Brooklyn, NY train wreck, Nov 1903


Theory That Brooklyn Motorman Was Stricken at His Post.

Red Lights on Rear of Stalled Train Were Plainly Visible, Signalman Says - Probable Cause of the Fire.

The theory that Motorman Cahill of the Bay Ridge train, which ran into another train on the Fifth Avenue Elevated Railroad in Brooklyn on Thursday night, fell dead at his post from heart disease or apoplexy a moment or two before the collision occurred was advanced yesterday in efforts to explain the cause of the accident. This peculiar idea was suggested in view of certain circumstances of the fatal wreck.

There is a signal tower at Thirty-sixth Street, a few blocks from where the accident happened, and the signalman who was on duty there at the time says that he distinctly saw the red lights on the rear of the stalled train. It is claimed that the mechanism of the Bay Ridge train was in proper working order, as it had been tested before the train left the Sixty-fifth Street terminal on the fatal trip. Motorman Cahill was an old employe of the road, and was considered one of the most experienced and careful motor car operators in the company's service.

President Winter of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company said yesterday afternoon that he had not succeeded in ascertaining just what was responsible for the accident.

"And, what is more," he added, "it is likely that we never will learn. Whether Cahill had an apoplectic fit or one of those lapses which happen in railroading, or whether he fell asleep, we may never know. It seems to be clearly established that red lights were displayed at the rear of the stalled train. There is quite convincing testimony as to this. It seems, also, that the conductor of the train swung a red lantern in addition."

General anager Calderwood said that his investigations showed that the danger signals had been properly displayed, and he could not understand how Motorman Cahill failed to see them.

It was learned that the motor car of the Bay Ridge train was an old one which had been used in locomotive trains. It was only recently "converted" into a motor car. This was admitted to be so by George R. Folds, Assistant General Manager of the road. He added, however, that an examination made by the company's mechanics had shown that the equipment of this car was in perfect working order at the time of the accident.

Coroner Flaherty visited the scene of the wreck yesterday and made a careful investigation. He said last night that he would try at the inquest to fix the responsibility for the accident. He will summon a large number of witnesses to the inquest, which will probably be held next Friday night in the Borough Hall. The Coroner said that his investigations had not led him to any conclusion as to the responsibility for the collision. He did not expect that that point would be determined until the inquest. Although he would not say so himself, it is known that Coroner Flaherty met with considerable difficulty in getting at the facts in the case because of the closemouthedness of the employes of the road. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company has a standing rule that its employes shall not give out any information concerning accidents or other matters affecting the company.

Coroner Flaherty said last night that the accident was not reported to him until nearly four hours after it had happened. By that time many of the people from whom he could have obtained information had left the scene and could not be found. Asked if he had learned anything to indicate that Motorman Cahill might have been stricken with heart disease, he said that he had heard only a rumor that Cahill had been suject to fits of some kind.

The Coroner said that this accident had made it clear to his mind that there was need of an additional man at the motor of each of the electric elevated trains. The motorman of a train at times had the lives of several hundred passengers in his hands, and their lives depended upon this one man keeping his senses and his physical ability to perform his duty. Any one of the motormen might be suddenly stricken in the motor booth and the train go rushing on to disaster with the rest of the train crew and the passengers ignorant of the danger.

Although three wrecking crews were at work all night trying to clear the line, it was not until 9 o'clock yesterday morning that the first train was sent through on the track where the wreck occurred. As a result the people of South Brooklyn and the suburbs, who had the hardest kind of a time getting home the night before, were again greatly inconvenienced in getting to work and business in Manhattan. Up to 9 o'clock most of these people were obliged to travel to Manhattan on the Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and other trolley lines reaching their sections. These cars, bound for Manhattan, were almost as crowded for a time as they had the night before coming from Manhattan. Hundreds of Brooklynites were late in getting to their offices and shops in consequence of failure to clear the elevated line.

Three of the burned cars were such complete wrecks that they were chopped to pieces, which were dropped to the street and carted away. The fourth car was only partially burned. It was taken to the shops to be rebuilt.

At the offices of the company yesterday afternoon it was said that the fire which occurred immediately after the collision seemed to have been due to short circuiting resulting from the iron wreckage coming in contact with the third rail. The officials of the road say that they have not been able so far to find any device which will not interfere with running the trains while protecting the rail, but that every effort would be made to find some means of preventing third rail accidents in future.

Warren Dayton, the guard that fell from the structure when the accident occurred, was reported yesterday at the Seney Hospital to be still in a serious condition, and the doctors fear he will not survive. Charles Hart and Philip Schlang, two of the victims of the collision, are still in the Norwegian Hospital. Hart is recovering, but Schlang is suffering from internal injuries and his condition is more serious.

Charged with criminal negligence, Martin Stevens, the motorman of the train which was run into the Bay Ridge train, was arrested yesterday. When arraigned in the Butler Street Court Stevens was promptly discharged by Magistrate Tighe, there being nothing to show that he was in any way culpable.

The New York Times, New York, NY 21 Nov 1903