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Railroaders' Nostalgia > Titanticish
Date: 07/26/19 06:05
Most castastrophes are not caused by one thing, but several little things that arranged in a perfect storm bring it about. Like with the Tiitantic, but with no loss of life luckily, too much speed may have been the base of it all, a collision on a non signaled branch I worked on comes to mind.
The crew involved I knew well, I had worked with them all over the years, and never saw them do anything I thought unsafe or rash. The scene is set with a train left just inside yard limits on a curve in the dark with a failed rear end marker.(the caboose had just been eliminated) Add to that the fact it is just about sunrise, the crew has been up all night, and the message about the train left on the mainline at their final terminal was not delivered to the crew. In short, a trap of sorts, that could have caught many a crew. The engineer did not have the train down to restricted speed when the hopper of the stopped train comes into view and so at about 30 mph, they collide. Amazingly enough, the lead unit goes up and over the hopper instead of the hopper leaping up and crushing the cab with everyone in it. I talked with each of the crewmen over a period of time and heard what each of them experienced. The head brakeman in the lead unit stands up to try and get out and is hit in the head with a towel box that flew off the front wall of the engine on impact, throwing him back in his seat which ultimately saves his life. Dazed and in his seat, he still remembers the main generator crashing though the rear wall of the engine still turning and sparking going up the middle of the cab inbetween the engineer and himself. That was caused by the second unit mounting the first unit and shoving the prime mover and generator forward on the first unit. The control stand is shoved against the engineer, breaking his left arm and pinning him to his seat. He is also scalded by hot water spewing from the old style heater in front of him. The head brakeman is in a cocoon of metal and is trapped.
The conductor and rear brakeman are on the third unit, when the train goes to emergency just before the collision, the conductor who was doing paperwork, looks up and sees what is about to happen. The other brakeman with him asks whats wrong and the conductor says that we are about to hit a train. The brakeman scoffs, thinking he's joking when he is thrown from his seat. Their unit ends up on its side with all the doors jammed tight. In the darkness, using a fire extinguisher they are able to force open a side window and get out. The conductor sees the lead unit and thinks no one is alive when he sees a light from the cab, a penlight the engineer was using. Now, the ditches are filling with diesel fuel both from the locomotives and from tank cars of the fuel near the head end now in the ditch too. The brakeman runs to a farmhouse and calls for help, it takes two tanks of fuel for the jaws of life to cut the crew form the lead unit. Luckily, the diesel fuel does not ignite, preventing almost certain death for the lead engine crew. Everyone but the engineer is eventually reinstated, although he had permanent disability in his left arm. The head brakeman had a scar on his head from the towel box and PTSD from then on. Like I said, I have seen good crews make bad mistakes, we all have been there too if you're human. The fact that no one was killed in this incident is amazing,
Date: 07/26/19 06:31
Wow, can you imagine the fear in those men's eyes.
Date: 07/26/19 08:38
I remember when I first hired out in 1973, I was running for an engineer, came on an approach, and was not doing too much to slow way down. The engineer asked me was I going to be able to stop at the next signal? My know it all attitude replied you don't have to stop, you can go by at 20 mph. His response was true but what if there's a cab one or two carlinks past the signal, can you stop short of that then? I got the train down, when I could see the signal, there was a cab about 5 cars past it. I never forgot that lesson.
Date: 07/26/19 10:54
Here are a few photos of that accident. You can see Ron Cowell being helped out of the lead unit. I found a big stack of these black & white photos for sale at the Ottawa, KS antique mall, no idea who took then, possibly a news photographer.