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best suited to the circumstances of the case, but a fairly well recognized procedure has grown up.
“The site of the accident is first visited and a careful investigation made of all the circumstances attending the disaster. An adjournment is then made to a room, and the evidence of the various witnesses is taken down verbatim. The court is not a court of law, and witnesses are not examined on oath, nor is the officer bound by the strici law of evidence; it is simply a court of inquiry. The admission of the general public and of the press rests with the discretion of the officer, the usual practice being to admit the press and the public in cases of general interest, unless there has been loss of life and there is any chance of any servant of the company, or of any other person, being put upon his trial for manslaughter or other grave offense, such as criminal negligence, in which case it is not as a rule considered advisable to admit transpires etc., lest the person implicated might be prejudiced by anything that
“It must be clearly borne in mind that the inquiry by the board of trade is for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the accident with a view of preventing a recurrence of the same, and not for the purpose of penalizing anyone; the latter is left to be dealt with by the usual process of law. A board of trade inquiry, therefore, is in addition to, and independent of, any proceedings before the coroner or magistrate. The act of 1871 confers upon the coroner, when holding an inquest on the death of a person occasioned by a railway accident, the right to request the board of trade to appoint an inspector, or some person possessing special knowledge, to act as assessor to the coroner, and this is sometimes done. But such a course does not prevent the department from holding an independent inquiry.
"The same act empowers the board of trade to hold what is called a “formal investigation into the cause of any accident in lieu of, or in addition to, the less formal inquiry to which reference has been made. In the event of such ‘formal investigation' being held, the board may appoint'any person or persons possessing special or legal knowledge to assist an inspector holding the inquiry,' or may 'direct the county court judge, stipendiary magistrate, metropolitan police magistrate, or other person, to hold the inquiry with the assistance of an inspector or any other assessor. Such an investigation has to be held in open court, and the witnesses may be examined on oath, and the court has all the powers of a court of summary jurisdiction, besides all the powers of an inspector under the act. But the necessity for holding such a formal investigation has very rarely arisen.
“The inspector after making his inquiry is required to make to the board of trade a report as to the cause of the accident and the circumstances attending the same, with any observations on the subject which he deems right, and the board ‘shall cause every such report to be made public in such manner as they think expedient.' The usual manner of publishing such reports is to forward them to the railway companies concerned and to the press and to anyone else who is interested. The reports are subsequently included in a blue book and presented to Parliament. It should be noted that, although the officer may in his report make recommendations with a view to guarding against any similar accident occurring in the future, no power is given to the board of trade or any other authority to compel any railway company to adopt such recommendations. This omission is sometimes criticised as a defect in the act, but it is not really so. The moral effect of the publication of the report with the criticisms of the company's methods is great, and it seldom happens that a company refuses to adopt, or at least to test, the recommendations made by the officer who held the inquiry. If, however, the company is of opinion that the suggestions of the officer are not likely to be useful, or are for any reason inexpedient, the company is at liberty to reject them, the responsibility of so doing resting on it. The effect of this latitude is to give the company discretion in the matter and to enable the act of Parliament to be administered without undue interference.'
Investigation of accidents in this country should follow the methods above outlined, the purpose being merely to get at the cause of any accident with a view of preventing its recurrence. To this end many railroad officials would willingly cooperate with the Government, as the aim of the inquiry would be solely to present a clear statement of truth in the matter.
An examination of the casualties noted in the above list reveals some marked examples of cases needing investigation. The twelfth in the list was the subject of inquiries by a State railroad commissioner and by coroners in two counties, yet the cause of the accident was left in the dark, and no satisfactory explanation was given the public as to why it had to be left unsettled, or what measures had been taken to solve it.
The sixth case, a wreck causing the death of 88 persons, was the result of a bridge failure, a tremendous flood striking a trestle bridge at about the same moment the train entered upon it. To make a satisfactory report of this disaster would require not only a thorough inquiry into the circumstances attending it, but also, very likely, an inquiry into the design and construction of the bridge and of the surveys and plans which were made for the location of the road; for in a region subject to violent floods the elevation of a railroad above the surrounding lands and streams is an important consideration.
The thirteenth case was one demanding a thorough investigation into the whole question of the use of air-brakes on freight trains, as well as of the construction of cars and car couplings designed to be used in very long freight trains, and of the regulations for the transportation of explosives.
The two accidents caused by misplaced switches open up the whole subject of the interlocking of switches and signals. This is a feature of railroad operation that is constantly growing in importance. It has thus far been subjected to little or no effective regulation, except as a few States have enforced regulations with regard to signaling at crossings where the line of one railroad company crosses that of another at grade.
A searching investigation is particularly needed in every collision that occurs under the block system. Two of such accidents, items 1 and 10, appear in the above list. The block system should not be allowed to suffer discredit by any preventable defects in its administration. Comparisons have frequently been made between the accident records of this country, with its very incomplete block signaling, and of Great Britain, with all its lines blocked, and much has been said of the physical conditions and circumstances surrounding the roads in the respective countries. There is reason to believe, however, that even if these outward features were alike in the two countries there might still be a decided difference in favor of Great Britain, because of the complete system of inquiry which prevails there and the more careful administration and better discipline which exist as a consequence. The two collisions in question exemplify this matter. In one the character and discipline of the signalmen on the road in question, and of the officers who superintend them, are of great interest to the public, and in the other the character and discipline of the enginemen and those who supervise their work are matters concerning which the public should have information.
A considerable increase in the number of accidents, both to passengers and employees, as revealed by the reports of the Commission, has caused the efficacy of the safety-appliance acts to be questioned in certain quarters. It has been assumed that because accidents have increased the statute has failed to accomplish its purpose. An examination of the statistics of accidents since the safety-appliance law became operative will show that this assumption is unwarranted. It is true that the total of accidents has increased, but the increase has been wholly with respect to matters not covered by the statute, and it is perfectly safe to say that were it not for the operation of the law the total of accidents would be much larger than it is. The greatest increase in the number of accidents has been by reason of collisions and derailments, for which the safety-appliance law provides no remedy. In the matter of coupling accidents, which are directly and peculiarly an object of safety-appliance legislation, there has been a notable decrease. Employees are practically the only sufferers from coupling accidents, and it gratifying to note that the dangers of their calling have been greatly reduced in this particular. The following table, showing the casualties to employees from coupling accidents and from collisions and derailments for each year since the safety-appliance law was enacted, will prove interesting.
EMPLOYEES KILLED AND INJURED BY COUPLING ACCIDENTS AND BY COLLISIONS AND: This table presents some interesting features. The safety-appliance law was enacted in 1893, but did not go into full operation until August 1, 1900. In 1893 the deaths to employees from coupling accidents and from collisions and derailments were very nearly equal, but the injuries from coupling were nearly five times greater than from collisions and derailments. The two following years were ones of great business depression, and the accident statistics in a measure reflect industrial conditions for these two years.
Collisions and derailments.
Year ending June 30—
Killed. Injured. Killed. Injured.
1893. 1894. 1895 1896. 1897. 1898. 1899. 1900. 1901. 1902 1903. 1904.
873, 602 779, 608 785, 034 826, 620 823, 476 874, 558
928, 924 1,017, 653 1,071, 169 1, 189, 315 1, 312, 537 1, 296, 121
2, 358 1,542 1, 709 1, 706 1, 652 1, 803 2, 153 2, 453 3, 155 4,060 5, 406 5, 329
In 1896 there began a revival of prosperity, though it was not until 1898 that the number of railway employees again equaled the number that had been employed in 1893. Since the year 1895 the casualties from collisions and derailments show a steady increase from year to year, with the single exception that the year 1904 shows a slight decrease from the figures of the previous year. The figures relating to coupling accidents have fluctuated from year to year in response to the condition of equipment. At no time, however, have they come near equaling the figures for the year 1893.
By its terms the law was to become operative on January 1, 1898; but, owing to the business depression, many railroad companies found themselves unable to complete their equipment by that time, and for sufficient cause shown extensions of time were granted under the terms of the law, so that it finally became effective August 1, 1900. Notwithstanding the revival of business and the increase in the number of employees, coupling casualties show a remarkable decrease from the time the law became fully effective until the year 1903, reaching their lowest point in 1902, while the casualties from collisions and derailments continue to increase.
What caused the increase in coupling accidents in the years 1903 and 1904? One cause was the deterioration of equipment and inability of the Commission to secure a full compliance with the law. When the law became effective equipment was in good order, and it was fairly well attended to for the two following years. On August 28, 1902, however, the United States circuit court of appeals for the eighth circuit rendered an opinion in the case of Johnson v. The Southern Pacific Company, which nullified the most important provisions of the statute and until the decision could be reviewed or Congress could amend the act, the efforts of the Commission to secure its enforcement were seriously impaired. Almost at once equipment began to deteriorate and coupling casualties to increase. As soon as possible the Government took measures to secure a reversal of the Johnson decision, but it was not until December 19, 1904, that the matter was finally determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, where the judgment of the lower court was reversed and an opinion was rendered wbich completely sustained the integrity of the law. In the meantime the Commission was not justified in bringing suits in most cases to secure the objects of the law, and the roads paid scant attention to the condition of equipment. The result of this state of affairs is amply shown by the abnormal increase in coupling accidents in the years 1903 and 1904.
As soon as the Government found itself in a position to insist upon a strict compliance with the law conditions began to improve, and, as stated in the text of the Commission's annual report, matters are now in better shape than they have been at any time since the law was enacted. The improved conditions very shortly began to manifest themselves by a decrease in the number of coupling accidents. In the quarter ending December 31, 1904, as shown by the reports of the railroads to the Commission under the accident-report law of 1901, there were 71 deaths from coupling accidents. In the next succeeding quarter there were 62 deaths from this cause, and in the next succeeding quarter, ending June 30, 1905, there were 49 deaths.
Trainmen are the greatest sufferers from coupling accidents, and trainmen, more than any other class of employees, are also exposed to the dangers incident to collísions and derailments. The following table shows the number of trainmen employed for one killed and injured in these two classes of accidents since the safety-appliance law was enacted:
NUMBER OF TRAINMEN EMPLOYED FOR ONE KILLED OR INJURED.
It will thus be seen that in 1893 the chances of fatal accident to trainmen from these two classes of casualties were about equal, while the chances of injury from coupling were more than four times greater than from collisions and derailments. In 1904, however, the chance of death from collisions and derailments was considerably more than double what it was from coupling, and the chance of injury was also more than 25 per cent greater from collisions and derailments than from coupling accidents. Moreover, as shown above, the year 1904 was a bad year for coupling accidents as compared with several previous years, while it was a comparatively good year for collisions and derailments. So much for the effect of the safety-appliance law. In this connection it may be stated as a fair inference that, with an effective law covering the matter of collisions and derailments, as great an improvement could be shown in that direction as is shown in the matter of coupling accidents.
It must not be assumed that there is any general disposition on the part of the railroads to evade or resist the law. The contrary is the fact. Most railway officials are in hearty sympathy with the objects of the statute, and have cheerfully cooperated with the Commission in securing its enforcement. But there are some roads that need the stimulus of the statute, and because of the almost universal interchange of cars, when the equipment of even a few roads is not kept in good condition, the effect is apparent all over the country, and the tendency is to neutralize the good accomplished by those roads which are making every effort to comply with the law.
Since the enforcement of the new rules of interchange that have been adopted as a result of the Johnson decision, reenforced by the decision of Judge Humphrey of the district court of the southern district of Illinois in the Southern Railway case, these backward roads have been forced into line with the more progressive ones, and the effect has been to greatly improve the condition of equipment generally. The new rule operates to compel each carrier to exercise diligence in maintaining safety appliances upon its own line in good condition, because of the knowledge that defective cars will not be received by connections until they are repaired. Each road is thus constrained to keep all cars upon its line in proper condition, instead of shifting the burden of repairs to defective cars onto its connections, as the former rule permitted.
Several important roads, too, have recently employed traveling inspectors charged with the of going over the road to note the condition of safety appliances at various points, and see that repair men pay proper attention to their duties. These men have worked in harmony with the Commission's inspectors, and have been of great assistance in securing proper inspection and repair of equipment. It is to be hoped that the roads generally may decide to employ such inspectors. Many roads have also adopted a policy of assigning men at repair points to the particular duty of repairing safety appliances. These measures, together with a substantial increase in the number of men employed for the purpose of making inspections and repairs, have brought about a remarkable decrease in the number of defects observable in safety-appliance equipment, as is shown by the report of the Commission's chief inspector of safety appliances.
A number of serious accidents from the “buckling” of freight trains under emergency applications of the air brakes has directed attention to a feature of brake practice that seems to require readjustment to meet the changed conditions of service. The constant influx of high-capacity cars and increase in size and weight of trains calls for an increase in effective braking power, but the rule of computing braking power upon 70 per cent of the light weight of cars has a tendency to reduce the percentage of braking power on the heavy high-capacity cars considerably below that of the lighter and smaller cars in use. As compared with the smaller cars, the load weight of the high-capacity car is proportionately greater than its light weight, and as a consequence the retarding force of the brakes on the heavy loaded car is proportionately less than it is on the light loaded car. A loaded train of these highcapacity cars is, therefore, a much harder train to control than is a loaded train of the light cars, and more braking power is needed. Again, when the two classes of cars are mixed together in trains the lighter cars are subjected to severe shocks when brake applications are made. The retarding force applied to the lighter car being greater than that applied to the heavier one, its momentum is more quickly reduced, with the result that it is subjected to severe impact from the heavier car behind, whose momentum is not so greatly retarded. This impact is often so great as to cause the lighter car to “buckle” and break. When the heavier car is ahead of the lighter one the difference in rate of retardation results in severe pulling strains, often pulling out draw bars or draft rigging and causing “break-in-twos,” with their serious attendant evils. The grave dangers frequently arising from this condition would seem to call for a revision of the rule for computing braking power, so as to bring the rate of retardation of the two classes of cars when brakes are applied more nearly into uniformity, thus reducing shocks and strains. The practical and certain remedy, of course, would be the adjustment of braking power to the actual weight of the car, empty or loaded, but this is said to be impracticable. Dangerous conditions from this cause could also frequently be avoided by the exercise of greater care in the make-up of trains, with the idea of keeping the different classes and weights of cars together.
COURT DECISIONS AFFECTING THE SAFETY-APPLIANCE LAW.
Perhaps the most important decision affecting the administration of the law is that of Judge Humphrey, in the district court of the United States for the southern district of Illinois, in the case of the United States v. Southern Railway Coinpany (135 Fed. Rep., 122), decided March 2, 1905. This was an action brought by the United States attorney at the suggestion of the Interstate Commerce Commission against the Southern Railway Company to recover penalties for violation of section 2 of the act of March 2, 1893, as amended. It was shown that the defendant hauled over its line cars originally equipped with automatic couplers, but which had been allowed to become so defective that they would not couple automatically by impact and could not be uncoupled without the necessity of men going between the ends of the cars. The court held that it was no defense to show the exercise of reasonable care and diligence on the part of the defendant to keep the coupling apparatus in repair; that a car loaded with coal to be delivered to a consignee in another State is used in moving interstate traffic" within the meaning of the safety-appliance statute, by the railroad company which takes it from its place of loading, although such company only undertakes to deliver it to a connecting carrier within the same State; that the placing of an M. C. B. defect card upon a car and noting upon such card defects forbidden by the safety-appliance acts, which is notice to all connecting lines that the road attaching the card sent the car out in a defective condition and that all other lines using the car will not have to account to it for the particular defects noted on the card, is such a deliberate violation of the statute as to amount to a defiance of the law; and what is forbidden by the act is the use of cars which can not be coupled automatically by impact and uncoupled without the necessity for men to go between the ends of the cars, and unless the car is so equipped it is not to be put in service, not to be used. The court said:
“The act is so highly meritorious, so generous in its purposes, so in harmony with the best sentiment of a humane people and a progressive government, that it appeals strongly to the courts for its prompt and vigorous enforcement.”
In the case of the Union Stock Yards of Omaha v. The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railway (196 U. S., 217), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a terminal company whose negligence toward one of its employees in failing, by a proper inspection, to discover a defective brake on a car delivered to it by a railroad company, whereby such employee suffered injury, can not enforce contribution or recover indeinnity from the railroad company because of the latter's like neglect of duty.
In the case of the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad Company v. Flippo (35 Am. and Eng. R. R. Cases (N. S.), 486) the supreme court of Alabama held that the provision of the safety-appliance acts that a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce which fails to equip its cars with automatic couplers, as required therein, shall not avail itself against an employee injured by such failure, of the doctrine of assumption of risk, is within the power of Congress; and whether a car was being used in interstate commerce at the time of the injury to the employee was a question for the jury.
The same court, in the case of Mobile, Jackson and Kansas City Railroad Company v. Bromberg (37 Am. and Eng. R. R. Cases (N. S.), 823), held that the safety-appliance acts applied not only in cases where the cars were at the time actually moving interstate traffic, but to cases where the injury occurs in making up the trains for the purpose of moving interstate traffic; that where a brakeman is required to go between cars in making a coupling, which can be made with greater safety by going in on the other side, he is not chargable with contributory negligence in going in on the more dangerous side if he could not do the work as well by going in on the safer side; that a plea of assumption of risk in an action against a carrier for injuries to an employee resulting from a failure to comply with the act is frivolous; and that in an action against a railroad company for the death of a servant, caused by the defendant's failure to comply with the act, the court will take judicial notice of what the act provides, and its introduction into evidence is immaterial.
Edw. A. MOSELEY, Secretary.