By LAFAYETTE C. LOOMIS.
THE frequency and the frightful fatality of recent railroad disasters have come to be most appalling. Among the more prominent causes put forth in explanation or in extenuation is that of the overtaxed and exhausted condition of the trainmen. This excuse, while reluctantly accepted in part by the public, is little better, however, than none at all, as, so far as it is valid, it simply transfers the responsibility from the trainmen to the officers, and substitutes criminal mismanagement for criminal carelessness.
But this statement by no means meets the case.
Among some of the most sanguinary that come to my mind at this moment — the calamity of the Wabash, the Chester Bridge, the two on Long Island, and not long since at Yonkers, at Germantown, and near Dedham — with none of these had fatigue anything whatever to do. The men responsible for these calamities were comparatively or altogether fresh.
That the men forgot, or were careless, or inattentive, or neglectful, is true; but that in these and in many other cases, the men were overtaxed and exhausted is not true. Some other and more comprehensive cause of these oft-recurring calamities must be sought.
The science of railroad transportation, to whatever extent it has advanced, has been almost wholly the result of experiment rather than of theory. From first to last the theories, for the most part, have proved very wide of the actual results. Nor is this a matter of surprise when we consider what a revolution the locomotive wrought among mankind.
As the successor of the stagecoach, steam travel was inaugurated upon the general principles which that earlier mode of travel had evolved from long years of experience. The steam road in all its multitudinous appendages was cast to meet certain supposed requirements as to speed and volume of traffic. The roadbed, ties, rails, engines, and cars had all been calculated to meet a certain assumed pressure, strain, wear and tear. Such, however, was the almost immediate demand for larger facilities, that hardly had the various appliances of the road become adjusted to each other and their new conditions, before the extension and enlargement of the road in all its capacities had become imperative.
It was not difficult to construct an engine with greater steam capacity, and hence greater power and speed; but what a series of calamities followed! The roadbed, the ties, the rails, the wheels, were all disproportionate and inadequate.