Sylacauga, AL Central of Georgia / L&N Collision, Feb 1919
Chief Dispatcher Brock, of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, a passenger on train No. 81, stated he was riding in the smoking car; the train made proper stop for the crossing, sounded the whistle and proceeded over the crossing. As the baggage car was about over the crossing, his attention was attracted by hearing two blasts of a whistle and he saw train 2nd No. 38 within 75 or 100 feet of the crossing, moving at about 10 miles an hour.
Track Supervisor Porterfield, of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, a passenger on train No. 81, stated that he was in the rear coach when the train stopped for the crossing and the engineman sounded the usual crossing signal. Preparatory to getting off at the station, he went out and stood on the steps on the west side and saw 2nd No. 38 approaching when the engine was 300 or 400 feet from the crossing, working steam and gaining in speed. He said the engine and one coach of train No. 81 were over the crossing before the engineman of train 2nd No. 38 sounded crossing signal and about that time the engineman of train No. 81 sounded his whistle again. He was positive that train 2nd No. 38 did not stop within 100 feet of the crossing; he could have stopped had he shut off steam, but he kept working steam up to the time the trains struck.
Car Inspector Streip, of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, a passenger on train No. 81, stated that he was riding in the 3rd coach; the train stopped for the crossing, the engineman sounded crossing whistle, then proceeded over the crossing. As the car in which he was riding passed the red building about opposite the stop board he saw 2nd No. 38 approaching from a distance of about 200 feet, working steam. He said the baggage car of train No. 81 was about on the crossing when the engineman of train 2nd No. 38 sounded the whistle and immediately afterward, Engineman Talford again sounded his whistle, just before the trains struck. His statements were corroborated by Car Inspector's Helper Sewell, of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, who was also a passenger on train No. 81.
Operator McClain, on duty in the Central of Georgia telegraph office at the time of the accident, stated that he came out of the office and walked to the passenger station platform, west of the crossing. He saw train No. 81 coming around the curve and at about this time heard the engineman of train 2nd No. 38 sound the whistle preparatory to starting. He said the passenger train did not stop, but slowed down just before reaching the "stop" board; the engineman sounded the whistle twice and the train then proceeded. He was positive that train No. 81 did not come to a full stop, but reduced speed to about 6 or 8 miles an hour, then increased speed and went over the crossing at about 20 miles an hour. After train No. 81 slowed down and had started again, he then saw train 2nd No. 38 at the Broadway street crossing, moving at about 10 or 12 miles an hour, the engine using steam.
Operator Norris, who was just going on duty in the Central of Georgia office at the time of the accident, stated that as he saw the smoke indicating the approach of train No. 81 he saw 2nd No. 38 about 200 feet from the crossing, between the water crane and crossing, just starting off, heard their whistle for the crossing, and, assuming that they were departing, notified the dispatcher to that effect but did not look at the train after that. Immediately afterward he saw train No. 81 and watched it approach from the time it came around the curve, which is 1,800 feet from the crossing, until it was on the crossing, and is positive that the train did not stop. About the time they passed the wye switch, about 300 feet north of the crossing, the train was apparently slowed down to about 15 miles an hour and speed increased from this point until the crossing was reached.
The primary cause of this accident was failure of Flagman Kirven to provide proper protection for his train after giving a signal indicating to the engineman that the crossing was safe for the passage of his train. Contributing causes were the failure of one or both of the enginemen of the trains involved to stop before passing over the crossing as required by stop boards as well as the state law; also, failure of the railroad companies to provide adequate safeguards for traffic at this crossing.
While it may not have been within the ordinary scope of the duties of the flagman on this train to flag the crossing, nevertheless, when Flagman Kirven gave the proceed signal to the engineman of the freight train from the position he then occupied at the crossing he assumed responsibility for the safety passage of his train; knowing that the L.& N. train was approaching, good judgment and a proper realization of his responsibility under the circumstances should have prompted him to remain at the crossing until the arrival of his train or until he was certain that its movement over the crossing had been safely begun. Had he done so, he would have been in position to flag the L. & N. passenger train and thus avert the accident; or he could have taken measures to stop his own train before it reached the crossing. For these reasons it is believed the primary responsibility for this accident rests upon Flagman Kirven.
Engineman Sweatt of train 2nd 38 admitted that he did not stop for the crossing at the stop board, but stated that he followed his customary practice; he considered that the stop at the water plug fulfilled all the requirements of a crossing stop. Had he brought his train to a stop at the stop board, he would no doubt have discovered the L. & N. train in time to avert the accident. If he accepted the flagman’s signal as assurance that the crossing was clear and safe for the passage of his train he exercised poor judgment as he was aware the flagman did not remain at the crossing while his train approached. But as the engineman questioned the fireman twice about the condition of the crossing, it is clear he was fully alive to his responsibility in the matter, and as his train struck the side of the passenger train on the crossing, Engineman Sweatt must bear part of the responsibility for this accident.
The question of whether or not L. & N. train No. 81 stopped before passing over the crossing in this case is very important in connection with determining the cause and placing responsibility for this accident. In addition to the statements of the employees of the two railroads involved, statements were obtained from ten eye-witnesses, six of whom said that the passenger train stopped for the crossing while four stated that it did not stop. However, in view of the statements of the operators and others who were in position to know and who were positive that the passenger train did not stop for the crossing, the statements that this train did stop for the crossing, as required by the state law and the stop board, are called into question.
The statements as to where the engine of train 2nd No. 38 was located at the time train No. 81 slowed down or stopped are also much disputed. According to some witnesses it was on the Broadway street crossing, while according to Engineman Talford, of the passenger train, he saw its smoke in the vicinity of the second water crane. If it was on the street crossing, then it must have been in plain view from the engine of train No. 81. If it was at the second water crane, then it had time to move a distance of about 490 feet, on a slightly ascending grade, with a train consisting of 20 loaded and 2 empty cars, in the time the passenger train consumed in moving a total distance of about 325 feet, and this is not credible. Train No. 81 was coming in to Sylacauga 1 minute late, with a station stop to make at the platform just beyond the crossing. If it crossed before the freight train passed, no more time would be lost, while if it stopped and waited for the freight train to pass, it would be delayed 2 or 3 more minutes. These facts point to the conclusion that the passenger train was not brought to a full stop, but that it merely slowed down and the engineman then proceeded over the crossing ahead of the freight train. While this conclusion was not established beyond question of doubt, the evidence indicates a strong probability that such was the case. If Engineman Talford did not make a proper stop for the railroad crossing, then he was grossly negligent and was to a large extent responsible for this accident.
While any one of two or three employees involved might have averted this accident, both ,the Louisville & Nashville and the Central of Georgia Railroad Companies were at fault on account of the lack of proper system for safeguarding the movement of trains over this crossing. There was not even a rule or regulation in effect governing this crossing, nor was the state law requiring trains to come to a stop within 100 feet of such a crossing published in the timetable or book of rules of either company. Except for the stop boards mentioned, no protection of any kind was afforded train movements over this crossing. This crossing is used regularly by 14 scheduled trains of the C. of Ga. road and 8 scheduled trains of the L & N road. Immediate steps should be taken to provide some form of protection for trains using this crossing.
Flagman Kirven was employed as a flagman in 1911 and had a clear record. Engineman Sweatt was employed as a fireman in 1900 and promoted to engineman in 1906. At the time of the accident his record was clear. Engineman Talford was employed as a hostler helper and fireman in 1905, promoted to fireman in 1905 and engineman in 1909. He had a good record. The crew of train 2nd No. 38 had been on duty about 5 hours after a period off duty of about 11 hours. The crew of train No. 81 had been on duty 2 hours and 30 minutes, after a period off duty of 8 hours.