freight speed limit was 35 mph.

Northbound freight No. 238 left Thomas Yard, Birmingham, with engine 4208, a heavy coal-burning, stoker-fed Mikado built by Baldwin in 1930 with 64" driving wheels, 48 cars and caboose in the evening of 15 February 1939. After midnight, at Winfield, it was getting on the time of No. 107, the Sunnyland, so the dispatcher gave some help in order No. 9: "No 107 eng 1520 wait at Sulligent until 405 am for No 238 eng 4208." There was also a telegram for No. 238: "No 107 35 mins overdue Amory and not showing Call operator Sulligent as soon as you get there." While this was taking place, Conductor Connell walked up to the engine, inspecting his train, and when he got to the office, collected the order and telegram and climbed into the cab, anticipating a conference with the operator at Sulligent.

No. 238 received order No. 16 at Sulligent, giving more help: "No 107 eng 1520 wait at Quincy until 435 am for No 238 eng 4208." No. 238 departed Sulligent at 3.55 am, 14.3 miles south of Quincy. There would be time to make Quincy, and be in the clear by 4.40 am, since the second-class freight had to clear the first-class No. 107 by five minutes. The engineman claimed after the accident that he had read "Amory" for "Quincy" although the words are quite different,and the order was neatly written. The engine crew claimed that the order was read several times later, with the same error. Now Amory was 9.4 miles farther north, making 23.4 miles to go in 45 minutes. This would be smart running, since it would take 40 minutes running steadily at the speed limit to do it. Quincy, an open office, was reached at 4.18 am, an average of 37 mph, so it appears that 4208 could just have pulled it off, bending the speed limit a bit. Without restrictions, 4208 could roll at 60 or 65 mph with ease.

No. 107 had finally appeared at Amory, where it received order No. 16 and left at 4.08 am, 1 hour 43 minutes late on its scheduled time of 2.45 am. Oil-burning heavy 4-8-2 1520 with its 69" drivers, built by Baldwin in 1926, could also run, and was probably doing so with the nine cars of the Sunnyland. The dispatcher had underestimated its progress, and unless No. 238 were found on the siding at Quincy, it would have to cool its heels there for a quarter of an hour. No. 107 averaged 60 mph between Amory and Quincy, start-to-pass, so it was bending the speed limit itself.

The ABS used dual signals at the ends of sidings, with intermediate signals between sidings. There were long overlaps to ensure that opposing trains would receive restrictive aspects before they came together. The layout of the signals at Quincy was as shown at the right. Not all the overlaps are shown, only the ones given in the ICC report. The signals are shown with their aspects when the trains have their respective positions. In this case, No. 238 and No. 107 would each have accepted Clear aspects at signals 6228 and 6177 when they were about 4 miles apart. The next signal for No. 107 at signal 6203 would be Stop, and for No. 238 Approach at signal 6212. If No. 238 had been a little farther along, as was possible, then signal 6177 would also have shown Approach, more than two miles from the north switch, and signal 6212 Clear. Apparently, neither train responded to any signals at Approach. No. 107 arrived at too high a speed (especially in view of the expected wait). No. 238 responded only to the Stop at signal 6204, and overran it by 2158', a considerable amount, because of the 1.23% descending grade. There was no time to flag, and the collision occurred at 4.20 am in clear weather. The engineman and train porter of No. 107 were killed, along with a tramp on No. 238. There was a 3° curve at this point, but visibility was good.

It is a problem providing good protection for opposing trains with an overlap system. At the minimum, opposing trains will receive Stop aspects at the ends of a block, and at least one train will have received an Approach aspect. This appears to have been the case here, which was a severe test. Note that the overlap was extended to the east more than two miles. The report does not give equal information about the overlap to the east, but it is quite possible that both trains were given Approach aspects. A better solution is the use of Absolute-Permissive Block (APB; see the Attean, ME incident on the CP for an example), which effectively extends the overlap to the next siding. In this case, both headblock signals are at Stop, and preceded by Approach, so that opposing trains are stopped a block apart.

The ICC was perturbed that the ABS had not prevented the collision, but signals cannot do so if they are not observed. It was not mentioned that a middle order would have helped to slow down No. 238, and probably prevented the accident. Quincy was an open office, so this was a possibility. The other thing was the matter of the S-90 whistle signal 14(n). Since the engineman did not intend to meet or wait for anything at Quincy, it was not given. It would also not have been heard in the caboose, according to the testimony. The 4200's, like many Frisco engines, had a deep steamboat whistle that was beautiful to hear, but not much of an attention-getter, and could not be heard at the rear ends of trains. This was generally true for 100-car trains, so the whistle signals of rule S-90 were moot, and largely ignored. The situation was almost as bad in air-conditioned trains, with sealed windows. To hear whistle signals, a crewman had to go to a vestibule and open the Dutch door. Of course, this should be done, and was always possible on passenger trains, if not on freights. Radio, of course, would have been an excellent answer to this.

Conductor Connell actually seems to have reached for the conductor's valve, or at least he said he did, but a bit tardily. When he opened it, he only got a short blow, to his surprise. The brakes had already been applied in emergency, and had acted on all cars back to the sixth in front of the caboose. A turned angle cock was discovered there. Apparently there had been other cases of turned angle cocks in Thomas Yard, and were probably vandalism. One would have expected that the brake line gauge on the caboose would have showed a low pressure. If you are sailing along at 60 mph and you notice that there is only 10 psi in the train line, it causes an uncomfortable feeling. The brakes on the last seven cars had probably leaked off slowly during the trip, but it is wonderful that this was not noticed for over a hundred miles, and during the earlier train inspection at Winfield.


Pickensville, AL was on the Frisco's Columbus Subdivision, Southern Division, which extended from Amory, MS to Magnolia, AL, 153.1 miles. It was 152.2 miles farther to Pensacola, FL. This was a single-track line without automatic block signals. Northbound trains were superior by direction, and the passenger speed limit was 55 mph.

Passenger Extra 1054 South was running on a schedule order, order No. 54, which stated: "Eng 1054 run passgr extra leaving Amory on Wednesday Aug 9 as follows with right over all trains Lv Amory 1030 pm Aberdeen 1050 pm Hamilton 1101 pm ... Pickensville 1204 am ... Ar Magnolia 230 am." The format of the order is not easy to reproduce here; the stations and times were on separate lines beneath the first part of the order, from Lv Amory to Ar Magnolia. This is a standard way to run a scheduled extra. The Frisco even had a special train order form for it, so the lines would be neatly written and times related to their proper stations. The "right over" part is essential; a scheduled extra without rights over anything would be useless. All trains on the road had to actually hold this order before it was made complete for Extra 1054, so as not to be caught between stations without it. Extra 1054 had nine cars.

Regular train No. 208 was running north from Magnolia the night of 9-10 August 1939, and its counterpart train No. 207 was following Extra 1054 southward. These were the daily Amory-Pensacola overnight trains with connections to Memphis. Pickensville was the schedule meeting point of No. 207 and No. 208, at which No. 208 would normally hold the main track, since it was superior by direction. At Magnolia, it received order No. 77: "Passgr Exa 1054 South meet No 208 eng 1014 at Pickensville No 207 eng 1012 has right over No 208 eng 1014 Amory to Pickensville." This order seems all right, but it contains a hidden flaw that invites confusion. This flaw was not recognized in the ICC investigation, although it might have had a bearing on the accident. 1012 and 1014 were Baldwin-built light Pacifics of 1904 with 69" driving wheels, while 1054 was a 1912 Schenectady product.

Let's try to reconstruct what would happen. Extra 1054, with right over all trains, would hold the main track at the meeting point with No. 208. No. 208 could not pass Pickensville, since No. 207 had right over it beyond Pickensville, and No. 207 would be due when No. 208 arrived there. No. 207's superiority only extended to the north switch at Pickensville, and beyond there No. 208 was superior to it as usual. Therefore, No. 207 would have to take siding at the north switch. What you would have, then, is Extra 1054 on the main track, and No. 207 and No. 208 head-to-head on the siding, which was probably not what the dispatcher had in mind. What he almost certainly wanted was for No. 208 to take siding, while Extra 1054 and No. 207 passed on the main at a short interval. The phrase "No 207 eng 1012 hold main track at Pickensville" would have to be added to order No. 77 to make the movement clear.

Far better than order No. 77 would have been: "Extra 1054 and No 207 eng 1012 hold main track and meet No 208 at Pickensville." A definite meet is always safer than a wait, and it is also safer to specify explicitly which trains are to take siding or hold the main track when there could be any confusion. In this case there was confusion. The engineman of No. 208 worked out that he should hold the main against No. 207 (correctly) and forgot that Extra 1054 was superior. Conductor Shaw even sent the train porter up to the engine to remind the engineman to take siding at Pickensville, but the advice was apparently rejected.

The Frisco not only prescribed that whistle signal 14(n) be sounded at the station board when approaching a meet or wait, but that it be repeated if the train was to take siding. It was sounded once, as required, since the meet was by no means overlooked. It was a hot evening, and Conductor Shaw found comfort in the air-conditioned coach-sleeper combination as Pickensville was neared, where the tight enclosure and the whistle of the cool air obscured the engine whistle. The brakes were applied in emergency as soon as Extra 1054 was seen on the main, headlight bright. There was still a bang, but fortunately nobody was killed. Brakeman Dearinger said he remembered about the repetition of 14(n), did not hear it, and pulled the air--when the brakes were already applied in emergency, which was several minutes too late. At least he knew the rule, if he did not actually observe it.


The Wheeling and Lake Erie ran diagonally across Ohio from Wheeling to Toledo. Pittsburgh and West Virginia trains joined the line at Pittsburgh Junction, about 3 miles east of Jewett. This was on the Second District of the Toledo Division, extending from Pittsburgh Jct. to Brewster, OH, 47.6 miles. Jewett had an important yard, and the passenger station was located between the westbound siding, to the west, and the eastbound siding, to the east. The west switch of the eastbound siding was 4900' east of the station. Just west of the yard limit sign, 1300' east of the east switch, was a distant switch signal. From this point to the station, around a 3° curve to the left and under a bridge that restricted vision, trains were required to proceed at restricted speed. There were no automatic block signals, and the traffic was heavy, about 25 trains per day.

On 16 July 1937, Second 92, a second-class freight train with engine W&LE 6016, 24 cars and caboose, left Brewster eastbound. At Harmon, 2 miles east of Brewster, order No. 43, Form 19, was received: "No ninety four 94 and second 2nd ninety two 92 will meet first 1st ninety five 95 at Dewey have right over second 2nd ninety five 95 Lonas to Sherrodsville and over third 3rd ninety five 95 to Pgh Jct 1st 95 take siding at Dewey 2nd 95 take siding at Sherrodsville Second 2nd ninety two 92 will pass No ninety four 94 at Bolivar No 94 take siding at crossover Bolivar." Note the spelling of train numbers (also required on the Southern and some other companies) when first mentioned, and also the archaic "will" phrasing. However, the order is clear and explicit, and carefully specifies who is to take siding.

Second 92 arrived at Jewett at 7.49 am, where it received order No. 53: "Third 3rd ninety five 95 will meet second 2nd ninety two 92 at Jewett 3rd 95 take siding on eastbound siding." One might quibble that the words "2nd 92 gets this at Jewett" should be added, but the east switch of the eastbound siding was two miles beyond the train order office, providing plenty of clearance and not restricting the train at the train order signal. The train pulled forward at 7.54 am and stopped clear of the east switch of the eastbound siding. The headlight was left on, but the switch was not lined for the siding, as is the usual custom.

Third 95 was a P&WV train, engine P&WV 1000, 45 cars and caboose, departing Rook, PA at 5 am, where it performed a running brake test. It pulled through Pittsburgh Jct. at 4-5 mph without stopping, where a clearance card, six Form 19 orders, and a message were handed up at each end of the train. The engineman read order No. 53, and remarked, "We meet 2nd 92 at eastbound siding at Jewett, he takes the hole." He handed the orders to the fireman, who handed them to the brakeman to read, since he was busy with the fire. They were still reading the orders when Second 92's headlight was seen ahead as they came out from under the overbridge on the curve, and the brakes were applied in emergency. Fortunately, nobody was killed, although Third 95 was moving at 15 to 30 mph at the point of collision.

Conductor Craven and flagman Diehl had read and understood the orders, and said they were about to "open the valve" when the brakes were applied. They would have had to have acted promptly, when speed was not reduced at the yard limit sign as it should have been in any case. The movement seems to have been performed in the manner customary if they did not have to go into the hole at the eastbound siding. The orders were received less than three miles and eight minutes from the point of collision, short time for everyone to have read and understood them, as the ICC pointed out.

Dispatcher Breymaier said he wanted Second 92 to hold the main track so they would not have to stop to close the switch on the ascending gradient when they left, and would have expected them to line the switch for the siding for Third 95. The westbound siding could not have been used, since the train order office was east of it. This accident was due solely to failure to take siding, not to overlooking the meet, and the curious omission of opening the switch, a protective measure that would have worked well here, and we would never have heard of Jewett.


This accident occurred on 1st December 1946, at Angora, Minnesota on the Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific. The ICC claims it was on the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range, but they err. This is the line that runs northerly to Fort Frances, Man. from Duluth. Third 418 received order No. 5 at Orr, reading: "Third 418 Eng 2459 meet Extra 2480 West at Angora." At Gheen, it received order No. 6, reading: "Order No. 5 is annulled. Third 418 Eng 2459 meet Extra 2480 West at Foreman." Extra 2480 West, unfortunately, only received order No. 5 at West Virginia. There was no explanation of how the clearance at West Virginia happened to omit order No. 6 when it was OK'd by the dispatcher.

There was a lap of authority between Angora and Foreman, and the two trains met 1.2 miles east (south) of Angora, on a 2° curve. Five men were killed, and three injured.


The Canadian Pacific has a direct line from Montral to New Brunswick that passes through Maine just north of the settled areas, from Megantic, Que. to Adams Junction, N.B., which was part of the Atlantic Division. The Moosehead Subdivision extended from Megantic to Brownville Junction, 117 miles, forming the western half of this line. In 1919, this line was operated by time table and train orders, with dispatching by telephone, except for electric train staff blocks near the termini: Megantic to Boundary, 15.2 miles, and Barnard to Brownville Junction, 8.5 miles. Traffic was quite heavy, about 41 trains per day.

Onawa had been the location of an earlier accident, on 21 January 1913, when 3rd class freight train No. 72 collided with the rear of 3rd class freight train 74 1.5 miles west of Onawa, at 3.15 pm. The ICC report is extraordinary in that flagging, the lack of which caused the accident, is never mentioned! No. 72 had previously let No. 74 pass at Elliott, 7.5 miles west of the point of collision, and now No. 74 was apparently dawdling waiting for time when it was run into. No. 72 had waited the prescribed 10 minutes at Elliott before following No. 74. The Atlantic Division had had some problems with rear collisions in the years past, and a bulletin of 28 December 1911 had extended the 5 minute spacing to 10 minute spacing. The ICC obtusely remarks on the lack of open offices to enforce spacing, although mere train spacing at stations can never substitute for proper flagging.

Stations on the Moosehead Subdivision are shown at the right. X marks the location of the collision. Moosehead and Bodfish are not open offices, but the others are. Eastbound is down. On the morning of 20 December 1919, first class passenger train No. 39 was moving west in four sections. Third 39 carried steerage passengers from the liner Empress of France that had been landed at St. John, and were bound for Montreal. Engine 783 had 11 cars: a wooden boxcar baggage, a coach, two colonist cars, two tourist sleepers, one colonist car, one cafe car, one tourist sleeper and two cabooses. At Brownville Junction it received three Form 31 orders, numbers 20, 28 and 38. Order No. 20 stated: "First No 39 eng 818 late Second No 39 eng 852 on block Third No 39 eng unknown run four 4 hours and twenty 20 minutes late Barnard to Boundary." Order No. 28 was: "Order No 20 is annulled. First No 39 eng 818 late Second No 39 eng 852 on block Third No 39 eng unknown run five 5 hours late Barnard to Boundary." Finally, order No. 38 said: "Engine 783 display signals and run as Third No 39 Brownville to Megantic."

In these orders, each section was mentioned, with the comments "late" or "on block," which was not common practice, but apparently was required by the dispatching manual of the Atlantic Division. Adding this information was not part of the Standard Code. Third No. 39 departed Brownville Junction at 6.25 am, 5 hours and 5 minutes late, passed Barnard at 6.51 am, and the open office at Onawa at 7.09 am, 5 hours and 10 minutes late. At 7.14 am, 2.3 miles west of Onawa, it collided head-on with eastbound freight First No. 78. The wooden box baggage car absorbed a good deal of the shock, but 19 passengers were killed in the coach and first colonist car, as well as the engine crews of both trains.

First 78 was made up of engine 2516, 30 loads and 2 empties, and a caboose. It left Megantic at 6 pm the evening before, 30 minutes late. Six cars were set out at Holeb. At the non-telegraph station of Moosehead, it met First and Second 39, as well as Extra 3470 West, which delivered order No. 28, Form 19 to it. Helping orders can be forwarded to non-telegraph stations quite safely this way, on Form 19, since non-delivery would at most result in delay. This order gave First 78 five hours on Third 39, so they had ample time to make Morkill for it. First 78 arrived Greenville at 6.30 am, where fresh copies of orders No. 20 and No. 28 were received. They left Greenville at 6.40 am, and arrived Morkill at 6.57 am, where they took siding.

Dispatcher Shaw noted the progress that First 78 was making. He was interested in getting them to Brownville Junction before they had 16 hours of duty, so promptly gave them time against Fourth 39, in order No. 47: "Third No 39 eng 783 late Fourth No 39 eng unknown run 8 hours late Barnard to Megantic." This order was transmitted to operator Kingdon at Morkill, who repeated it and received complete. When First 78 pulled in, he had it ready and ran out to hand it up to the cab and the caboose. At the caboose, he handed it to engineman Chase, who was deadheading, who in turn gave it to conductor Manuel. Flagman Gardiner read it when it was laid on the caboose table.

Brakeman Austin heard engineman Bagley say to the fireman: "We have eight hours on Third 39." Conductor Manuel and flagman Gardiner had the same opinion, "Eight hours" was heard to be exchanged. Little thinking was going on here. They had just received five hours on Third 39 just half and hour before at Greenville, but did not wonder how it could have lost so much time so quickly. In their eagerness to reach Brownville Junction, First 78 left Morkill, and operator Kingdon OS'ed to Dispatcher Shaw. Both of these men thought that the train might be going to Bodfish for Third 39, but a consideration of the time would have shown the futility of leaving Morkill at 6.57 and having to be clear at Bodfish at 7 am, with the required 5 minutes clearance. Operator Valley, who handled the 8 am - 4 pm trick at Morkill, had arrived on First 78 and thought something was funny, but could not make Kingdon appreciate the situation.

Had this been realized at once, Third 39 could still have been stopped at Onawa, an open office, which it had not yet passed. The chance was lost, and Dispatcher Shaw first realized something was wrong when his phone lines went out of service, as the accident damaged the pole line. The ICC is quite hard on Shaw and Kingdon, but they were not responsible for the accident, though with vigilance they could have prevented it. The true cause of the accident was the mass misreading of order No. 47.

This busy line soon received automatic block signals. Many years later, even these failed to prevent an accident caused by a dispatcher's error, which is discussed next. The toll in this later collision was much less, perhaps because of all-steel equipment.


The scene of this accident is the wild country west of Moosehead Lake, on the Moosehead subdivision of the Atlantic Division. There were open offices at Megantic, Holeb, Jackman and Greenville in the segment of interest. The time was the morning of the 8th of August, 1957, which was a fine, clear morning.Eastbound train No. 908, a second-class freight train with two units, 27 cars and caboose, departed Megantic at 9.25 am. Westbound train No. 951, a second-class freight train with two units, 50 cars and caboose, departed Greenville, 82.6 miles east of Megantic, at 9.45 am. By timetable, these two trains would meet at the remote siding of Elmer. No. 908 was superior by direction.

If No. 951 could not reach Elmer and clear the main track by 11.02, it would have to take siding somewhere east of Elmer for No. 908. No. 908, since it was of the same class, would have to approach all sidings prepared to stop unless No. 951 was in the clear. The dispatcher, probably from habit, fixed the meet of the two trains at Elmer by train order, to prevent any delay to the two trains by carrying out this time table procedure. The meet order was to be given to No. 908 at Holeb, and to No. 951 at Greenville. The dispatcher could not raise Holeb on the telephone after a couple of tries, and No. 951 was eager to leave Greenville. So he transmitted the order to Greenville, it was repeated, and made complete at 9.29 am. Order No. 225 read: "No 908 Eng 4016 meet No 951 Eng 8460 at Elmer."

No. 951 passed Jackman, the last open office before Elmer, at 10.52. Just before 10.55, Holeb finally was on the telephone, asking for an OK on the clearance card for No. 908. The dispatcher not only forgot that he had not transmitted the order to Holeb at the same time as to Greenwood, but that there was any order at all for No. 908 at Holeb, and OK'd the clearance though Order No. 225 was not listed. No. 908 left Holeb at 10.55, and the lap of authority was complete. There were no open offices between the trains. If No. 951 had made Elmer by 11.02, all would still be well, but it did not.

No. 908 was running on its time table rights, and reached Elmer just before 11.02, but No. 951 was not to be seen, so it proceeded as was its right under the time table. The next siding was Attean, 3.3 miles east of Elmer, but No. 908 never reached Attean. It collided with No. 951 a mile west of the west switch at Attean. The speeds of the trains had been reduced to 30 and 20 mph, respectively, at the instant of collision. The engineman of No. 951 was killed, and six others were injured.

There was, however, a backup on this line that should have prevented the accident, automatic signals arranged for absolute-permissive block (APB). The arrangment of the signals is shown in the figure. The X marks the location of the accident, at 11.05 am. The signals were 3-aspect searchlight signals. The stopping distance from 45 mph, the approximate speed of the trains, is about 1700 ft. The two "headblock" signals for this block, signals 816 and 791, each govern as far as the other. When a train passes either one, they both assume a Stop aspect. The intermediate signal in the direction of the train, say signal 808, remains at Proceed if the track ahead is clear, and the signal for leaving the block does not display Stop. The intermediate signal in the opposite direction, signal 797, goes to Stop at the same time as signal 791. This block is so short, 13,430 ft., that there is only one pair of intermediate signals. These signals are spaced so that trains unexpectedly encountering them at stop will be able to stop short of one another. For trains moving at 45 mph, the distance between them when they stop will be about a half-mile. In most cases, APB blocks are long enough to contain two or more pairs of intermediate signals, which can be staggered by a shorter distance.

If trains approach the headblock signals from opposite directions at close to the same time, they both will receive Proceed aspects on entering the block. The intermediate signals will then be at Stop for both, certainly a surprise, but if the proper action is taken, the trains will stop safely. Except for this unlucky case, one train will always find a Stop aspect at the entrance to the block. In this case, if signal 791 shows Stop, signal 785 will show Approach. A train may pass signal 785 at Clear, and find signal 791 at Stop, if a train passes the headblock at the other end of the block while the first train is moving between these two signals.

The ICC report speculates that the two trains passed the headblock signals at about the same time, and that both may have received Proceed aspects, No. 908 at signal 816 and No. 951 at signal 791. Signal 785 was reported to have shown Proceed. However, according to testimony of the crew of No. 908, signal 808 was at Approach when passed. From the position of the point of collision, it seems clear that No. 980 was in the block before No. 951 accepted signal 791, which must have been at danger. The conclusion must be that No. 951 passed signal 791 at Stop.

A better way to arrange APB with short blocks is to include the sections in rear of the headblock signals in the control range of the headblock signals, so that two trains approaching simultaneously will receive Approach aspects that change to Stop as soon as the opposing train enters the block. This should guarantee that the trains will be moving at medium speed when they encounter the Stop aspects at the intermediate signals. When trains approach a meeting point under normal conditions, the headblock signal will show Approach if the train to be met has arrived at the siding in advance, and is holding the main line or the turnout is open.

South Park Junction

South Park Junction was within the city limits of Denver, and within yard limits on the Colorado and Southern as well. At this point, the narrow-gauge diverged (on dual-gauge track) for South Park and Leadville. Eastbound No. 73, with engine 70 and 4 cars, had left Grant at 5.15 am, on time, and had lost about 15 minutes as it approached Denver. Opposing trains No. 70 and No. 60 were superior by direction, and had to be met before No. 73 arrived in Denver. At Sheridan Junction, 7.6 miles west of Denver, No. 73 received order No. 1: "No 70 engine 9 wait at South Park Jct until 829 am Valverde until 833 am Denver Mills until 836 am for No. 73 engine 70." No. 73 was able to make Valverde on this order, where it pulled into the siding, connected only on the west end, and met No. 70 at about 8.30 am. It backed out, and proceeded against No. 60's schedule, which put it at South Park Junction at 8.34 am. The hope of making South Park Junction, 1.4 miles away, in two or three minutes was a very sanguine one.

No. 60 left Denver at 8.25 am, and registered at South Park Junction at 8.34 am, on time. No. 73 was almost there, but not quite, so they collided at 8.35 am 1680' west of the junction on an 8° curve, near the South Platte bridge, at no great speed, but one employee was killed. This was a simple case of failing to clear the time of a superior train.


A pure time table failure occurred just south of the station at Broomfield, Co on 22 September 1958, on the Colorado and Southern. No. 30, a southbound first-class passenger train with engine 9936B and 7 cars, collided with Extra 700D North, with 51 cars and way car. No. 30 was on time, having passed Cheyenne at 4.04 am, Louisville, the last open office, at 6.39 am, and Broomfield at 6.47 am. There was a 20 mph speed restriction at a road crossing near the Broomfield station, and No. 30 was accelerating from this, but had not increased its speed greatly at the moment of collision. The collision occurred on a 2° curve, with vision obscured by buildings.

Extra 700D had left Rice Yard at 6.15 am and received clearance and orders at Prospect. Its running orders read: "Eng 700D run extra Prospect to Cheyenne All first class trains due at Cheyenne at or before 4.20 am have passed No 30 has no signals." No. 30 was due at Semper, a 4100' siding 5.65 miles north of the end of double track at Utah Junction, at 6.53 am. Extra 700D had to clear No. 30 by 6.48 am at Semper, or wait for it at Utah Junction. Extra 700D passed Semper, and collided with No. 30 at 6.48 am.

Both enginemen, and the fireman of No. 30, were killed. Testimony by the surviving crew members of Extra 700D claims that the engineman was warned several times that he was on the time of No. 30 by the fireman, which was supported by the inexperienced head brakeman, and the conductor said he had been concerned. However, the only rational and proper action by the conductor would have been to pull the air when the south switch at Semper was passed. That he did not execute his duty was probably due to the fact that everyone was asleep on Extra 700D before it reached Semper. No mention was made in the ICC report of the failure to observe Rule S-90 approaching Semper, which applies to schedule meeting points as well as to train order meeting points. The conductor must take immediate action under the rules if the engineman fails to sound whistle signal 14(n), --o. There was no difference between what did happen and what would have happened if all were asleep.

There is no question of the running orders being misunderstood--the register check was for the previous night's No. 29, and 4.20 am, though it is strange that the check was not for Prospect at the time Extra 700D called for orders there. There was a train register at Prospect, and Extra 700D would have left a register ticket, but would not have had to check the register there, since No. 29 was the only superior train not 12 hours late on its schedule. The statement that No. 30 had no signals was true, but irrelevant, as No. 30 was not yet due at Prospect. It might have been better to say: "Eng 700D run extra Prospect to Cheyenne No 29 of 21 September has arrived and left Prospect." Nos. 29 and 30 were the only regular trains on the subdivision, so it would seem clearer to refer to them by name, and not run the risk of misunderstanding.


September 1958 was not a good month on the Colorado and Southern. A few days before the accident at Broomfield, on the 16th, two freight trains collided in front of the station at Chugwater, demolishing the building. Extra 828 South, a local freight train, with 18 cars and a waycar, had arrived at 7.45 pm and was standing on the main line in front of the station with its headlight on and its crew eating dinner in a restaurant across the street.

Extra 750A North, with five units, 104 cars and waycar, had left Cheyenne at 5.35 pm., holding an order reading: "Extra 750A North has right over Extra 828 South Cheyenne to Chugwater and wait at Altus until 710 pm Farthing until 720 pm Lambert until 730 pm for Extra 828 South. Extra 828 gets this order at Chugwater."

The operator at Chugwater kept the train order signal at stop, and when Extra 828 was in sight, went on to the platform with stop signals. This is quite correct in response to the statement that Extra 828 was to receive an order restricting it there. This order was received and understood by the conductor and engineman of Extra 828. A very important point is at issue here, the actions of the train given right at the final point mentioned in the right order. It is generally agreed that this train must take siding there, or that its superiority under the order ceases at the switch where it would enter the siding, the assumption being that it does not have superiority beyond that point. The further interpretation depends on company practice. On some roads, and we will assume on the Burlington as well (though this is not mentioned in the ICC report), the trains mentioned will meet at this point, if they have not already met under the time part of the order. Other roads would require that further provision would have to be made in case Extra 828 did not reach Chugwater first.

Therefore, if the order mentioned were sufficient, the dispatcher intended that Extra 828 South and Extra 750A North would meet at Chugwater if not before then. Since the siding at Chugwater had a capacity of 91 cars, and Extra 750A had 104 cars, it is difficult to believe that the dispatcher meant for Extra 750A to pull through the siding while Extra 828 remained on the main track, though under the interpretation we have assumed that would be the case, and Extra 828 was correct in remaining on the main track. To have 750A hold the main track, the right order would have to have been worded "Extra 750A North has right over Extra 828 South Cheyenne to Chugwater hold main track at Chugwater and wait at Altus until 710 pm, etc." But then there would have been difficulty with "Extra 828 gets this order at Chugwater."

Extra trains have no superiority by direction; extra trains in the direction specified by the time table as superior for trains of the same class simply hold the main track at meets betweeen extra trains. If Extra 750A and Extra 828 were directed to meet at Chugwater, then Extra 828 would take siding by this rule. Whether there was confusion or not over this provision, Extra 750A had little right to approach Chugwater at full speed, 45 mph. It was as if they assumed precedence over Extra 828, which would have to have been conferred by some other order, and expected them to be in the clear at any point they could reach, including Chugwater. Under the interpretation of the right order that we have assumed to apply on Burlington, there would be a meet at Chugwater, and Extra 750A would have to stop if Extra 828 were not found there. A further reason for approaching Chugwater with caution was that Extra 828 was to receive the order there.

The view approaching Chugwater was obstructed by the highway bridge and other objects (it is even more obstructed today), so they probably did not see Extra 828's headlight until the last minute. I hope that Extra 828 was protected to the north as it should have been, standing on the main track, and the flagman was not in the cafe with everybody else. Extra 750A was a much more important train than the local Extra 828, but the fact that Extra 828 received the order at Chugwater probably spoiled the dispatcher's intention to put it on the siding there for Extra 750A. Apparently, Extra 750A simply didn't think things through properly, or forgot the order. Perhaps if we knew all the orders held by the two trains, some other conclusion could be drawn.

The station was torn down and replaced by a metal box-car type of building with a train order signal. Now even this is gone.


Royce, New Mexico was a siding on the Colorado and Southern 8.1 miles east of Clayton, where the line climbed steadily through volcanic scenery up to the Colorado border. In the evening of 26 March 1937, train No. 2, with engine CB&Q 2959, a baggage-mail combine, a coach and a sleeper left the division point of Texline at 10.03. It held order No. 45, on Form 31, reading: "No 2 wait at Royce until 1055 pm Penrith until 1102 pm Mt Dora until 1110 pm for Extra 902 South." No. 2 left Clayton 11 minutes late, at 10.38 pm.

Extra 902 South had 25 cars and waycar. It left Trinidad at 7.25 pm with a Permissive Card Form C, a Clearance Form A, and order No. 45, Form 19. We are not told what the permissive card was for, but it is used to warn a train to proceed at restricted speed looking out for a train ahead, and probably referred in this case to something in the neighborhood of Trinidad. Extra 902 reached Penrith at 10.45. Since they had to clear No. 2 by five minutes, they would have to be clear there by 10.57, 12 minutes later. Penrith was 4.1 miles north of Royce, and they would have to be clear at Royce by 10.50. It would appear that they could not make Royce in the time available. However, the engineman decided to proceed on short time, since he would be at the north switch just before 10.55, and his headlight would keep No. 2 there while he cleared.

Now let's return to No. 2. It would have taken about 12 minutes to get to Royce from Clayton, so they would be approaching the south switch at Royce around 10.50. At a mile from there, the engineman of No. 2 would have sounded the station whistle, Rule 14(m), and then the meeting-point whistle, Rule 14(n). Burlington Lines rules did not require the conductor give a single sound on the communicating signal on passenger trains approaching meeting or waiting points, but if Rule 14(n) were not sounded at the proper place, the conductor had to stop the train immediately, using the conductor's valve. Tonight, this was not done, and No. 2 sailed by the north switch at Royce at about 10.01, four minutes before the wait expired. As the train passed the north switch, the headlight of Extra 902 could be seen. The collision occurred 2297' north of the north switch at Royce, killing the engineman of No. 2. 16 passengers were among the 22 injured.

The conductor of No. 2 knew the rules, because he tried to claim that he was carrying them out by opening the conductor's valve when Extra 902's headlight was seen ahead. He should have done this about a mile and a half earlier, when the engineman did not whistle or slacken speed approaching Royce. The responsibility was his, and he was as guilty as the engineman for the outcome. The guilt of Extra 902 was much less, since they only shaved the clearance time, and were struck before the waiting time was up. This is a rather above-average ICC report, whose conclusions are proper, as well as the recommendation that the C&S pull up its socks.

However, it would not be a typical ICC report if it did not contain something irrelevant. In this case, it was the requirement that a 31 order be read to the operator before it was signed, and that the engineman read the order to the conductor when it is delivered to him (Rule 210). This was probably adduced to demonstrate that the rules were not being followed properly, as the conductor of No. 2 said he never did it. However, there were no problems with the orders at all in this accident. They were correctly delivered and understood, just not obeyed. The action of reading an order to the person delivering it is only marginally useful, and has probably never prevented a single accident. It might originally have caught the illiterate, which was no problem in these days (though it might be now!). 19 orders are not read to the operator, obviously, and this is not questioned. Reading of the order to the person to whom it is delivered, which has been required at times, is thoroughly pernicious and may well have caused accidents.


Folsom, New Mexico is located on the Colorado and Southern where it crosses the volcanic plateau separating New Mexico and Colorado. It is a picturesque village from which the Folsom points, stone tools of prehistoric hunters, were named. The scenery is unexpectedly dramatic, and the railway line has sharp curves and heavy grades as it winds around the bluffs. In 1938 this was a single track line with no automatic block signals, carrying two passenger trains and two freight trains in each direction daily, with sometimes additional freights. On 16 February, at 11.42 pm, northbound passenger No. 2, engine C&S 354 and 5 cars, collided with Extra 5206 South in the fog near Folsom, killing both enginemen, the fireman of No. 2 and the head brakeman of Extra 5206. Eleven passengers were and eight employees were injured. The accident happened on a 6° curve, on a cut between two fills.

The dispatcher was located at Trinidad, and was responsible for the section between Minnequa Jct. (Pueblo) and Texline, 229.7 miles. After the operator at Trinidad went off duty at 6 pm, the dispatcher was responsible for delivering orders at that point. Telegraph was used for dispatching between Minnequa Jct. and Walsenburg, and telephone for the remainder.

No. 2 left Texline at 9.23 pm, on time. Although there would seem to be no reason to allow Extra 5206 to clear its schedule time, the dispatcher apparently desired to help Extra 5206 a little with order No. 42, reading: "No 2 wait at Towanda until 1155 pm Alps until 1205 am for Extra 5206 South." This order was delivered to No. 2 at Texline on Form 31. Towanda was 5.5 miles north of Folsom, Alps a few miles further.

At Trinidad, the dispatcher himself delivered order No. 42 to Extra 5206 on Form 19, but this order read: "No 2 wait at Folsom until 11.55 pm Towanda until 1205 am for Extra 5206 South." It was very similar to the previous order No. 42, except for the fatal substitutions for the station names, which created a lap between Folsom and Towanda.

This discrepancy arose because the order was first transmitted to Texline by telephone and repeated, the dispatcher underlining each word and figure in his order book. The signatures were transmitted, and complete was then given in the usual way. This was completely proper. At Trinidad, the dispatcher himself copied the order on a Form 19 pad, making three copies, two for Extra 5206 and one for his file. Apparently he had been thinking about delay to No. 2 at Clayton, and that the meet should be moved. The order was probably written from memory, and not compared with the words in the order book. This was an oversight that anyone could make, since we usually see what we expect to see.

The only way to overcome this would be to have someone read the order back to the dispatcher, who would underline the words and figures again, as if the order were being repeated at some distant point. There is some waffling about this in the ICC report, but this solution is not suggested. Such errors are so rare that extra steps whenever a dispatcher delivers an order are not justified, it would appear. It would have been a comfort to the dispatcher in this case, who admitted that he was not overworked or confused, to realize that his lapse was a human one, not the result of carelessness or malice. If he had checked the order over and over, there would be no different result. Simple "double checking" usually does no good whatsoever; there has to be a definite variation.


Meadville was on the Brookfield Division, Missouri District (as it was then) of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, which extended from Brookfield to St. Joseph, 102 miles. The manual block system was in effect, and eastward trains were superior to westward trains of the same class. There was a head-end collision 1-3/4 miles west of Meadville at 6.13 pm in clear weather on 4 January 1923, between eastbound Third 72 and westbound No. 83, both second-class freight trains. Four head-end employees were killed, including both enginemen.

No. 83 had engine 5126, 14 cars and caboose. At Laclede, 7.3 miles east of Meadville, two orders were received. No. 78, Form 19, said: "Second 72 wait at Wheeling until 540 pm Meadville until 547 pm Laclede until 602 pm No 83 will use south track Brookfield to Needles," and No. 80, Form 19, read: "Fourth 72 meet No 109 and No 83 at Mooresville." On the clearance card it said under block information: "Block clear on arr Second and Third 72 at Laclede." No. 83 then went to the west end of the yard to work. A bit later Second 72 arrived, and the crews of the two trains shouted their identification at each other and acknowledged by lantern signals as the trains passed. For some reason, the crew of No. 83 took Second for Third 72, and departed west on the main line at 6.04 pm.

Third 72, engine 5049, 22 cars and caboose, left Meadville at 6.08 pm, 1 hour and 28 minutes late, and collided with No. 83, both trains moving at about 35 mph. Due to poor visibility, the speed was not greatly reduced at the point of collision.

The efficiency of the manual block was vitiated by making it rest on the clearance card, issued before the block was actually clear, and critically depending on the identification of trains. The justification for this procedure is that it left trains to do their work without remaining near the telegraph office, and to leave as soon as the opposing trains arrived. In this case, the manual block did nothing to prevent accident. It was little better than letting opposing trains into an occupied block, or no block system at all.


Belmont, Nebraska is on a wooded ridge where the Chicago Burlington & Quincy "High Line" between Alliance and Billings pierces the scenic Pine Ridge bluff. At the time of this accident, 25 July 1942, Nebraska's only railway tunnel was just north (west by time table) of Belmont. This tunnel has now been opened out into a large cut, and the track layout changed. Belmont is 12.8 miles east of Crawford, and 25.75 miles west of Hemingford. From Crawford to Rutland, 6.07 miles west of Belmont, the Eastward Advance Track extended, making effectively a double track or a long siding. There was no train order signal at Crawford, and all trains had to receive clearance Form A there.

Extra 6155 East left Edgemont at 10.50 pm. Its running order, No. 627, read: "Eng 6155 run extra Edgemont to Alliance Extra 6155 East use eastward advance track Crawford to Rutland." At Crawford it received orders No. 503: "Eng 5277 run extra Alliance to Edgemont meet Extra 6155 East at Nonpareil," and No. 504: "Extra 6155 East meet Extra 5277 West at Belmont instead of Nonpareil." A helper engine, 5290, was added in front of the waycar, and Extra 6155 started up the long hill at 2.55 am on the eastward advance track with 59 cars, expecting to meet Extra 5277 on the 4036' siding at Belmont. Extra 6155 re-entered the main track at Rutland, probably through a spring switch.

Extra 5277 departed Alliance with order No. 503 at 1.10 am. At Hemingford, Extra 5277 received order No. 504, as well as order No. 507: "Order No 504 is annulled Extra 6155 East meet Extra 5227 West on eastward advance track." Extra 5277 departed Hemingford at 2.20 am. This order was copied at Crawford at 2.11 am, and put on the hook. At 2.45 the clearance Form A issued to Extra 6155 did not include order No. 507. There is no explanation in the ICC report as to the dispatcher's OK. This matter of making sure all orders are delivered is the primary reason for the Form A. If it is not OK'd by the dispatcher (which is the usual procedure), at least the order numbers should be added to the clearance card as they are received, not when the train is ready to go.

The two extras met 2.26 miles west of Belmont, north of the tunnel, on a 6° curve where vision was restricted, on a 1.05% grade, at 3.25 am in clear weather. Three employees were killed.


The accident at Granite, CO on 20 August 1925 on the Denver and Rio Grande Western was a head-end collision of two heavy passenger trains, No. 7 and No. 8, because No. 8 did not receive a copy of an order changing the meeting point from Pine Creek to Granite when it left Tennessee Pass. It is an interesting study of how train orders are mishandled, containing several good lessons. Subdivision 3 of the Salida Division extended from Salida to Minturn, 87 miles, beside the Arkansas River on a constant climb to Tennessee Pass, with a maximum grade of 1.7%. It was a single track, dispatched from Salida by train orders, with no block signals. Eastward trains were superior to westward trains of the same class.

No. 7, with 13 cars, doubleheaded by engines 759 and 787, left Salida, 42 miles west of Granite, at 1.19 pm, 44 minutes late, where it had received order No. 65: "No 7 engs 787 759 wait at Brown Canon until one thirty five 135 pm Arena one forty five 145 pm for Extra 1186 hold main track meet No 8 eng 778 at Pine Creek." Pine Creek was 5.6 miles east of Granite. At Buena Vista, 17 miles from Granite, orders 67, 71 and 72 were received. Order 67 read: "No 7 engs 787 759 run twenty five 25 mins late Americas to Waco twenty 20 mins late Waco to Malta fifteen 15 mins late Malta to Tenn Pass." Order 71 said: "No 8 eng 778 take siding meet No 7 engs 759 787 at Granite instead of Pine Creek." Order No. 72 was: "No 7 engs 759 787 wait at Pine Creek until two thirty six 236 pm." No. 7 departed Buena Vista at 2.14 pm, 34 minutes late, passed Pine Creek, and approached Granite, where it encountered No. 8, 1.5 miles east of the station. Two employees were killed, firemen on the two engines.

Order No. 71 superseded the part of order No. 65 pertaining to the meet, but not the waiting times, which were to help Extra 1186. Orders No. 67 and 72 gave time against No. 7 to any train. There were probably eastbound extras not mentioned here. No. 8 was directed to take siding so that heavy No. 7 did not have to stop on the grade to open and close switches. It was not brilliant to make eastward, downhill, trains superior to westward, uphill, trains on this subdivision.

No. 8 had 14 cars and engine 778. At Tennessee Pass, 24 miles west of Granite, it received a clearance card and four orders, numbers 56, 65, 69 and 72. Since No. 8 was very late, order No. 56 gave time for westbound inferior trains to use over the subdivision: "No 8 eng 778 wait at Tenn Pass until one forty 140 pm Keddar one forty seven 147 pm Malta one fifty six 156 pm Snowden two naught two 202 pm Kobe two naught seven 207 pm Granite two fifteen 215 pm Riverside two twenty eight 228 pm Buena Vista two thirty nine 239 pm Nathrop two forty nine 249 pm Arena two fifty nine 259 pm Brown Canon three naught eight 308 pm Belleview three thirteen 313 pm." Order No. 69 was: " No 8 engs 778 run twenty mins late on order No 56 Tenn Pass to Salida," and order 72 specified: "No 8 eng 778 run thirty five 35 mins late on order No 56 Tenn Pass to Salida."

Note that order No. 71, which superseded part of order No. 65, was missing. This was the cause of the accident, since a lap of authority was created between Pine Creek and Granite. The clearance card that was delivered to No. 8 mentioned only the four orders it received, although it had been OK'd by Dispatcher Smith. The order book showed that what Smith had OK'd was 72, 71, 69, 65 and 56, and this record appeared to be genuine. Note that the orders are listed from higher to lower numbers, the usual practice. No. 8 left Tennessee Pass at 2.19 pm, 3 hours 29 minutes late on its schedule, and 35 minutes late on order No. 56, as proper. No. 8 passed Granite at 2.55 pm, 40 minutes late on order No. 56, fully within its rights, intending to meet No. 7 at Pine Creek, but actually meeting it somewhat sooner.

The reason for the lapse by Operator Rehklan at Tennessee Pass was connected with the fact that order No. 72 made order No. 69 moot. It did not supersede order No. 69, so that order was still alive, though without effect. Operator Rehklan saw no reason for delivering it to No. 8, and apparently filed it on his own initiative, pulling it out of the stack of orders for No. 8. What he pulled out was not order No. 69, but order No. 71. One supposes that he made out the clearance card later on the basis of the numbers of the orders in the stack, not on what he had sent to the dispatcher. Orders should be added to the clearance card as they are received, which apparently was not done on the Rio Grande. It is not much of a check if the list of orders is made out from the stack on hand, and does not catch errors like the present one.

To see why orders should not be filed when they appear useless, consider the following. Order No. 1: "No 18 run one 1 hour late A to Z." Then, later, when No. 18 is reported losing more time, Order No. 2: "No 18 run two 2 hours late A to Z." Order No. 1 is superfluous, right? Well, suppose it is not delivered to No. 18 at A, just Order No. 2, while an opposing extra gets Order No. 1 at W and Order No. 2 at T. Then, No. 18 does better, so the dispatcher issues Order No. 3 to No. 18 at G, and the extra at K: "Order No. 2 is annulled." No. 18 now runs on time, while the poor extra thinks it is running an hour late.

If order No. 72 had superseded order No. 69, then the operator could have filed order No. 69, since it was now dead, and removed it from the clearance card. In this case, the dispatcher should have addressed an order to the dispatcher saying: "Order No 69 is annulled." The operator claimed his actions were normal practice, but the dispatcher did not believe so. If you check the orders numbered 72 delivered to the two trains, you will find that they are not the same. In the order book, train order No. 72 had both paragraphs. The dispatcher sent each paragraph to the train concerned, possibly just to save time in transmitting and repeating. This is a fundamental violation of the Standard Code principle that orders are sent in the same words to those who are to execute them, and a dangerous practice that has resulted in accident.

The hours of opening at the Granite office had just been changed. The dispatcher had thought the office to be closed, but found out it was open not long before the meet was scheduled. He addressed an order for No. 7 there, but told the operator not to put out the yellow flag showing that a 19 order was to be handed up on the fly, lest No. 8 think the order was for it, changing the meet, and arrive on the main track. The operator was talking to the dispatcher on the telephone when a train approached, that he thought was No. 7, but the dispatcher said No. 7 couldn't possibly be there yet. He looked out, and found it was No. 8, for whom he had no orders, so he cleared the train order signal when No. 8 was quite close. No. 8 opened the throttle when the signal was cleared, just as the dispatcher informed the operator that No. 8 should have been on the siding to meet No. 7. The operator put the train order signal to stop, and ran out on the platform, waving vigorously, but was unable to stop No. 8. The flagman noted the train order signal fly to Stop, and the operator rushing out, but it did not make a sufficient impression on him.

The operator might have made a deeper impression if he were swinging a red lamp or a red flag, but had neither handy. An operator should always have stop signals handy, and a red lantern lighted at night right on the desk, in case the train order signal fails, as well as fusees and torpedoes, to make his will known in an emergency.

It is clear that a middle order, order No. 71 addressed to the operator at Granite, would have prevented the accident, since the order board would never have been cleared, and No. 8's arrival on the main line would have caused instant reaction. Middle orders were recommended by the company's rules, but seem to have been ignored. Dispatcher Smith said he had not used one in 12 years of dispatching, and other officials mumbled about there being many meets at closed offices where it was not practical.

The ICC investigators pointed out that there was opportunity to have restricted No. 8 with a Form 31 order at Tennessee Pass, where trains had to stop to register anyway. If order No. 71 had been a Form 31 instead of Form 19, then it had a better chance of delivery. The only way it could help in this case was by being of a different color than the filed order No. 69. A 31 order can be filed just as easily as a 19 order, or forgotten. In fact, on 1 March of this year, the D&RGW had just promulgated the policy of using Form 19 to restrict trains except in 8 special cases: receipt for a new time table, delivery at a blind siding or closed office, delivery at the point of restriction, after a train had been cleared, reducing time on time orders, defects of track and bridges, moving against current of traffic, and using a section of double track as single. The ICC rightly deprecated the performance of officials, who should have better enforced the rules and monitored performance. They found errors in the order books, such as two orders under the same number, and 19 orders used to restrict trains at the point of restriction.

Custer City

In 1950, motor trains No. 609 westbound and No. 604 eastbound operated between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Vernon, Texas via Enid, leaving their terminals in the morning and arriving in the evening. Things were probably much the same on 3 July 1945, when motor car 2123 and trailer arrived at Custer City in the hot midafternoon of a sunny day, on time. Custer City was in the middle of the Enid-Hobart subdivision of the Western Division of the Frisco. The Santa Fe's daily passenger trains No. 45 and No. 46 on the Orient line ran over the Frisco between Foley, just north of Custer City, and Ewing, just north of Clinton.

No. 662, the daily-except-Sunday local freight, was 5 hours 10 minutes late at Clinton. For some reason that is not brought out, the dispatcher thought No. 662 needed help against No. 509, instead of letting it proceed against No. 509's time. So he helped No. 662 at Clinton with order No. 69 on Form 19, as follows: "No 609 gets this order and meet No 662 Eng 1616 at Custer City." No. 662 departed for Custer City at 2.35 pm, about when No. 509 was arriving there. It was 12.2 miles from Clinton to Custer City, and the scheduled running time of No. 662 was 20 minutes.

The order was transmitted simultaneously to Clinton and Custer City, and the operator at Custer City repeated the order before it was made complete at Clinton. This made it a holding order for No. 509, until signatures were obtained and the order was made complete. The operator took no special measures, such as receiving No. 509 with stop signals, as he should have done, and handling the order at once. Instead, he busied himself with mail, express and baggage, forgetting the order on his desk. Train order signals on the Frisco were normally at stop, cleared only when there were no train orders for delivery. When No. 509 was ready to go, he cleared the train order signal by habit, and the motor car muttered off at 2.51 pm. When he OS'd No. 509 to the dispatcher, he probably was told what he had done. There is no mention in the ICC report about what was done with respect to a clearance, but it was probably filled out and OK'd when he repeated the order.

About 3.02 miles south of Custer City, at a point where the view was obscured, No. 509 and No. 662 collided violently, at speeds of 40 and 35 mph, respectively. One passenger was killed, and 29 passengers and employees were injured. Motor car 2123 disappeared from the Frisco roster.

Lake George

Lake George was on the Second Division of the Ann Arbor between Owosso and Cadillac, 87.02 miles west of Owosso. The next open office to the east was Farwell, 10.5 miles away. The station and water tank were at the west end of the 4746' siding at Lake George.

On 29 July 1925, engine 184 was given order No. 24 at Selma Yard, Cadillac, which said in part: "Eng 184 run extra Selma to Owosso meet No 51 at Lake George No 51 take siding." Extra 184 left Selma with 65 cars and caboose at 12.20 pm, and arrived at Lake George at 2.10, where it stopped on the main track to take water at the tank near the west end of the siding.

Order No. 24 was transmitted to the operator at Farwell, where it was addressed to No. 153, No. 67 and No. 51. The dispatcher had sent 19 west copy 7, but the operator only had a 5-copy pad and a 3-copy pad handy. He copied the order on the 5-copy pad, intending to trace the order on the 3-copy pad to make copies for No. 51. He delivered 2 copies to No. 153 and 2 copies to No. 67, then filed the fifth copy. He forgot to make any further copies, and, in fact, forgot the order entirely.

No. 51, with engine 203 and 4 cars, left Owosso at 10.50 am, passed Farwell without receiving an order, and collided with Extra 184 as it was taking water. A roadmaster, who was riding on engine 203, was killed, and four employees were injured. No. 51 had no knowledge of Extra 184 whatever, and was running on its schedule.

The Ann Arbor at this time used Form 19 orders only, did not require middle orders (which would not have helped in this case), and did not require the dispatcher to OK clearance cards. The problem of operators' forgetting orders had been attacked in a circular of 26 May 1924, in which operators were directed to begin filling out a clearance for a train when the first order for it was received, adding later orders as they were received. This certainly reduces the chance of forgetting an order greatly, but it is probably not quite as good as checking the orders to be delivered with the dispatcher and having him OK the clearance. Some such system is definitely required, since leaving orders lying around loose has been the cause of many accidents.


This accident on the Gulf Colorado and Santa Fe on 29 December 1915 reveals some of the bad work conditions and careless practice of those days. The Lampasas district of the Southern Division went from Temple to Brownwood, 130 miles, in the heart of Texas, through rolling wooded hills. It was single track, dispatched by telephone. In the ICC report, Temple is apparently considered north of Brownwood, which it is certainly not geographically.

Dispatcher Curtis, whose tour of duty was from 4 am to 4 pm, issued order No. 63 at 2.58 pm to the stations concerned, which read:"Extras 763 and 786 North meet Extra 778 South at Bicker No 71 eng 874 at Mullin, Extra 767 South at Goldthwaite and Extras 178 and 182 coupled South at Lomota." Seven trains were mentioned in the order, which certainly saved paper for the company. No. 71 was a third-class local freight that had left Temple at 11.40 am, and was to get this order at Goldthwaite, 10.3 miles north of Mullin. The ICC report says that No. 71 arrived at Goldthwaite at 4.30 pm and departed at 4.25 pm, which is surely some kind of time warp. Whatever the case, order No. 63 was not delivered to No. 71, which proceeded on its schedule.

Now, Dispatcher Curtis had been relieved by Dispatcher Dobrowolski at 4 pm, and order No. 63 was on the transfer, but there was no notation beside it that signatures had not been received. This had been company practice for some three years, but some thought it was unsafe, since the relieving dispatcher would rely on the notations and not check the order book thoroughly. Operator Polansky at Goldthwaite was on duty daily from 7 am to 10 pm, with an hour off for lunch and an hour off for dinner. He made five copies, two for Extra 778 South and No. 71 and one for file. The two copies to Extra 778 South were delivered, but the remaining 3 were put on a hook under the desk and forgotten. When he checked with dispatcher Dobrowolski about No. 71, "Anything for 71?" the dispatcher replied, "No, let them go." He cleared the train order signal and No. 71 left.

No. 71 arrived at Mullin at 4.45 pm, and found the train order signal at Clear--no orders. Here is a case in which a middle order would have saved the day, since the signal would have been at Stop, and he would have received a copy of order No. 63. He did a little work there, and left town. In the clear December evening, he encountered Extra 786 North with 20 cars and caboose at 5.15 pm, 4.6 miles south of Mullin. The engine crew of Extra 786 was killed, as well as the engineman of No. 71.

The investigation revealed another pernicious practice, that of repeating only the part of an order that concerned the trains addressed at that station, instead of the complete order. This was encouraged by the long, encyclopedic orders that seem to have been composed with a desire to do everything at one time and place. When such orders are superseded or annulled in part, a very confusing mess can occur. Order No. 63 did refer to one primary movement, that of Extra 763 and 786, which were probably moving close together as if sections of one train, but is still fairly complicated.

Operator Polansky had been disciplined for not delivering orders on 14 July 1912 and 7 January 1915, while the two dispatchers had clear records. It is obvious that all these men were being overworked, though it probably did not contribute to this accident.


This accident occurred in northern Tennessee, on the Southern not far north of Knoxville, on a branch between La Follette and Vasper, 10.1 miles. The date was 4 October 1926. Hicks was 1.7 miles from Vasper. That morning, freight Extra 281 was to move from La Follette to Vasper before passenger train No. 101 left that point, so the dispatcher transmitted order No. 515 to both points establishing a meet at Vasper. This ICC report does not give the wording of the order, and does not say if it mentioned that No. 101 was to get the order at Vasper, the point of restriction. As usual, the order was a Form 31 to the restricted train, No. 101 and Form 19 to the helped train, Extra 281 East. The order was repeated at Vasper, and then made complete at La Follette. The order was delivered to Extra 281, which left La Follette with three cars and caboose at 8.55 am. It stopped to take water a mile west of Hicks, then proceeded.

Local passenger train No. 101, two coaches pulled by engine 3456 running backwards, called for orders at Vasper, and was given a clearance card stating that there were no orders for them. No. 101 departed at 9.25 am, on time. It made a station stop at Hicks, then collided with Extra 281 on a curve with obscured vision a half-mile further on. The engineman of Extra 281 was killed, and three employees injured.

The Southern did not require clearance cards to be OK'd at that time, but apparently it was sometimes done. The operator at Vasper said this was not usual when there were no orders to be delivered. It would seem that this is a time when it would be specially necessary, as here. Operators were, however, supposed to begin a clearance card when an order was received, and this the operator did not do. The repeated order in this case was lost in a pile of papers on the desk, and forgotten, as the operator testified. After the order was repeated, the operator was busy with the usual mail, express and baggage of three passenger trains that arrived before he made out the clearance. It is not difficult to see how orders could be forgotten in such a slovenly mess.

The operator's desk should be kept clear, and used only for train orders, messages and commercial messages. The clearance should be started when the first order for a train is received, and kept with the orders in a clearly-defined place, so it is obvious at a glance if orders are held for a specific direction. There should be a device to block the train order signal at Stop when an order is received, so that there will be a reminder if there is an intention to clear the signal. When it is time to clear a train, the operator should transmit, for example: "Clear No 1 with orders 2-12-13 and 15." The dispatcher should check the order book, and reply "Clear No 1 with orders 2-12-13 and 15 805 am JLM," where the time and initials of the superintendent or dispatcher are added. The later Southern rule book of 1 August 1956 required exactly this procedure for the OK'ing of clearance cards in Rule 211(b). Clearance cards on the Southern were Form 603, but there was no difference from the usual Form A.


This accident illustrates how trains were moved against the current of traffic by train order on multiple tracks. The stage was the Erie line between Suffern and Newburgh Junction, NY, on 11 August 1958. Coming from Rutherford, NJ the line is 4-track as far as SF tower, and then double track to NJ tower at Newburgh Junction. At that point the main line proceeds straight ahead, and the Graham (freight) line diverges to the north. Around 6.15 am, a freight train, Extra 703, arrived at NJ on the Graham line, and proceeded onto the eastbound main. This train would be busy switching in the vicinity of Hillburn for some time.

Eastbound passenger train No. 50, the first train of the day, left Monroe at 6.25 am (times in the ICC report are standard times; I'll use daylight savings times here, as advertised in the time tables) and was due at Sloatsburg at 6.47 am, Hillburn 6.51 am. Since Extra 703 would be working on the eastward track, the dispatcher decided to run No. 50 around on the westward track between NJ and the first crossover west of Hillburn. Therefore, he transmitted order No. 105, Form 31, to SF for all westward trains, and Form 19, to No. 50 at NJ. This order read: "Train No 50 Eng 859 has right over opposing trains on westward track Newburgh Jct to first crossover west of Hillburn." The operator at SF should have displayed the train order signal at Stop, then copied and repeated the order. This would hold all westward trains short of the crossover that No. 50 would use to regain the eastward track. Then, the order could be repeated by NJ and made complete for delivery to No. 50.

The happenings on this morning are shown in the animation at the right. We see Extra 703 arrive, head onto the eastward main, and stop to work at Hillburn. Now No. 50 arrives at NJ. When its engineman acknowledges the train order signal, a red flag displayed at the tower, the interlocking signal is changed to Restricting, and order No. 105 is delivered. No. 50 is lined for the westward track, and proceeds eastward on it. The train order signal at SF should protect it until it rejoins the eastward track at Hillburn. No. 50 would proceed to the crossover, which would be a facing crossover for it, and stop while the front brakeman lined the crossover switches, which were hand operated. The flagman, meanwhile, would have thrown off a lighted fusee when the train slowed, and would have gone back a ways with flagging equipment. They would have seen Extra 703 on the eastward track, and block signals would be protecting the movement, so aggressive flagging would not be necessary. If the weather was foggy or snowy, torpedoes would certainly be placed as a precaution. If there were no block signals, and if this were an arbitrary location, then full protection with a flag would be necessary before the crossover was line. They would not expect a train to be following them on the westward track, since the dispatcher would never do anything so hazardous. After they were back on the eastward track, the flagman would probably leave a lighted fusee to protect them as they got under way.

When No. 50 reached SF and was identified and reported to the dispatcher, he would then annul order No. 105, which would permit trains to proceed as usual on the westward track. The Form 31 order would not, usually, be completed. However, Train No. 53 left Hoboken at 5 am, and was due at Suffern at 6.40 am, Sloatsburg 6.56 am. This puts it in the vicinity at exactly the time that No. 50 was running against the current of traffic. In fact, the two trains, if on time, would meet about at SF. No. 53 should have been stopped by the train order signal at SF, and would have proceeded after order No. 105 was made complete for them, and pulled up to the crossover at Hillburn to wait for No. 50.

The towerman at SF did not display the train order signals before he copied the order. He was then distracted by a telephone call, and forgot the order completely. When No. 53 showed up, he cleared his home signal as usual, and No. 53 went by. Although both towers, both trains, Extra 703 and the dispatcher had radio-telephones, neither No. 50 nor No. 53 could be warned in advance of the collision, which took place at 6.47 am not quite a mile east of Sloatsburg. Two passengers and three train-service employees were killed, and 37 people injured. The speeds of the trains were reduced to about 20 mph at the point of collision.

Several failures to observe the rules contributed to the accident. The procedure when an order is to be sent is for the dispatcher to address a station, then to give 31, West (for example). The operator then puts the train order signals at Stop, which here meant blocking the interlocking signal at Stop and putting out a red flag to show there was a restricting order. He transmits "SD, West" to show that this has been done. Now the order is transmitted and repeated. Here on the Erie, the dispatcher would not expect the SD reply, and would transmit the order without it. In this case, the omission was fatal.

Also, the right order should also be given to trains in the same direction on the other track, in this case Extra 703. The reason for this is not simply to let them know what is going on, but so that extra care will be taken at the crossover where the diverted train will rejoin the proper track. Extra 703 did not realize that a movement against the current of traffic was being made, and took no action when they saw No. 53. Perhaps the dispatcher made the assumption that Extra 703 would be nowhere near the crossover, and so did not need the order. At any rate, this practice was normal.


The coalfields of northern West Virginia were B&O territory. Lumberport is on what was called the West Virginia Short Line, from Short Line Junction just north of Clarksburg, to New Martinsville on the Ohio River. At one time there were two routes from Clarksburg to Pittsburgh, one via Fairmont and Connellsville and the other over the Short Line, each with several passenger trains a day. Looking at B&O timetables, it seems that the two stations of Shinnston and Haywood, which were served by both lines, were in opposite directions on the two lines! This is quite rugged country, but I can hardly imagine what would cause this. Apparently the direct line from Fairmont to Short Line Junction was closed to through traffic sometime in the 50's.

The segment we are considering begins at MD tower in Clarksburg. Operation is by signal indication over the 0.7 mile to Short Line Junction. Then we go up the Short Line to Dawson Mine 4 miles away, and finally to Lumberport, 9.9 miles from MD. At 4.24 pm on 21 July 1955, order No. 509 was made complete to engine 904 at MD, stating: "Eng 904 works extra 430 four thirty pm until 610 six ten pm between Short Line Jct and Lumberport not protecting against extra trains Eng 904 run extra Dawson Mine to Lumberport." Orders in this form were the practice in this area, to permit an engine to switch mines in an area without flag protection, and then upon expiration of the working time to run extra to their terminal. They would have to begin the run as an extra from Dawson Mine, not any arbitrary point in working limits.

Engine 904 carried out its duties, and at the expiration of the working time set out from Dawson mine, pushing its 34 cars, with the caboose leading. The dispatcher issued order No. 521 at 6.08 pm, which said: "Eng 4433 run extra Lumberport to Short Line Junction." Engine 4433 was a light helper returning to Clarksburg. Extra 4433 left Lumberport and collided with Extra 904 a mile from Lumberport. The conductor of Extra 904, who was in the caboose, was killed. The dispatcher said he had overlooked the returning Extra 904. His intention had been to run Extra 4333 after Extra 904 had arrived in Lumberport.

This accident illustrates one way of relieving a train from the necessity of flagging when it has to do work on the main line. It is easy to protect the front of a train by train order under the rules, but difficult to protect the rear.


The train order signal at Greensboro, VT on the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain was of the Nunn type (or similar) which had a red target perpendicular to the track when at Stop, and a lamp below or above displayed a red light in both directions. The signal came to this position naturally, probably by gravity. To clear it, a cord was connected by a spring to a pulley on the spindle. When the cord was pulled down 7.5" the red target was parallel to the track, held against a stop by the spring, and the lamp displayed green in both directions. A ring on the cord was put over a hook to hold the signal clear.

On the StJ&LC the train order signal was normally at clear when the operator held no orders for delivery. When signaled to receive orders by, for example, "19 East" the train order signal was to be put at stop immediately, before replying "SD East." This meant taking the ring on the cord off the hook at letting the signal go to Stop for both directions. Any train in the other direction would be given a clearance card while the signal was at Stop. In addition to this, the signal would be placed at Stop when any train left the station, and maintained at Stop for 10 minutes, for the purpose of spacing trains. This is a somewhat less desirable use of a train-order signal, and contributed to the confusion in this accident.

The StJ&LC ran from Swanton, not far from Rouses Point, to St. Johnsbury, near the New Hampshire border, 96.1 miles. Greensboro was 28.5 miles from St. Johnsbury. West of Greensboro, offices were open at Lamoille, 3.23 miles, and Hardwick, 6.93 miles. East of Greensboro, the first open office was Danville, 16.32 miles. On the afternoon of 5 May 1944, eastbound mixed train No. 74 preceded Extra 38 East, which had 7 cars and caboose. Westbound mixed No. 75 left Danville at 3.50 pm. and may have met No. 74 at Walden, 8 miles further west and 8 miles from Greensboro, which was not an open office. Extra 38 showed up at Hardwick about this time, and the dispatcher decided to help it against No. 75. Order No. 15 was transmitted to Greensboro and Hardwick, reading: "No 75 Eng 33 meet Extra 38 East at Greensboro This order to No 75 at Greensboro." After it was repeated by Greensboro, it was made complete for Extra 38 at Hardwick, and Extra 38 departed at 4 pm sharp.

The operator at Greensboro had delivered an order to No. 74, perhaps concerning its meet with No. 75, and left the train order signal at stop for the usual 10 minutes. During this time order No. 15 was copied, and the operator later said that he inadvertently cleared the train order signal instead of setting it at Stop. When No. 75 arrived, he was busy with mail, express and baggage, forgetting the order. The trains collided on a 5° 30' curve with bad visibility due to vegetation and a cut. The fireman of No. 75 was killed, and three other employees were injured.

It seems more likely that the operator noted that the signal was at Stop when he copied order No. 15, then cleared the signal on the expiration of the 10 minutes, forgetting that he held the order for No. 75. With this type of train order signal, it would have been very difficult to mistake its position. When an operator forgets an order in this way, he always notices that the train order signal is at Proceed as the train pulls away.

Special action is always called for when an order specifies that it is to be delivered at the point of restriction. The operator should be on the platform, verify that the train order signal is at Stop, and give stop signals to the arriving train, which should be acknowledged by whistle signal 14(g). Then, he should inform the conductor that there are orders for him at this station. We note that none of this was done at Greensboro, or at the other accidents of this type that we have mentioned, such as Cray, MN or Norton, KS.


The Tulsa Division (later it would be called a subdivision) of the Missouri Kansas & Texas extended from Wybark on the main line, through Tulsa, to Osage on the Oklahoma City line, 79 miles. On 19 July 1922, Extra 613 South (which was headed northwest) collided with passenger train No. 224 at Alsuma, which was between Tulsa and Broken Bow. The report does not fully explain the disagreement between time table and geographic directions. There had been some cloudbursts in recent days, and the line between Tulsa and Osage was washed out at several points, so service had been suspended on this section.

Extra 613 was an engine and caboose, and had received two orders, both Form 31, at its initial station of Muskogee. Order No. 2 read: "Nos 227 229 226 and 230 of July 19th annulled between Wybark and Tulsa No 84 No 81 No 224 and No 225 of July 19th annulled between Tulsa and Osage." Order No. 7 read: "Eng 613 run extra Muskogee to Tulsa has right over No 84 Wybark to Tulsa No 3 wait at Wybark until 410 am over due Tulsa divn trains Wybark 205 am have arrived and departed over due trains Muskogee 205 am have arrived and departed except No 3." Extra 613 left Wybark at 3.46 am for Tulsa. At Coweta, an overheated journal required attention, then Extra 613 proceeded.

No. 224 had engine 208 and three wooden cars. As order No. 2 stated, it was annulled between Osage and Tulsa, but was running between Tulsa and Osage. It left Tulsa at 5.08 am with the engine pointed the wrong way (the report does not say why, but the consist was reversed too, as if the arriving train had not been turned in Tulsa). The engine was turned around on the wye at Alsuma, and No. 224 proceeded. Shortly thereafter, it collided with Extra 613 in a dense fog at 5.40 am.

The report mentions much reading of orders to one another in Muskogee and the various questions that arose. The engineman and conductor of Extra 613 came to the conclusion that No. 224 was annulled between Tulsa and Wybark, though the order clearly states Tulsa and Osage. This seems to be another case of the persistence of impressions. Once mistakenly understood as Tulsa and Wybark, it seems to be seen as that ever after. All the order-reading may have contributed to this impression. It seems that the junior men present may have thought otherwise, but were overborne. Perhaps none of them read too well. Fortunately, accidents due to this cause have been very rare. Any system that depends on written messages demands excellent reading comprehension.


Cheyenne, OK was about at the middle of the 138-mile Panhandle & Santa Fe line from Pampa, TX to Clinton, OK that roughly follows the sandy Washita River. This accident is interesting because of the contestants, eastbound train No. 63 formed of gas-electric motor M-105, and westbound mixed train No. 62 consisting of engine 1001, a 2-6-2, four freight cars and a combine. These were second-class trains, though they were the Daily-except-Sunday passenger and only trains over this obscure line. I will use compass directions to describe what went on, but the time table directions were exactly opposite! Clinton was then the rail hub of western Oklahoma, with lines of the P&SF, AT&SF (KCM&O), CRI&P and SL-SF radiating from it.

What happened on 19th February 1943 was really fairly simple. Order No. 115, reading: "No 63 Eng M-105 has right over No 62 Eng 1001 Pampa to Cheyenne," was delivered to No. 63 at Pampa and No. 62 at Clinton. No. 62 left Clinton at 6.30 am and Cheyenne at 10.32 am. No. 63 left Pampa at 8.43 am, 58 minutes late, and did not quite get to Cheyenne, encountering No. 62 5.8 miles west of there. The gasoline tanks burst, and there was a spectacular fire. The engineman of No. 63 and one passenger were killed, neither as a result of fire.

The crew of No. 62 was of two schools regarding the meaning of the order. The junior school, composed of the brakeman and fireman, thought the order gave No. 63 right as far as Cheyenne. The senior school, composed of the conductor and engineman, thought the right extended only to Mobeetie, TX. Apparently, this right order was habitual, and it habitually specified Mobeetie, so there was no reason to actually read it. The senior school, of course, won, and the junior school gritted its teeth.

Gas-electric cars had the disadvantage of carrying large quantities of very flammable fuel. Although suitable diesel engines that used a much less hazardous fuel were available, the changeover was not general or quick. M-105 was an all-steel car built in 1913, 69' 9" long and weighing 107,580 lb, with engine, baggage and passenger compartments. It had a 275 hp engine, and a fuel capacity of 325 gal, of which 225 gal remained at the time of collision. In the 1940's there had been at least five accidents involving gas-electric motor cars. The first, on the PRR at Cuyahoga Falls, OH in 1940 was by far the most disastrous, when every passenger perished in the gasoline fire after a collision. This accident, which involved a simultaneous failure of train orders and manual block, is described in another page on this website.

In the same year as the Cheyenne accident, there was an accident on the CB&Q at Montgomery, IL when motor car 9850 collided with a work extra that should not have been there. 9850 was built in 1928, had engine, rpo, baggage and passenger compartments, 275 hp, and carried 250 gallons of gasoline. One passenger was killed in this accident, and 4 employees. In 1945 there were two more accidents, one on the Seaboard at Richland, GA when motor car 2021, running as Second 11, ran into a stalled freight, First 11, that was not properly protected. The other was in Chicago, when AT&SF M-185 ran into a B&OCT transfer run at a crossing. M-185 had a 400 hp engine, and carried 500 gallons of gasoline. SAL 2021 had only engine, rpo and baggage compartments, towing a coach for the passengers, which was a safer arrangement. It boasted 275 hp and carried 350 gal. No passengers were killed in the SAL accident, and only one at Chicago. In 1945, the ICC claimed that there had been 6 such accidents in the preceding 5 years, and 54 people had been killed. So far, I have found 5 accidents that killed 53.

The 1914 accident at Tipton Ford, MO of a Missouri and North Arkansas motor car that killed 43, mostly in the fire, seems to have been the first such accident. The Cuyahoga Falls accident of 1940 was the only other with a large toll, so it appears that with these two exceptions, gas-electric cars have actually fared quite well, though a possible reason was sheer lack of passengers. The Rock Island seems to have equipped its motor cars with diesel engines. For example, the little Rocket, 9090, had a 650 hp Winton engine with compressed-air start. The body was altered from a passenger compartment to a mail storage compartment, and it pulled a stainless-steel coach. By contrast, I recall a motor car on the Missouri-Illinois that had engine and passenger compartments, and towed a baggage car. The little transverse engine blew smoke rings when idling.


The Fourth Division of the Denver and Rio Grande Western extended from Alamosa, CO to Chama, NM, 92.41 miles. This narrow-gauge, single-track line through fascinating and varied scenery still exists as a tourist museum carrier. On 29 September 1922, the daily-except-Sunday Alamosa-Durango Train No. 115 had engine No. 169, 2 baggage cars, a baggage-RPO, 2 coaches and a parlor car, all of wooden construction. It left Antonito, 30 miles east of Toltec, at 9.20 am, about an hour behind time, holding order No. 24: "No 115 Eng 169 run one 1 hour late Lava to Osier fifty 50 mins late Osier to Cumbres," a clear and perfectly understandable order.

Engine 411 had broken a main rod, and was limping to the shops at Alamosa for repair. Extra 411 East received order No. 24 at Cumbres, 20 miles west of Toltec. Operator Lively said Engineman Smith read the order back to him correctly in the office. Fireman McGuire said when Smith climbed into the cab he said: "We have an hour and fifty minutes on No. 115, so I guess we can go to Big Horn." Extra 411 departed Cumbres at 9.35 am in fine, clear autumn weather, with the aspen already golden. No. 115 and Extra 411 met about a mile east of Toltec at 11.10 am, moving at about 18 mph and 15 mph, respectively, on a curve that varied from 3° to 20° on a grade from 0.17% to 1.42%, with a cliff on one side and a canyon on the other, visibility less than two carlengths. The engineman and fireman of No. 115 were, unfortunately, killed, and 23 others were injured.

There was no conductor present, since Extra 411 was a light engine, but we expect from all other experience that a conductor would have made no difference. It is clear that a wrong impression, in this case the adding of the hour and the fifty minutes, once formed is persistent. The fireman did not read the order; if he had, his impression might have been different. After the collision, the order was quite clear to engineman Smith.


David, CA, on the Third Subdivision of the Western Pacific, which extended through the Feather River Canyon from Portola to Oroville, 116.3 miles, was the scene of two accidents to freight trains, one in 1931 and the other in 1942. Except for the fireman killed in the earlier accident, there were no fatalities. At these dates, the line had no automatic block signals. Westbound trains were superior by direction, and the maximum speed in the David area was 25 mph, where the line was in a side-hill cut on a canyon wall. At David, the track was tangent and the grade was 1% ascending eastward. Some stations and the distances between them are shown at the right.

The earlier accident occurred on 19 April 1931, about a year before the new connection with the Great Northern at Keddie was completed. At this time, the average traffic was 14.5 trains per day, not an excessive traffic for operation by train orders. Extra 43 West was a light engine that left Keddie at 11.40 am for Oroville Yard. No. 74, nicknamed the "Fruiter," was running in two sections that day. First 74 left Oroville Yard at 12.01 pm with 51 loads, 14 empties and caboose, with helper engine 50 cut in behind the 51st car.

The orders given in the ICC report are typed in capitals, as were the actual orders, since the WP supported the use of typewriters, perhaps to show how clear they were. Extra 43 got order No. 236 at Keddie, reading: "First 74 eng 209 wait at Poe until one thirty 130 pm Pulga one fifty five 155 pm Cresta two fifteen 215 pm for Extra 43 West." This gave Extra 43 authority to proceed against all sections of No. 74, since the later sections would certainly follow the first. Extra 43 arrived at Pulga at 1.07 pm, where order No. 244 was handed up, reading: "Second 74 eng 205 wait at Oroville Yard until two forty five 245 pm Oroville two fifty five 255 pm Quartz three five 305 pm Bidwell three fifteen 315 pm for Extra 43 West." This gave Extra 43 time on Second 74, so it could proceed against the green signals of First 74 when it was met. All of this was quite clear and proper. Most dispatchers would have put 305 pm in words as "three naught five."

The fireman, who picked up the order, unfolded it and held it up for the engineman to read. Perhaps his thumb was covering the word "Second," because the engineman thought the second order gave time against No. 74, all sections, and he had time to go to Oroville Yard against it. Somehow the fireman formed the same opinion. The order was put on the clip board and supposedly was read more than once later, with the same erroneous result. Once the impression that the Fruiter had fallen down had taken hold, it was not to be erased. The accident, as usual, made everything crystal clear.

Extra 43 passed Poe about 1.20 pm, where it should have pulled in and waited, and encountered First 74 3000' east of the east switch at David at 1.25 pm in fine weather, both trains making 20 to 25 mph.

By 1942, traffic had increased to 21.1 trains per day, an uncomfortable amount of traffic on a difficult single track. On 1 November, Extra 49 West had departed Portola at 12.35 pm with 73 cars and caboose, holding simple running orders issued by the first-trick dispatcher at 10.35 am, order No. 60: "Eng 49 run extra Portola to Oroville Yard." That evening, Extra 22 East departed Oroville Yard at 6 pm with 74 cars and caboose, holding order No. 88, issued by the second-trick dispatcher at 5.23 pm, to the effect: "Eng 22 run extra Oroville Yard to Portola hold main track meet Extra 49 West at Poe." Both these orders may have contained information on other meets, but the ICC report quotes only the parts pertinent to this investigation.

Order 88 restricted Extra 49, so it was placed at Pulga for that train at 5.23, at the same time that it was sent to Oroville Yard, the prescribed procedure when restricting a train. The second trick dispatcher somehow formed the notion that order 88 had been fulfilled, though it is difficult to see how, since Extra 22 had just left Oroville Yard. The ICC report is quite inconsistent in saying that order 88 was annulled--it could not be, for that would annul Extra 22 as well. Possibly the fatal order 91 said: "That part of order 88 stating hold main track meet Extra 49 West at Poe is annulled." There is no satisfactory reason given for this extraordinary action, but somehow order 88 was filed by the operator at Pulga, and not delivered to Extra 49 West, who then knew nothing whatever about Extra 22. The dispatcher said he had been ill and was taking medicine, but even a casual reference to the order book and the OS sheet would have shown the error.

Extra 49 passed Pulga, the last open office, at 7.05 pm, then Poe, where it should have taken siding for Extra 22, and collided with Extra 22 0.46 miles west of David. Everyone on the two engines was injured, but fortunately there were no fatalities. Extra 49 was running at 15 mph, Extra 22 at 8 mph, at the instant of collision. The cause of this accident was indubitably dispatcher error, but the reason is unexplained. The train crews and the operator at Pulga ("flea") were not at fault.


The Western Pacific suffered a collision at Antelope, NV on 14 April 1942 which, like the earlier accident at David, involved mistaken section numbers, though the "thumb" was not invoked. Antelope was on the First Subdivision, Eastern Division, Portola-Winnemucca, 210.9 miles. The traffic on this division at the time was 15.4 trains per day, not an excessive amount for train-order dispatching. At Antelope, the passenger speed limit was 50 mph, light engines 30 mph. Some engines had train indicators, and when these engines were used their numbers were not included in train orders.

Engine 335 was running light as Second 62, a second-class schedule, from Portola, where it received order No. 245: "First 39 run two 2 hours and forty 40 mins late Winnemucca to Portola Second 39 run eight 8 hours late Winnemucca to Portola." Second 62 departed at 11.55 am, 6 hours 25 minutes late, and met First 39 at Bryant, 90.7 miles west of Antelope. At Gerlach, 49.8 miles west of Antelope, order No. 288 was handed up: "Third 39 run nine 9 hours and thirty 30 minutes late Winnemucca to Portola," which was made complete at 3.02 pm. The engineman misinterpreted this as giving him more time against Second 39, and decided to go to Pronto, 26.1 miles east of Antelope, for Second 39. This error was confirmed by the fireman, the only other crew member on the light engine. It is doubtful that he ever looked at the order, whatever the testimony. Second 62 departed Gerlach at 3.45 pm, 4 hours 55 minutes late, and Sulphur, the last open office west of Antelope, at 4.40 pm, 4 hours 35 minutes late.

If the order had been read correctly, Second 62 would have to be in the clear at Jungo, the last open office east of Antelope, 8.7 miles east, by 4.46 pm, or Antelope by 5.03 pm, taking the 5-minute clearance into account. Instead, it ran past Antelope and collided with Second 39 2.18 miles east of there, on a 2° 30' curve, on a 1% descending grade, in a rock cut, at 5.50 pm in clear weather. Second 39 was not running fast, and was almost stopped when the light engine ran into it at 17-18 mph. One person carried under contract was killed, and several people were injured, but it was not a disaster.

Second 39 had made a brake test at Elko, 177.3 miles east of Antelope. At Winnemucca, it received order No. 245, Form 31, as well as order No. 287, Form 19: "Engs 174 and 333 run as Second and Third 39 Winnemucca to Portola," made complete 2.55 pm. Second 39 departed at 4.06 pm, 8 hours and 1 minute late. Several small points should be made here. The ICC always includes brake test and Hours of Service Act information in the accident reports, in case they have any bearing on the subject, or to rule them out as contributory causes. The times that orders 287 and 288 were made complete was to show that the engine numbers for Second and Third 39 were known when order 288 was issued. The engine numbers were not included because these trains had train indicators, which would have displayed 2-39 and 3-39 respectively. Finally, the dispatcher assumed that engine 174 could deduce that it should display green signals, although it should have been told so explicitly. This would have lengthened the order, since the two engines would have to be treated separately.

Second 39 passed Jungo at 4.54 pm, 8 hours and 3 minutes late. On its run-late order, it was due at 4.51 pm. Second 39 had not lost eight hours on its schedule, incidentally. It was some kind of special movement, perhaps a troop train, and simply started late. It was a very common practice to run sections rather than extras, and use run-late orders liberally. This saved figuring out where meets would occur, and composing the necessary orders, but it was not nearly as safe. Why a light engine was run as a section of a freight train (unless it was to pick up a train somewhere en route) instead of an extra is a mystery. Could there be any reason to make it superior to westbound extras, which might be handling revenue freight? It was late enough (five or six hours) to make it a mobile blockade.

The fireman complained that if engine numbers had been included, "Second" 39 eng 333 would not have been confused with Second 39 eng 174. This is only faintly possible, considering that Second and Third were confused, if the orders were read at all. Also, it is possible that the engines could be changed on sections, or one section could run around another. One could equally well confuse 174 and 333, which are no more distinct than Second and Third. Train indicators did make train identification easy and definite, and were probably superior to engine numbers when properly used on engine and caboose. This is another accident due to the persistence of an initial illusion.

The Western Pacific is represented in the ICC accident investigations by the three events at David and Antelope, as well as two incidents at Sunol, CA between Stockton and San Francisco. One of these, on 28 November 1930, was a rear-end collision due to poor flagging and running on the time of a superior train, while the other, on 22 September 1941, was a head-end collision of a light engine ignoring the schedule of an opposing freight train. The ICC frequently quoted these accidents in pestering the WP to install block signals. The prevalence of light engines and sections in these accidents is notable. The casualties were very few, and did not include revenue passengers.


In September 1925, automatic block signals were being installed on the Atlanta Division of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis between Chattanooga and Junta, 89 miles, but were not yet in service. On the afternoon of the 24th, the Dixie Flyer, trains 94 and 95, were running in multiple sections. Chickamauga is 11 miles south of Chattanooga, and 27 miles north of Dalton. At 3.21 pm, southbound Second 95 collided with northbound Third 94 8000' south of the south switch of the siding at Chickamauga, and one passenger was killed.

Engineman Green had arrived in Chattanooga on Second 94, and immediately reported as engineman on Second 95 to return over the division he had just covered. He had just finished oiling around his engine when Conductor Davis came up with the orders, and gestured that they should be stuffed in his overalls, since his hands were dripping. There were three orders, but when he had cleaned his hands with waste and pulled them out, he did not check the clearance card, and only found and read two of the three orders that had been given him. What he did not see was order No. 245, Form 31: "Third No 94 eng 562 will hold main track meet Second 95 eng 568 at Chickamauga." Fireman Brown was busy getting his fire ready, and did not bother with the orders, nor were they offered to him. Second 95 departed Chattanooga at 2.57 pm, 10 minutes late.

Conductor Davis had read the orders, and told Train Porter Fielding to go up near the front to open the north switch at Chickamauga to let the train in the hole. The conductor and brakeman concentrated on collecting tickets, moving back through the train. When the train did not slow approaching Chickamauga, the porter became agitated, but hesitated to pull the air in case he was wrong, and rushed back to find Davis. Davis was placating a Pullman passenger over a fare dispute when Fielding arrived in panic. "Good God, stop the train!" yelled Davis, and Fielding opened the valve just behind him. The brakes were already applied in emergency as Green saw Third 94 ahead, and the train jarred to a stop 8000' south of the south switch.

Third 94 had received order No. 245 at Dalton, which it left at 2.37 pm, and passed Graysville, 6 miles south of Chickamauga, at 3.15 pm, prepared to stop at the north switch, but never reached it. Green had come up on Second 94, but since Third 94 was inferior by direction, he expected it to be running against his schedule, and in the clear somewhere further on. Conductor Davis was unaware of his position on the road until porter Fielding burst in, and had not expected to hear any whistling back in the Pullmans. The train porter apparently did not know enough about the rules to miss the meet whistle, and was hesitant to stop the train. Had he done so, there would have been no accident.

Engineman Green was not given a register check at Chattanooga, where it would have been desirable to check against opposing first-class trains to avoid having to approach all sidings prepared to stop (which he did not do anyway, as was required by the rules). The conductor, on delivering the orders, did not see if he and the engineman had harmonious views on their content, even though the critical order was Form 31.


A habit of reading orders to another can lead to accident, as was proved at Welch, Montana on the Northern Pacific on 17 March 1922. Welch was on the heavily-graded, tortuous line from Butte to Logan, across the Continental Divide at Homestake Pass, 6329'. This line, now abandoned, was used mainly for passenger trains, freight trains taking the much easier route through Helena. Welch was between Butte and Whitehall, the junction for the Alder branch.

No. 1, a heavy train with 10 steel cars hauled by 2225 and helper 1750 was laboring up the 1.94% grade. At Whitehall, 16.5 miles from Welch, it had received order No. 209, Form 19, stating: "No 1 engs 1750 and 2225 coupled meet No 220 eng 2120 at Welch No 220 take siding." At Spire Rock, 4.6 miles from Welch, the last open station before Welch, No. 1 received block not clear and a caution card reminding it of the meet at Welch.

No 220, a local train pulled by Pacific 2120 with three wooden cars, left Butte at 7 am in possession of order No. 209. At Homestake, 6.1 miles west of Welch, it received block not clear and a caution card reminding of the meet at Welch, as well as order No. 210, to the effect: "No 220 eng 2120 take siding meet No 651 eng 1758 at Spire Rock." No. 651 was a local freight following No. 1 up the hill. The order was picked up by the fireman, who unfolded it and read it. Engineman Nielsen asked about the meet with No. 1. Fireman Caldwell said: "Changed to Spire Rock!" and handed the orders to Nielsen. Nielsen rolled up the orders and stuck them in his overalls without reading them.

The conductor knew that the meet was still at Welch, and as they approached gave three sounds on the communicating signal. This signal had two meanings on the NP, either stop at the next station, or approaching meeting point. Engineman Nielsen did not give the Rule 14(n) whistle signal, but applied the brakes, intending to stop at the station at Welch. When it became clear that he was not going to head in, the conductor reached for the conductor's valve, but it was at the other end of the car, and the brakes went on in emergency about then, as Nielsen had seen the smoke from No. 1 above the rocks of the cut. No. 1 had reduced speed preparing to stop at the west switch, but the two trains met on a 6° 36' curve about halfway between the siding switches at 7.51 am. Fireman Caldwell was mortally injured, the only fatality except for a trespasser noted in the report.

When orders are read separately and quietly, then independent interpretations can be made that can later be compared and discussed. When an order is read aloud to another, it reflects the understanding of the reader, and directly creates an impression in the hearer. Once an impression is fixed, it is often difficult to change. In this case, we have only the erroneous interpretation of Fireman Caldwell, not two independent assessments of the orders at the head end.

The communicating signal was also misunderstood, and the conductor was not prepared to take immediate action. In fact, the Rule 14(n) whistle was not given in time. Some companies (SL-SF) required that the whistle 14(n) be given twice when a train was to take siding, once at a mile and once at a half mile. The exchange of these signals is the only way a check can be established between the head end and the rear end. There may be many cases where they have prevented an accident, and these cases we will not encounter in the ICC reports. What we do find, however, is that conductors do not take action when it is their duty to do so, and leave running the train up to the engineman. In fact, it is probably true that the fireman was more often a check on the engineman than the conductor.


This report is one of the worst of the ICC accident reports, and besides is badly mangled by the OCR program that digitized it. On 2 April 1913, trains No. 41 and 42 of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy collided on the main track at the siding of Wakeley, Wyoming, 5.19 miles east of Sheridan. No. 41 was superior by direction, so it held the main track, while No. 42 should have headed in at the west switch. Both trains had received copies of order No. 50, reading; "No 41 eng 2918 will meet No 42 eng 2915 at Wakeley." No. 42 received the order at Sheridan, No. 41 at Verena, 13.62 miles east of Wakeley, at 2.23 pm. These two trains were long-distance expresses between St. Louis and Seattle. All the cars in the 10-car trains were wooden.

When engineman N. E. Miller of No. 42 sounded the station whistle for Wakeley, fireman F. B. Miller said: "Meeting 41 here, are you?" Engineman Miller replied: "No, at Arno." Arno was the next siding, 6.4 miles away. The report does not solve the mystery of where Arno came from; it may have been the time table meeting point for the two trains. The engineman was suddenly uncertain, and pulled out the orders to have a look. He applied the brakes in emergency on seeing "Wakeley" in the order. The train stopped well past the west switch, and No. 41 could be seen coming. No. 41 thought at first that No. 42 was not there yet, and began braking to stop at the west switch. Then they saw No. 42, and supposed it to be on the siding near the telephone booth near the middle of the siding, and in the clear. The siding was on a 2° curve, and it can be difficult to tell which track a train is on from a distance. When it was seen to be on the main track instead, brakes were applied in emergency and the fireman jumped. All the men on the engines survived, but one passenger and one express agent were killed. The collision occurred at 2.43 pm, in light snow.

The investigator recommends a rule that the conductor and engineman should read their orders to each other, assuming that if this was done, the correct interpretation would emerge and be understood by both. There is no mention at all of rule S-90 and the meeting point whistle Rule 14(n), which is a much more effective tool to the same end. It is generally true that the engineman and conductor have an understanding about the movement of their train, but it is not practical to have a conference in every case, as when picking up orders while in motion. The investigator was obviously not very familiar with railway operations or rules, and makes no other recommendations.


Omar was a 4000' siding on the Akron-Denver line of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy, between Hudson and Wiggins. In 1936, this busy line was a few years from receiving one of the pioneer CTC installations, and was operated by time table, train orders, and ABS. The early morning of 27 October was patchily foggy, some areas light, others covered by a dense blanket. Extra 6325 East, with 30 cars and caboose, arrived at Hudson at 4.10 am, where it received order No. 31: "No 3 wait at Wiggins until 457 am Omar 502 am for Extra 6325 East." [The wording of the orders is reconstructed from the ICC report, which only gives their import.] and order No. 33: "No 301 wait at Vallery until 515 am Wiggins 525 am for Extra 6325 East." With help against these westbound passenger trains, Extra 6325 left Hudson at 4.18 am in the foggy gloom.

In spite of the fog, the engineman of Extra 6325 ran well, up to 50 mph, because he said he could still see the signals well enough. The brakeman in the cupola of the waycar said he could only see about a carlength. In spite of the good progress, it was impossible to make Omar in time for No. 3, so Extra 6325 stopped at Crest, and conductor Challstrom called the dispatcher for orders. This was a case in which the conductor would copy a train order, a rare happening except in emergency. He copied and repeated order No. 49 on Form 19, reading: "Extra 6325 meet No 301 at Omar and No 67 at Wiggins." He apparently only made one copy, and gave that to flagman Raub, who read it and passed it on to brakeman Trant, who handed it to the engineman, who clipped it on his clipboard and did not show it to the fireman. As he handed the order over, brakeman Trant said: "We meet 301 and 67 at Wiggins." Thus was the incorrect interpretation established, which persisted on the head end.

Extra 6325 sailed toward Omar through the fog, while No. 301 left Wiggins at 5.30 am, 28 minutes late, with 10 cars and engine 2826. Its engineman was running rather carefully in view of the fog, which was patchy and increasing westward. The block signal was at Approach at the west end of Omar when Extra 6325 encountered it at about 50 mph. A service brake application was immediately made, and the train stopped 167' east of the east switch, passing the headblock or leaving signal at the east end. The headlight of No. 301 was already in view around the 1° curve, so brakeman Trant leaped down, lighting a fusee, and ran ahead to flag. His fusee was acknowledged by two short, but collision could not be prevented, and No. 301 hit Extra 6325 at 20-25 mph. Fortunately, there were only 18 passengers who could sue for pain and suffering.

Dispatcher Gasch was criticized for not issuing a fog order ("Fog or storm between A and B") as a warning, but the existence of the fog was no secret to anyone involved. The conductor and flagman of Extra 6325, who knew perfectly well that No.301 was to be met at Omar, did nothing as their train sailed by the west switch on the main line. There were not even tickets to distract them. Again, we see the persistence of an initial impression. It requires the co-operation of more than one person to most effectively overcome a wrong impression, and at least a careful re-reading after the initial impression has had time to fade in the brain. The engineman's fault in forming a false impression is understandable and excusable; the conductor's fault in not taking action is culpable and negligent.


Rule 220 generally had three paragraphs. The first two related to the "life" of an order, which continued until fulfilled, superseded, annulled, or the train involved lost its schedule by annullment or the 12-hour limit. The third provided that when a conductor or engineman was relieved in the course of a run, all train orders must be delivered to the relieving conductor or engineman, and must be compared between the conductor and engineman. The accident at White Oak illustrates the usual case when the engine crew is relieved at an intermediate point. Rockmart illustrates the rarer case when the relieving engineman is an official. On the C&NW, a written transfer of orders had to be filled out, showing how important this procedure was thought to be.

A road foreman of engines was riding First 2 from Atlanta to his home in Rome on the Southern on 23 December 1926. At McPherson, where the train had a meet with an opposing train, he went up to the engine and informed the engineman that he would handle the engine from there to Rome. We do not know what understanding the two men had over the train orders, but the engineman went to ride in the train, taking the orders with him. The road foreman apparently did not like to be looked over the shoulder, though a Superintendent's bulletin some time before had said that in such cases, the engineman should remain on the engine.

Train order No. 92 was delivered on Form 31 to First 2 at Atlanta, and on Form 19 to southbound Train No. 101 at Dalton. Both these trains were important, all-Pullman trains of all-steel equipment, of 10 and 9 cars, respectively. Order 92 read: "No 101 one naught one Eng 1456 meet No 32 thirty two Eng 1326 at Shannon No 6 six Engs 1260 and 1205 coupled at Atlanta Jct First No 2 two Eng 1219 at Rockmart and Second No 2 two Eng 1265 at Braswell No 32 thirty two No 6 six and First and Second No 2 two take siding." The Southern repeated train numbers in words, as well as time, to guard against misreading, although the engine numbers are positive identification enough for most companies.

Train 101 arrived at Rockmart 6.35 pm, and received a clearance card stating that the block would be clear after the arrival of First 2. After taking water, the train drifted to the south switch, its headlight on brightly. The view to the south was obstructed by curvature and a cut. Extra 5243 South had also taken siding to allow the passenger trains to pass, and had been instructed to back up enough to permit First 2 to head in at the south switch and clear. First 2 whistled for the station, then whistled its green signals to Extra 5243 as it appeared, moving at 50 mph or more on the 1% descending grade. Extra 5243, realizing the danger, gave one long blast on its whistle instead of acknowledging First 2's signals. Then the two trains saw one another, and the brakes were applied in emergency. It was a very hard collision, but most of the casualties were in the dining car of First 2, where 3 waiters, a cook, and 11 passengers were killed. The fireman and baggageman of First 2 were killed in the collision, while the road foreman of engines survived until the next day. The engine crew of No. 101 had, of course, jumped from their standing engine.

The road foreman was completely oblivious of the meets established by order No. 92 and the requirement to take siding. He was running on his superiority by direction, which permitted No 2 to proceed on its time. The conductor of First 2, the one who had not compared orders at McPherson, had delegated to the baggageman the sounding of meet communicating signals, while he busied himself with his main job of ticket collector. The baggageman may have given such a signal approaching Rockmart, but it apparently was acknowledged by two short, not by the prescribed two longs and a short of Rule 14(n). This should have been followed by an immediate use of the conductor's valve, but perhaps a mere baggageman would be loth to do this. At any rate, handling this signal was the conductor's job alone. On the basis of his violations of Rule 220 and Rule S-90, the conductor should have been held primarily responsible for the accident.

Orders were not shown to, or were not understood by, other members of the crew of First 2. The fireman, when consulted by the road foreman approaching Rockmart, apparently said "hold main track" and did nothing when the speed of the train indicated that the road foreman did not intend to stop.


The Colorado Midland ran between Colorado Springs and Leadville, 135 miles. In July and August, a daily "Wildflower Special" was run between Colorado Springs and Spinney, 57.7 miles. The five-car train had an open observation car on the end, and a lunch counter in one of the coaches. It was given a special schedule with right over all but first class trains, leaving Spinney on the return trip at 12.40 pm. On 27 August 1915, veteran engineman Smith and his fireman were entertaining two lady photographers from Chicago in the cab, a not unusual feature of these festive trips. At Howbart, they received order No. 51: "Special 39 East will wait at Idlewild until one thirty 130 pm for No 454 Eng 38," and left at 1.05 pm. Westbound No. 454 had engines 36 and 38, 5 loads, 26 empties and a caboose, and left the Springs for Leadville at 6.00 am. At 12.30 pm, they received order No. 51 at Lidderdale, 5.5 miles east of Idlewild.

Engineman Smith misread Lidderdale for Idlewild, possibly distracted by his guests, the fireman didn't look at the order, flagman Draper read the order correctly, but forgot it, and Conductor Baxter was busy with his tickets. In a word, SNAFU. So the special sailed through Idlewild and got only about a half-mile beyond the east switch before encountering No. 454 on a 10° curve with a cliff on one side and a canyon on the other. Fortunately, only 33 passengers could claim to have been injured, and the party in the cab was only shaken up. The ICC disapproved of the goings-on, and misspelled Idlewild as Idelwild. If conductors were only good for collecting tickets, their pay should have been reduced.


Accidents in which not only the train order system, but also a block system intended as a backup, fail are of special interest. The Marshfield collision occurred in spite of automatic block signals, and the manual block did not prevent the Rockmart or Cuyahoga Falls collisions. Woodmont, PA, on the Newtown Branch of the Philadelphia and Reading, provides another illustration. This single-track branch extended 16.6 miles northeasterly from a junction with the Philadelphia-New York main line at Cheltenham. The first 5.4 miles to Bryn Athyn was protected by an automatic block system using Hall enclosed-disk (banjo) signals. The line beyond to Newtown was divided into two manual blocks, Bryn Athyn-Churchville, 5.7 miles, and Churchville-Newtown, 5.5 miles. The station of Huntingdon Valley was 0.7 mile west of Bryn Athyn, and Southampton station was in the block Bryn Athyn-Churchville, as was Woodmont station, which was just east of Bryn Athyn.

Automatic signals 713 (eastbound) and 713-A (westbound) were located west of Huntingdon Valley. There was a semaphore block signal east of the Bryn Athyn office for eastward trains only. A track south of the main track, connected only at the east end, was used for meets at Bryn Athyn. This track ended just east of the block signal, and the switch was at the beginning of a curve. To the east of the switch was automatic block signal 716 governing westbound trains. The track circuit governing signal 713 extended 1500' east of the switch and signal 716, while the track circuit governing signal 716 was similarly overlapped west of signal 713-A. The automatic block signals functioned properly throughout this episode.

According to the schedule, No. 154 left Newtown at 6.50 am for Philadelphia, and it was followed at 7.30 by No. 156. No. 151 left Philadelphia at 6.48 am for Newtown. On the morning of 5 December 1921, everything began according to schedule, and No. 151 stopped at Huntingdon Valley, its time table meeting place with No. 154, at 7.15 am. No. 154 pulled up to signal 716 at Stop at 7.28 am, on time. It followed a flagman into Bryn Athyn, where order No. 9 was received: "Disregard signal 716 and run carefully," made complete at 7.31 am. The dispatcher had had some wire trouble that morning, and believed the signal to be out of order, which it was not. It was displaying Stop because of No. 151 on the track circuit at Huntingdon Valley.

Meanwhile, No. 151 had flagged into Bryn Athyn at 7.42 am, to find the block signal at Stop and No. 154 on the main track. No. 154 was too long to fit in the spur track, so it was decided that No. 154 would back enough to allow No. 151 to pull ahead and back in. Meanwhile, the dispatcher was eager to avoid delay to No. 156, which was already on its way, so he issued order No. 11: "No 151 will meet No 156 at Bryn Athyn No 151 take siding." This was addressed to No. 151 on Form 31 at Bryn Athyn, and made complete at 7.44 am, apparently with the conductor's signature alone. The engineman, however, would not proceed to back in for No. 151 until he held an order permitting it. He was given a copy of order No. 11, and seemed satisfied. He pulled ahead, backed in, and No. 154 went on its way at 7.46 am. Then No 151 at once proceeded on the main line, and within a mile encountered No. 156 on a 7° curve in a cut. No. 151 had engine 167, a baggage car and coach of wood, and two steel-underframe coaches.

No. 156, with engine 728 and 5 wooden cars, had been stopped by the block signal at Churchville, where it received order No. 11, and proceeded on the basis of this order and a clear block to meet No. 151 at Bryn Athyn. Obviously, No. 151 was supposed to have remained on the spur track, held by order No. 11 and the block signal. However, both conductor and engineman of No. 151 thought order No. 11 concerned No. 154, with which they were immediately involved, not the approaching No. 156. Also, the engineman thought erroneously that the order he held allowed him to pass the block signal at stop.

The first coach of No. 156 was telescoped, and fire broke out in the wreckage soon after the collison, perhaps encouraged by the Pintsch gas lighting. Both fireman were killed, but the toll of 20 passengers and 3 employees off duty was due mainly to the fire. If the equipment had been all-steel, the casualties would have been much lighter. At that time, the Reading used steel cars for mainline trains, but suburban trains still had wooden equipment, because of financial exigency.

The operators at Bryn Athyn and Churchville gave contradictory and vacillating testimony about the block procedure that morning. Operator Clayton at Bryn Athyn first claimed he did not report No. 154 clear of the block, and that Churchville had not asked for the block. Later, he admitted that he reported the block clear when No. 154 passed signal 716, and gave permission for No. 156 to enter the block. This would have been close to the proper actions, but the block record showed evidence of altered entries, and it was admitted that these entries were made after the collision had occurred from memory. Operator Tomlinson at Churchville first said he gave a clear block to No. 156 on the understanding with Clayton that No. 154 was ready to go at Bryn Athyn. Later, he said that after delivering order No. 11 to No. 156, he communicated with Bryn Athyn and determined that the block was clear of No. 154. The block record that he submitted in evidence proved to be a copy created for the purpose, and that the original had been destroyed. It is clear that the block operation was carried out in a lax manner, and proper records were not kept.

It was concluded that the conductor and engineman of No. 151 had anticipated the contents of order No. 11, assuming it referred to No. 154 and not No. 156, and that they proceeded against a block signal. In the investigation, the extraordinary fact was brought out that no one agreed on the actual end of the block. Company officials said the westbound block ended at signal 716, while the eastbound block ended at the Bryn Athyn block signal! Moreover, the block signal seemed to be used as both a block signal and a train order signal. This is a dangerous combination (see the accident at Norton, KS) since the operation of the two signals is distinct. Holding an order may have been clearance against the train order signal, but it was certainly not clearance against the block signal, which remained (properly) at Stop.

On the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had the most extensive experience with manual block in the United States, the block signal was never a train order signal, and could not be passed at Stop. Train orders were indicated by a yellow flag or yellow lamp in a specified location. The manual block in the United States was, however, largely managed with the train order signal, without distant signals of any kind, and not placed at the point of restriction but near the office. These primitive conditions greatly reduced the security of the manual block system. Crews relied primarily on train orders for safety, while the manual block was operated perfunctorily, as in this case.


The Western Maryland was having difficulties early in the 20th century. Although traffic was heavy, the financial condition of the carrier was poor. At one time 80% of its locomotives were out of service, and there was no money for luxuries such as automatic block signals, but the necessity for the maximum economy possible. It was little wonder that the line was struck with a series of accidents in 1912 and the following few years due to operational failures.

The present story concerns two opposing first-class passenger trains, No. 10 and No. 11, which ran between Baltimore and Hagerstown. Eastbound No. 10 was superior to westbound No. 11 by direction. On 24 June 1915, the overworked dispatcher was trying to minimize delays to these trains caused by traffic and mechanical difficulties. At Pen Mar, No. 10 received two orders. Order No. 57 said: "No 10 eng 203 display signals Pen Mar to Hillen for eng 156," and order No. 71 said: "No 11 engine 209 meet No 2 eng 205 at Monocacy 1st No 10 eng 203 at Flint and has right over 2nd No 10 eng 156 Westminster to Pen Mar 2nd No 10 starts from Pen Mar Park 1st No 10 take siding." Flint was the time table meeting point for No. 10 and No. 11, at which No 11 would have taken the siding. The dispatcher wanted to ensure that No. 11 would make Flint even if it were delayed a little

When No. 10 reached Highfield, there was a lot of work to do, so the conductor advised the dispatcher that he could not leave before 5.27, 27 minutes late. The dispatcher decided to help No. 11 with order No. 74: "No 11 eng 209 meet 1st No 10 eng 203 at Sixty instead of Flint 1st No 10 take siding." This order was delivered to No. 10. Meanwhile, No. 11 had left Baltimore at 3.25 pm, where it had received order No. 71. The locomotive had developed a hot journal, which had to be repacked at Union Bridge, delaying No. 11. When the dispatcher heard this, he realized that the delay to both trains meant that they could best meet at Flint, the original meeting point.

He quickly transmitted order No. 75 to Highfield before No. 10 had left, stating: "Order No 74 is annulled." Holding orders 71, 74 and 75, No. 10 left Highfield at 5.27 pm. The conductor wondered at this sequence of orders. Order No. 74 had superseded the relevant part of order No. 71, which was now "dead." Order No. 75 had annulled order No. 74, which in turn was dead. This left only the time table to govern No. 10 and No. 11. Since No. 10 was superior, it did not have to wait at the time table meeting point of Flint, and proceeded beyond that place.

Orders 74 and 75 were also transmitted to Thurmont for delivery to No. 11. However, the operator there thought that since order 74 was dead, it was of no significance to No. 11, so he filed orders 74 and 75. The dispatcher was apparently of the same opinion, since he allowed No. 11 to pass Thurmont without orders. No. 11 still held order No. 71, which allowed it to proceed to Flint against No. 10. A collision 1.1 miles east of Flint was inevitable. Two passengers were killed in the accident.

Although he certainly knew better, the dispatcher formed the mistaken belief that the annullment of the superseding order restored the original order, which it did not. The principle that an order once dead, remains dead, is an essential one that prevents past conditions from adversely affecting the present. The conductor of No. 10 instantly realized this, though he found it odd. He could have discussed the subject with the dispatcher, of course, but bothering a busy dispatcher with the operator having to handle the telegraph was probably not politically correct.

The real cause of the collision was the filing away of orders 74 and 75 at Thurmont as dead. Order No. 74 may well have been dead, but it exerted a critical influence on order No. 71 by killing it. Annulling the order did not change this. If order No. 75 had read: "Order No 74 is annulled 1st No 10 eng 203 take siding and meet No 11 eng 209 at Flint," as it should have done, then it would have been delivered at Thurmont and all would have been well. What the dispatcher intended would then have been clear to all.

Blue Mountain

The train register is an essential part of time table operation. Before starting his run, a conductor must consult the register to determine if overdue trains superior or of the same class have arrived or left. By "overdue" is meant simply if they are authorized by time table to be on the road. When a train becomes 12 hours late on its schedule, the schedule becomes void, and the train cannot proceed on it. Therefore, the conductor looks for trains that are overdue by less than 12 hours, since those are the ones that he must worry about. He also registers his own train, and signs the register. Before starting, he also needs a Clearance Card to make certain that he holds all the train orders for his train. A written summary of the register check (usually on Form 52) is delivered to the engineman with the Clearance Card and orders.

The train register is depended upon to protect following sections of a train. If a train arrives carrying green signals for a following sections, the fact is noted in the appropriate column in the train register. The conductor checking the register, if he sees that green signals were carried, must also check to see if the section has arrived, or if it is still on the road.

At this period, around 1912, the Western Maryland seemed to handle its heavy traffic by creating multiple sections of freight trains. On the night of 26-27 November 1912, eastbound No. 204 ran in four sections, which departed Hagerstown at 9.40 pm, 10.32 pm, 12.53 am and at some later time not given in the report. Note that these trains are not running closely together, so it would take some effort to move a westbound train against them.

The train register concerned was at Highfield, a junction point 17 miles east of Hagerstown. First 204 arrived at Highfield at 2.17 am, and departed as No. 218 on the line north to York at 2.35 am. Second 204 arrived at 2.19 am, and registered with green signals. This train departed as No 204 on the main line for Baltimore at 2.26 am, carrying no signals. The operator wrote in the time of departure in the register. Fourth 204 overtook Third 204 temporarily disabled at a siding 4 miles east of Hagerstown. Third 204 had time on two sections of westbound passenger train No. 7 to Chewsville, so orders and numbers were exchanged, and Fourth 204 proceeded as Third 204 to Chewsville. Orders were obtained permitting the train to continue as Third 204, and it passed Edgemont at 3.55 am on its way to Highfield.

Westbound train First 203 left Baltimore at 8 pm the preceding evening for Hagerstown, arriving at Highfield at 3.19 am. The conductor checked the register, and registered his train. Train 204 was superior to his train, and he concluded that it had arrived and departed with no signals. In fact, he had probably already met No. 204 on his way to Highfield, since it had left at 2.26 am and was carrying no signals. First 203 left Highfield at 3.23 am, and collided with Third 204 at Blue Mountain at 3.30 am.

In the register, the arrival of Second 204 from Hagerstown at 2.19 am with green signals was recorded on the third line, and the departure of No. 204 at 2.28 am with no signals on the fourth line. The conductor had mistakenly read the wrong line, failing to notice that Second 204 had arrived with signals, and Third 204 had not arrived. The fact that he had just met No. 204 could have had something to do with his impression.

The operation of sections of a schedule is always accompanied by hazards, and must be carefully done. This report indicates that nearly every train mentioned was running in sections, and extras were not mentioned. One reason might have been that if the wires failed, sections would at least make their way forward by time table, while extras would be immobilized. Nevertheless, running extras instead of sections is safer, and became the general practice.

Pen Mar

The main line of the Western Maryland took a very brief dip across the Pennsylvania border at the crest of the Blue Ridge, just west of the junction point of Highfield, MD. This is the same Blue Ridge as in Virginia, which crosses the Potomac between Point of Rocks and Harpers Ferry. Highfield is the junction for York, and is 17 miles east of Hagerstown (which lies in the equivalent of the Shenandoah Valley). This stretch of railway has given us the accidents at Thurmont and Blue Mountain as well in the same era, so we can get to know it well.

This accident occurred on 6 December 1912, only little more than a week later than the Blue Mountain collision, and involved the same Train No. 204. Extra 757 West left Baltimore at 1.10 pm, and reached Highfield at 10.52 pm, with 11 loads and 25 empties, and helper engine 610 cut in behind the fourth car. The web ICC report gives conductor Eichelberger's name as "Eyehole-Berger." Here it received order No. 118: "Eng 757 will run extra Highfield to Hagerstown Extra 757 West will meet 1st No 204 at Blue Mountain and has right over 4th No. 204 Highfield to Chewsville." Extra 757 departed Highfield at 11.31 pm and collided with 1st No 204 1.6 miles west of Highfield at 11.43 pm while moving at 18-20 mph. The point of collision was in a 20' deep cut on a grade of 1/46% descending, near Pen Mar.

That same evening, First 204 left Hagerstown and did some work at Edgemont, after which it took siding for No. 7. There it received order No. 119, addressed to 1st, 2nd and 3rd No. 204: "3rd No 204 eng 157 will pass 1st and 2nd No 204 at Edgemont and change numbers accordingly." Third 204 had a combine and two coaches, apparently empty passenger stock, and was bound from Hagerstown to Highfield. At Hagerstown, it had received order No. 115: "Engines 325 and 157 will display signals and run as 2nd and 3rd No 204 Hagerstown to Highfield." First 204 had apparently received a similar order to display signals for Eng 325 at Hagerstown. We do not know what engine was to run as Fourth 204, since that train had probably not yet been made up at Hagerstown. So now we have three sections of No. 204 on the road, and a fourth to leave Hagerstown a little later.

When Third 204 reached Edgemont, it found First and Second 204 on the siding, so the only place it could hide was on the storage track on the other side of the main. Order No. 119 was addressed to C&E First, Second and Third 204 Edgemont: "3rd No 204 eng 157 will pass 1st and 2nd No 204 at Edgemont and change numbers accordingly." The dispatcher wanted to get the passenger stock around the slow freight trains, which might have additional work to do, so he decided to run engine 157 to the front of the queue. This order was perfectly appropriate. Engine 157 then departed as First 204 at 11.30 pm, colliding with Extra 757 very shortly thereafter.

What had happened was that Third 204 had not been given a copy of order No. 118, so when it was promoted to First 204 it knew nothing about the arrangments that had been made for meeting Extra 757. Edgemont was an open telegraph office, so it would have been easy for the dispatcher to deliver a copy to the new First 204, which he did not do. He assumed that the old First 204 would exchange orders with the new First 204, a very sensible procedure that the crews themselves would understand. However, it was not done; in fact, there seems to have been very little discussion among the crews, and there was no rearrangement of signals, since all three sections there carried green signals. The old Third 204 simply departed as the new First 204, with no other formalities.

The crews involved said they would have exchanged orders if there was no open office at Edgemont, but did not do so since the dispatcher could always make sure that each section had the necessary orders. The ICC investigation brought up Rule S-94 about exchanging identity and orders with a disabled train at a noncommunicating point, but this was decidedly not applicable here, except as a general principle. It really stands to reason that when the identity of two trains is exchanged, so should the orders be exchanged. This accident showed that there was some uncertainty when sections were involved.

There is an additional problem here because of the identification of trains by engine number. Changing section numbers does not change engine numbers, so now the numbers no longer correspond to the sections. Engine numbers are not consistently used for identification in the orders as quoted in the ICC report. From the Thurmont incident, it appears that the WM did use engine numbers to identify regular trains, and this would include sections. If orders had been exchanged, then Extra 757 would have found First 204 with engine 157 instead of the engine mentioned in order No. 118 (which does not have one, probably an omission in the report). This is quite a mess, and there is no easy way out.

If order No. 118 had been addressed and delivered to the new First 204 (it would have to be in the same words), First 204 would have to stop and explain to Extra 757 why the expected engine was not found. If there had been time, an order to Extra 757 at Highfield, stating: "First 204 has eng 157 instead of eng *** on order No 118" would have clarified matters. If also delivered to First 204, it would have prevented the accident by pointing out the lack of order 118.

The ICC suggests that the three sections could be annulled, and a fresh start made. However, an annullment would kill the sections forever. What could be done is to withdraw the engines as sections of No. 204, and have new engines take their place. For example: "Engs 112 247 and 157 are withdrawn as 1st 2nd and 3rd 204 at Edgemont. Engines 157, 112 and 247 display signals and run as 1st 2nd and 3rd No 204 Edgemont to Highfield. First No 204 eng 157 respect order No 118." Although not mentioned in the order, Extra 757 is interested, and should receive a copy at Highfield. This is a clear order, which would have executed this complicated movement safely and with the least confusion.

The finger of blame here points to the dispatcher. He should never have depended on the good sense of the train crews and their battlefield conferences. After 17 November 1915, the Standard Code finally clearly specified that when sections exchange numbers, orders must be exchanged as well. Remember that sections only have sequential numbers, and must run in that order only.

Sections were a survival from the days before train orders, when engines carried flags to give notice of trains following. The green signals carried for following sections, and the white signals of extra trains, were descendants of these flags. White signals only identified extras, and had no other function, but green signals were relied upon to protect following sections. In the teens and twenties, sections were very frequently used, as many of these accidents show. They were also a primary cause of accidents. The Standard Code changed, trying to find a foolproof way to handle sections. At the time of Pen Mar, the way to change the engine number would be something like: "Eng 157 is annulled as 3rd No 204 Edgemont and run as 1st No 204 Edgemont to Highfield Following sections change numbers accordingly." A section was not annulled using Form K, which would be used for annulling a schedule. It was the engine that was annulled. The word "annulled" is really not proper here, and might be thought to refer to the section, so it was later eliminated in favor of equivalents.

There are two concepts involved here. The more important is to assure that signals are displayed for following sections, and for this train registers have come to be relied upon. Whenever a section starts, it checks the register to make sure signals were displayed for it. The less important is publishing the engine numbers for train identification. Orders withdrawing engines or commanding them to run as certain sections now does this job. Signals are put up and taken down only at register points, and if a section runs to an intermediate point, it is annulled by Form K beyond: "Eng 204 display signals and run as First 16 Hagerstown to Highfield. Eng 116 run as Second 16 Hagerstown to Edgemont (or else start Second 16 with a clearance card). Second 16 is annulled Edgemont to Highfield." Second 16 is well and truly annulled, and a second section cannot be run between these two points on the current schedule. Only the last section of a schedule, usually but not necessarily the second one, can be annulled. Opposing inferior trains, having met First (and only) 16 before reaching Edgemont, still have to know if Second 16 has arrived at Edgemont before proceeding from there. The dispatcher would provide the information in a train order ("Second 16 has arrived Edgemont with no signals"), or give it time or a meet against Second 16, and the engine number would then be used for identification. The case of a section starting at an intermediate point is similar. The order for the first section to display signals would be sufficient. The consist of a train can always be handled to or from any intermediate point; the engine can come from or go to an open office light as the train if necessary.

Later, signals were ordered displayed for a following section from an initial station using the clearance card only, without a train order. The clearance card had a special line for this, that was used only at initial stations. Composing train orders for dealing with sections provides many involved and confusing exercises, and gives rise to much controversy and discussion. Think about cases in which other trains got themselves sandwiched between sections running many hours apart. Sections were responsible for a large number of accidents as well. The Pennsylvania Railroad eventually abolished them completely and ran everything except one section of scheduled passenger trains extra.


Hamlet, NC was a hub of the Seaboard Air Line, with lines radiating to Raleigh, Wilmington, Charleston, Columbia and Charlotte, each with a separate dispatcher, but all working in the same office. Wilmington District trains climbed a heavy grade to a junction with the Raleigh District and entry to the yards. To relieve them from stopping at the junction, and having a difficult time starting, they were supplied with a register check message at Laurel, 10 miles away. This message was supplied by the Wilmington District dispatcher in consultation with the Raleigh District dispatcher, and ran like this: "All overdue trains are by Hamlet at 9.40 am." This permitted Wilmington District trains to comply with Rule 83 and occupy the Raleigh District main track when there were no first-class trains to be cleared.

On the morning of 27 June 1911, freight train No. 17 received a message like this one, but had to double the 1% grade anyway, and had taken the first cut into the yard, on the Raleigh District main, when it was run into by Second 33 with engine 684, a baggage car and 10 coaches. This was an excursion train from the Durham & Southern delivered at Apex, NC, 82 miles north, and bound for Charlotte. It had orders to run 3 hours and 40 minutes late, and was 12 or 13 minutes late on this time. There was a manual block on the Raleigh District, but it ended at the yard office, and did not protect the track where No. 17 was standing on a sharp curve. The Wilmington District dispatcher had probably assumed that No. 33 was by, not knowing about the signals it displayed, and did not actually consult with the Raleigh District dispatcher before sending the register check message. Although Second 33 was only going 25-30 mph, it was still a hard bang, and 10 passengers died.

To comply with Rule 83, the train register must be checked before a train enters the main line from a branch, or before it moves from double to single track, or in any other case where the status of superior trains must be determined. Except at terminal stations, this check can be quite inconvenient, both for the train checking the register and for trains registering.

To avoid delaying important trains, they are usually permitted to register by ticket, where the conductor throws off a form giving the train identification, signals carried, the time, and his name as he passes the office where a register is kept. The entry is subsequently made by the operator.

When a train originates at an intermediate point on a subdivision, there may not be a train register present at that station. It was an old practice for the operator to furnish this information informally, or better to obtain a message from the dispatcher containing the desired information. This information is so critical that leaving it up to a message was later regarded as hazardous. The accident at Hamlet on 27 July 1911 was caused by incorrect information in such a message, because it was handled informally between the two dispatchers concerned.

It is a much better idea to use a train order for this purpose, since the requirements for recording and delivery are of a much higher standard than for messages, and the information vitally affects the safety of trains. The Standard Code did not contain a train order form for this purpose, but many roads adopted a Form V for the purpose. Such an order might read: "All first class trains due at Hominy before 2.01 am have arrived and left except No 2 Eng 660." This example specifies first-class trains because they are the ones that must always be checked against, and this order might be appropriate for several originating trains. Specific trains may be included or excluded as required. This form should not be combined with other forms, but we have an example of such a combination in the Broomfield accident, where it is combined with a running order.

While we are discussing train registers and Rule 83, it should be remarked that it is not a good idea to rely on a train register against extras that may have been given right over you. In fact, some rule books prohibit it, and require that you make direct identification, or that the dispatcher give you the information by train order. The reason is that an engine may run extra more than once in a day, for example returning from helper duty, or working extra, unlike regular trains that run at most once each day. If you see Extra 457 on a train register, it might have registered on a previous trip, and not be the one having right over you. At one time, such extras also noted the number of their running orders. A regular train registers on the page corresponding the date of its schedule arrival or departure, an extra train on the page for the date it actually arrives or departs.


Although this accident happened on an electric interurban railway, the Denver and Interurban, the line was a subsidiary of the Colorado and Southern operating under the Standard Code. The D&I ran 31 miles from Denver to Boulder, with a branch to Eldorado Springs, a resort south of Boulder. It was an AC electric, whose cars used pantographs, one of the rare interurbans to use this excellent technology. Because of the high voltage, only one substation was necessary, near the center of the line, fed from a coal-fired station near Lafayette that supplied the 25 Hz traction power. The cars also could run on the 600 VDC supply of Denver Tramway, collected by a trolley pole. At Globeville, Denver Tramway crews took over the cars for the run to the 15th street terminus. This line was double-track standard gauge (Denver Tramway was generally 3' 6" gauge). The next year, D&I began using Union Station instead, and survived until 1926.

Globeville was in North Denver, at the edge of open fields, then the location of smelters and other honest labor, which has now disappeared, and the traces are vanishing as well. About 400' north of the station, the double track became single track, which curved first to the right, then to the left to head westward via Westminster, 2 miles away, to D&I Junction, near which the C&S main line was joined. There was a 1% grade leaving Globeville. By time table, northbound trains were superior to southbound trains of the same class. The junction to Eldorado Springs was at Marshall, a few miles farther west. C&S trains also used this branch. As the cars entered single track, the trolley pole was pulled down and the pantograph raised. The crew consisted of conductor, motorman and flagman. This uneconomically large crew was required because of the steam-road style of operation.

On 6 September 1920, Denver Tramway motormen were on strike, so runs began at Globeville, conductors remaining there, while the motormen and flagmen turned the cars at the D&I car barns a short distance to the south. The train register at Globeville protected the single track. According to rule, the conductor would register his train, check the register and make out a register check on a standard form for the motorman. Apparently, this had been done very slackly, with the operator registering for the conductors, and conductors relying on visual identification of opposing trains, and not furnishing a register check to motormen.

Motor 158 and trailer were ready to make the second trip of the day on excursion runs to Eldorado Springs at about 11.30 am. The operator at Globeville handed them a clearance, a slow order, and a running order, No. 52: "Motors 158 and 152 run as two passenger extras Globeville to Marshall on 2nd trip with right over Extra 703 South Louisville Jct to Marshall Passenger Extra 158 North and No 309 may run on a 5 min block Passenger Extra 158 and 152 North via Louisville Jct." The unusual parts of this order are the specification of the second trip (they had already run extra earlier that day), and the fact that No. 309, a regular northbound train, could follow Extra 158 more closely than the usual 10 minutes. The route of the train was also specified, to run by Louisville Jct rather than Webb Jct, near Broomfield. All of this was completely normal and according to rule.

Conductor Schulze of Extra 158 had no copy of the current time table, and tried unsuccessfully to obtain one before his train left. Motorman Cripps thought that the car that pulled in while he was in the office was No. 308 that was due, while in fact it was No. 309 that was to follow him. He had just had ptomaine poisioning and wasn't feeling too chipper, but since they were short of motormen, had agreed to go on duty. Conductor Schulze instructed the flagman to handle the trolley pole when they left, and gave a highball to Cripps, not having supplied him with a register check. The car started off at 11.30. The operator thought it was only going to the end of double track to wait for No. 308, which was due at exactly that time. In fact, No. 308 had left Boulder Jct at 10.41 am and passed Westminster at 11.24 am, 6 minutes late.

Extra 158 moved on to single track, raised the pantograph, and accelerated. About 3000' from Globeville, on the curve to the west, it encountered No. 308 at 11.34 am, both trains moving at about 35 mph. Eleven passengers and two employees, among them motorman Cripps, were killed in the violent collision. This was a straightforward Rule 83 accident, illustrating very clearly what can happen when this duty is taken lightly. The D&I did not long survive this accident itself, killed by high operating costs and the rise of the motorcar, in addition to the probable distaste of the C&S for running an interurban operation.


Nahor, NH was on the B&M line from Concord to Worcester, MA, halfway between Elmwood and Peterboro. Elmwood and Peterboro were register stations, 7.2 miles apart. Train 8122 was a gas-electric car running in the morning between Concord and Peterboro. In 1931 it left Concord at 7.45 am and arrived Peterboro at 9.50 am. Its schedule was not far different on 16 October 1929, when it was ordered to display signals between Elmwood and Peterboro for engine 1146. It left Elmwood at 10.28 am, and arrived Peterboro at 10.43 am. The conductor registered in, and then the motor car went to the turntable in the yard, where the green signals were taken down.

Second 8122 was engine 1427, 3 cars and caboose. It had arrived at Elmwood as Extra 1427 West, but the dispatcher wanted it to hurry as quickly as possible to Peterboro, where a connection was waiting, so he ran it as Second 8122. This was a more or less common practice in the area to get freight trains over the road. Second 8122 left Elmwood at 11.38 am for Peterboro, checking the register to make sure that signals had been displayed for it, about an hour before. It collided with Extra 1446 East soon afterwards. Three employees, the engine crew, were killed.

Extra 1446 East was only engine 1446, one car and caboose, pushing a car of coal ahead as it left Peterboro at 11.38 am, which it set out at a siding a short distance from town. Conductor Raby had registered out, but had not taken the trouble to check the register, since he had seen the gas-electric car for Train 8122 standing near the turntable, not displaying signals. Operator Sullivan had mentioned that Second 8122 was not in yet when Raby was in the office, as testimony confirmed, but it made no impression, since there was a discussion going on about another car with its hopper doors open somewhere. The dispatcher had told Sullivan explicitly to make sure Raby understood. The running orders for Extra 1446 were order No. 89: "Engine 1446 run extra Peterboro to Elmwood." It would not seem too difficult to have worded this "After Second 8122 arrives at Peterboro, Engine 1446 run extra Peterboro to Elmwood," to make the situation quite clear, and letting Extra 1446 know that there was a second section that day.


The Nashville collision of 9 July 1918 on the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis had the highest fatality toll of any United States railroad accident, somewhere between 90 and 100. Six wooden coaches were destroyed in the severe collision, which was the primary reason for the large number of fatalities. It is discussed at some length in Shaw, but there are other points to be made about this accident.

Time table directions on the NC&StL were northward and southward, with southward, odd-numbered trains superior to even-numbered trains of the same class in the opposite direction. The trains involved in this accident were proceeding to and from Memphis, via the junction with the L&N at McKenzie, so they generally moved east and west by the compass. Leaving Nashville for Memphis, the line went southward for some distance, so northbound trains were actually running southward, and vice versa.

Although the division was mainly single-track, operated by time table and train order, double track was provided between the passenger station at Nashville and Shops, 2.5 miles. At Shops there was an interlocking controlling the switch at the end of two main tracks, with the normal interlocking signals, and this was also an open train order office. It was a very common practice to provide short sections of double track at congested locations on a single-track line. As another concrete example, the CRI&P had 4.1 miles of double track through Oklahoma City. There were No. 15 spring switches at each end, so that trains moving with the current of traffic did not have to stop to line switches. The speed limits through these switches was 30 mph Rockets, 25 mph passenger and 20 mph freight. There were 5 gated crossings at which the speed limit was 20 mph, and first-class trains were required to run at restricted speed at a point where the view was obscure, so speeds were not high.

Rule S-83 states that "A train must not leave its initial station on any division or subdivision, or a junction, or pass from one of two or more tracks to single track, until it has been ascertained whether all trains due, which are superior, have arrived or left." Strictly, this means that there must be either a train register, or an open office where information can be obtained, or at least a telephone, at each end of double track. At Nashville, this was, in fact, the case. At Oklahoma City (and most other places) it was not (though there was a telephone at the west end of two main tracks). In fact, these short sections of double track were not operated like double track, but more like long sidings. Trains using them would have satisfied Rule S-83 at other points, and would be required to identify trains met on double track as if they were encountered on a siding. Normally on double track a train is not concerned with what passes on the other track, but on these sections things are different. Note that it is a very different case from a single-track section on a double-track line, which demands strict observance of Rule 83.

Train No. 4 was scheduled to leave Nashville at 7.00 am for Memphis, while Train No. 1 was scheduled to arrive Nashville at 7.10 am. When No. 4 checked the register at Nashville, No. 1 was usually not yet registered. Since it was the superior train, No. 4 had to clear its time, which meant that No. 4 could not pass Shops until No. 1 had arrived and departed there. Normally, No. 1 was encountered on double track, and identified by the engine number. On reaching Shops, the switch would be lined to pass to single track, and the interlocking signal would display Proceed.

On this day, No. 1, with a baggage car, 5 coaches and 2 sleepers was running about 30 minutes late, passing Bellevue, 12.6 miles from Nashville, at 7.09 am. No. 4 received the following order at Nashville: "No 4 eng 282 hold main track meet No 7 eng 215 at Harding No 1 has eng 281." The crew of No. 4 was very used to receiving an order like this, that gave them something on No. 7 as well as the engine number of No. 1, the dispatcher reminding them of the train in this way. This order was in no way novel or confusing, and there is no possibility that the "7" was mistakenly read as "1," as is clear from the testimony of the survivors.

No. 4 left 7 minutes late, at 7.07 am. The conductor busied himself with his favorite job, tickets, and left the running of the train up to others. A switch engine and a cut of cars rumbled by on the other track, which the flagman noted and recognized as a yard movment, not No. 1. The engineman was on the wrong side to observe, and probably the fireman was busy putting his fire in condition for the run ahead, when the yard movment passed them. The conductor and head brakeman noted that something passed, but they could not see it well, of course. At Shops, the switch was lined and the signal was clear, so No. 4 entered single track and accelerated. Everyone--except for the flagman--thought that the yard movement had been No. 1. We might ask what the yard movement was doing on No. 1's time, but that is another matter.

The operator at Shops checked his train book, which showed that No. 1 had not arrived, and immediately blew the emergency air whistle, going outside and waving frantic washouts at the receding train, which paid no attention. The dispatcher was on the phone and aware of events. It is clear that the switch should have been lined for No. 1, and the signal for No. 4 at Stop, until No. 1 had arrived. We do not know if the operator lined the switch and cleared the signal on the approach of No. 4 without considering No. 1. It also would have been so easy for the dispatcher to have arranged that the operator would phone him before clearing the signal to enter single track. These are questions that cannot now be answered, and they were not asked in the ICC investigation.

It is easy to say that the flagman, who was inexperienced, should have pulled the air when his train passed Shops. He would have assumed that the conductor would know best, and would definitely have been unpleasant to him had he stopped the train when they held an order against No. 1 handed up at Shops that simply had not been shown to him yet. No, the flagman can be exonerated, but the conductor cannot. The accident was due to his failure to positively identify No. 1, and his was the primary responsibilty, which he abdicated. After the accident, he said that he always conferred with the other crew members to make certain of the identification of No. 1, but this is a patent lie, since he did not consult the flagman. The engineman was also at fault, of course, for not asking for signals from the conductor as he approached Shops. The meeting-point whistle would have been quite appropriate in this case (it may not have been authorized by the NC&StL, and was not mentioned in the ICC report). If answered by a highball, it would mean that No. 1 was by.

The two trains met, each moving at about 50 mph, halfway between Shops and Harding, still within the city limits of Nashville, at 7.20 am.

The ICC investigation is shallow, and does not bring out many of the important points. The comments and recommendations of the ICC are also badly conceived, as, for example, that the engine number is bad identification. If for some reason, one does not see the engine number clearly, a stop at Shops would have been the answer. The big problems are the characteristic malfeasance of the conductor, and not insisting on positive identification. The possibility of the control of the signal on the dispatcher's OK, which could have been done without extra cost, was not mentioned.

The Long Island Rail Road had single-track branches that joined main lines at a number of junctions, where there were signalmen controlling access to the main line by signals. Since the maintenance of a train register at these points would be inconvenient, to satisfy rule 83 it was established that the signal would not be cleared for entry to the main line unless all superior trains had arrived and left. This transferred the burden from the conductor to the signalman, but the signalman not only could observe the main line, but was in contact with the dispatcher. This "Rule 5" worked well, until the accident at College Point on 22 September 1913, when a confused signalman allowed a train to enter in the face of a delayed opposing superior train. Because the two electric MU trains were both steel, there were only 4 fatalities, but Rule 5 was brought into disrepute. Note that this was quite a different situation from Shops, or the many short double-track sections throughout the country.


The Ligonier Valley was a short line that ran 10.5 miles southeast of Latrobe, PA to Ligonier, and from there 3.3 miles northeast to coal mines and coke ovens at Wilpen, PA. Passenger trains made two daily round trips between Ligonier and Wilpen, one in the morning and one in the evening. On 5 July 1912, a passenger train consisting of an engine and a combine, backing up, left Ligonier for Wilpen, and encountered engines 7 and 14 pulling 14 cars about a mile and a half east of Ligonier at about 5.30 pm. Because the wooden combine was leading, it was smashed by the two engines, killing 22 passengers, a terrible toll.

Except that it is unsafe to lead with a wooden passenger car, there are few lessons to be learned from this misadventure. It is mentioned because the Ligonier Valley was operated like a simple electric line, without a time table, train numbers, train orders, order book or even train rules. The dispatcher issued verbal orders to train crews over the telephone. In the present accident, the dispatcher and the conductor disputed whether a verbal order had been issued to wait for the arrival of the freight train, and no conclusion was reached. Everyone was probably hung over from the preceding evening's festivities.


This accident reveals single-order dispatching on a steam road as late as 1922. The accident was a collision between Extra 102 West, with 33 loads of coal and a caboose, and Extra 3 East, caboose leading, pushing 7 empties, in Tunnel No. 1, an 800' bore on an 8%deg; curve and 1.2% grade 0.6 miles west of Jacobs, where the speed limit was 6 mph, at 2.53 pm in clear weather. An employee riding in the caboose was killed, but hardly anyone else was damaged. The wreck caught fire, which involved the tunnel lining.

Dispatcher Gutzler, at Hiawatha, had written up order No. 306 to the effect that: "Engine 102 run extra Hiawatha to Martin not pass Jacobs until two thirty five 235 pm No 606 engine 2 wait at Martin until three fifteen 315 pm for Extra 102 West." The wording "not pass" instead of "wait at" is curious. Gutzler wanted to get Extra 102 away, and gave it enough against the regular train No. 606, which was of undetermined tardiness, to make Martin. He did not bother to tell No. 606 about this at the time, planning to handle it when he knew how No. 606 was running. He counted on operators asking to OK clearance cards to hold No. 606 safely (but when the wire fails, the clearances can be issued, so endorsed). The engineman noted that the order did not have the Superintendent's signature, so Gutzman told him on the phone to add it. Extra 102 left Hiawatha at 1.10 pm

When Extra 3 was ready to leave Martin, it got order No. 309, intended just for it, reading: "Eng 3 run extra Martin to Jacobs This order annulled 315 pm No 606 eng 2 run two 2 hours and thirty 30 mins late Martin to Jacobs No 612 eng 2 run two 2 hours and thirty 30 mins late Jacobs to Standardville." The regular trains were taken care of by the run-late orders, and Extra 3's running orders would expire at 3.15 pm, keeping them from being on the road unless they had reached Jacobs by that time. Unfortunately, the time should have been 2.35 pm, after which Extra 102 could pass Jacobs. Gutzler was too busy with his rates and waybills, which he did in addition to dispatching, to consider the orders carefully. He had created a lap order, and neither Extra 102 nor Extra 3 knew anything of each other. Extra 3 departed Martin at 2.45 pm, passed Jacobs, and collided with Extra 102.

The Utah Railway claimed to operate under the Denver and Rio Grande Western train rules, but dispatching like this was no part of these rules. The Superintendent, Trainmaster and Chief Dispatcher all knew what was going on, and did nothing to change it. Trainmaster Thompson was a little worried, but he did not seem to be much of a rules expert anyway. The ICC also noted that almost nobody knew that the Standard Clock was located at Hiawatha, though time had nothing to do with this accident.

Under the Standard Code, it is permitted to issue orders like: "After 210 pm Eng 20 run extra Alpha to Gamma," and "Eng 21 has until 205 pm to run extra Beta to Alpha." Such a combination is in the spirit of single-order dispatching, not of Rule 202. Better would be: "Eng 20 run extra Alpha to Gamma with right over Extra 21 West and wait at Alpha until 210 pm." This order would be delivered to both trains, and would inform them of each other.

Granite and Riverside

These two accidents are considered together because they have the same cause: poor penmanship causing station names to be misread, which led trains to proceed too far. At Granite, on the Seaboard Air Line on 19 November 1912, Granite was read when Grandy was intended. The "-te" on Granite was written so that it resembled a "y," according to the investigator. These two stations were not far apart, so it was easy to confuse them. Station names should be carefully selected for distinctness and brevity. This is a minor point often overlooked. Names of six to eight letters are probably of optimum length. Two-letter station calls were excellent for telegraphy, but not so good otherwise, since they lack information redundancy. Even here, calling two nearby stations KI and KO would not have been a good idea in Morse days.

The Riverside accident on the Rutland Railroad, which occurred 14 March 1920, was due to taking the scrawl at the right to read "Bellows Falls" rather than "Bartonsville," as intended. The order itself, which is reproduced in full in the ICC report, is so illegible that complete sense cannot be made of it. It is a wonder that it was accepted. It is the duty of the Chief Dispatcher to insist that handwriting be neat and legible, and lettered if the operator cannot write legible script. An excellent solution is the typewriter, with extra large type to give a clear impression when multiple carbons are made. Many companies, however, rejected the typewriter and insisted on handwriting. Every typewritten order that I have seen has been completely legible. It was probably easier to use the typewriter when receiving Morse than when dispatching was done by telephone. Most operators preferred the "mill."


When I searched for documents containing the string "okla*" to find all the accidents in the State of Oklahoma, 109 documents were returned, of which about 70 actually were concerned with accidents in Oklahoma. Most were caused by derailments from broken rails and bad track, and collisions at road crossings, and most involved freight trains or work trains. The accident with the highest toll of passengers was the head-end collision at Kellyville in 1917, which killed 32 passengers, followed by the 1929 sabotage at Henryetta, which killed 12 (discussed in Unexpected Diversion Accidents). A rear-end collision at Norge in 1918 on the SL-SF killed 5. The Berry accident on the Oklahoma Railroad in 1944, and the Kremlin grade crossing accident on the CRI&P in 1948 each killed 3. The accidents at Custer City (1945), Cheyenne (1943) and White Oak (1920) each killed 1 passenger. Of course, many more employees were killed or injured, as is always the case, but this is a remarkable record--only 58 passenger fatalities in fifty years, which can be explained as a combination of rarity of accidents and good survivability. Oklahoma highways do in this many people in a couple of weeks, year after year. Oklahoma was selected merely because I once lived there, and because the ICC reports cover the majority of the time in which passenger trains operated in this state.


The ICC accident reports can be found at DOT Website. Click on ICC Railroad Accident Investigations. We are very thankful for these, but the digitization is not perfect. In one report, MORNING SUN comes out MORNING SUX, which I sometimes agree with. Also, be aware that an "eleargnoegard" is a Clearance Card. Latrobe, PA appeared in one report as Latrine, PA. A dreaming engineman was said to have "come to his sewage" when he noticed an opposing train. There are a couple of examples of "failure to observe a meat order." I cannot get the PDF links to work, but they might not be much better.

R. B. Shaw, Down Brakes (London: P. R. MacMillan, 1961). The author claims to have based this book on that of C. F. Adams, Jr. in 1875, extending it to about 1960, and concentrating on accidents with passenger casualties.

Peter Josserand, Rights of Trains, 5th ed. (New York: Simmons-Boardman, 1957). The classic explanation of the Standard Code by a Chief Dispatcher. The first edition was Harry Forman's Rights of Trains on Single Track (New York: Railroad Gazette, 1904), a classic handbook for rules examiners. Both Forman and Josserand were associated with the Western Pacific.

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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 24 February 2002
Last revised 7 December 2005