IN RE INVESTIGATION OF AN ACCIDENT WHICH OCCURRED ON THE LEHIGH VALLEY
RAILROAD AT AUBURN, N. Y., ON NOVEMBER 2, 1920.
February 16, 1921.
On November 2, 1920, there was a rear-end collision between a freight train and a yard train within
the yard limits at Auburn, N. Y., which resulted in the death of 5 employees. Investigation of this
accident was conducted jointly with the Public Service Commission of New York, Second District; as a
result of this investigation the Chief of the Bureau of Safety reports as follows:
The subdivision on which this accident occurred, extending between Sayre, Pa., and North Fair
Haven, N. Y., a distance of 123 miles, is a single-track line over which trains are operated by time-table,
train orders transmitted by telegraph, and a manual block-signal system. The yard limits extend between
Pauls, 1.3 mile east of Auburn, and Throop, 3.5 miles west of Auburn. Approaching the point of accident
from the east there is a tangent about 2 miles long, a 2-degree 32-minute curve to the right 1,473 feet in
length and a 3-degree 9-minute curve to the right 187 feet in length, followed by about 1,200 feet of tangent
extending to the point of accident. The grade is descending for nearly 3 miles, being nearly 1 per cent for
more than 2 miles of this distance. It was 1 raining at the time of accident.
Yard extra 598, consisting of engine 598 and 44 cars, in charge of Conductor Campbell all
Engineman Emerson, was en route from Auburn to Throop. At about 7.35 a.m. it pulled out on the main track
from what is known 25 the new siding, and had proceeded about 1,000 feet west of the switch when it stalled.
At about 7.40 a.m., while standing at this point, its rear end was struck by extra 1139.
Westbound freight train extra 1139, consisting of engines 1139 and 1149, 42 loaded cars and a
caboose, was in charge of Conductor Wilmarth and Engineman Fitch and Tuell. It left Sayre at 3.15 a.m.
and at Freeville, N. Y., 32 miles east of Auburn, the engines were cut off for the purpose of taking water.
Extra 1139 left Freeville at 6.40 a.m., passed Ensenore, the last open telegraph office, 10.7 miles from
Auburn, at 7.28 a.m. and at 7.40 a.m., while traveling at a speed estimated at from 10 to 20 miles an hour,
collided with the rear end of extra 598.
Both engines came to rest on their left sides, the leading engine being down an embankment on the
right side of the track and the second engine on the left side of the track; both engines were badly damaged
and four ears in this train were demolished, while five care in extra 598 more or less badly damaged. The
employees killed were the two engineman and a brakeman of extra 1139.
After extra 598 stalled, Conductor Campbell started for the rear of his train and shortly
afterwards heard the engineman of extra 1139 sound one long blast on the whistle, which was soon followed by
two short blasts. Conductor Campbell saw the flagman 18 or 20 car-lengths east of the rear of the train, and
also Yardmaster Train, living stop signals. In the meantime, Flagman Danahey, knowing that extra 1139 was
approaching, opened an angle cock for the purpose of preventing a back-up movement and then signalled to
Yardmaster Train, who had closed the switch alter the yard extra had pulled out on the main track, to flag
the approaching train, at the same time starting back himself with a red flag. Flagman Danahey said he heard
a whistle sounded before the engines came in sight, and saw the yardmaster give a stop signal from the
vicinity of the switch. As soon as the engines came in sight, apparently traveling much faster than usual,
he himself began to give stop signals but he was unable to say whether or not these signals were
acknowledged. According to Yardmaster Train, he had reached a point about 1,200 feet from the rear of extra
598 when extra 1139 came in sight. He said he then began to give stop signals with his hands and that the
engineman of extra 1139 whistled for brakes and then acknowledged his stop signals. Yardmaster Train stated
that the extra was from 20 to 25 car-lengths distant when the whistle signal for brakes was sounded, and
about 10 car-lengths distant when his stop signals were acknowledged. Flagman Danahey estimated the speed of
extra 1139 to have been 20 or 25 miles an hour while Yardmaster Train thought it was about 30 miles an hour;
neither of them noticed any decrease in the speed or any indication that the brakes on the cars had been
Fireman Curkendall, of the leading engine of extra 1139, and Fireman Hollenback, of the second
engine, did not know whether or not a test of the air brakes was made when the engines coupled to the train
after taking water at Freeville, but Conductor Wilmarth said that such a test was made. The statements of
all of these employees, as well as those of Brakeman Andrews and Flagman Relfe, indicated that the brakes
were working properly in controlling the speed of the train on Groton Hill, a short distance west of
Freeville, and also on the hill approaching Auburn. The various statements of these employees indicated that
the speed of extra 1139 in the vicinity of Pauls, 1.3 mile from Auburn, was from 25 to 35 miles an hour and
that an application of the air brakes, said by Fireman Curkendall to have consisted of two 5-pound
reductions, then reduced the speed to 10 or 15 miles an hour, following which the brakes were released. When
Engineman Fitch sounded the whistle approaching Auburn Fireman Curkendall locked out and saw extra 598,
apparently about 3/4 mile distant and he said that the engineman placed the brake valve in the emergency
position. He estimated the speed of the train when passing an ice house located about 1,550 feet from the
point of accident to have been about 15 or 16 miles an hour, and about 15 miles an hour when passing
Division Street, which is 370 feet from the point of accident. Fireman Hollenback thought the engineman of
the leading engine acknowledged the stop signals of the brakeman and sounded the whistle when about opposite
the ice house and thought it was at about that time that the brakes were applied. Both fireman jumped from
their engines at a point near Division Street and neither was thrown to the ground in doing so. According
to their statements, the last time steam was used was near the top of the hill about 3 miles from the point
of accident. Fireman Hollenback had not noticed the air gauge on the second engine, while Fireman
Curkendall had noticed that the gauge on the leading engine indicated the proper pressure but did not
remember when he had last looked at it. While Fireman Curkendall said Engineman Fitch did not say anything
about having difficulty with the brakes, the fireman expressed the opinion that the accident was due to the
failure of the brakes to work properly and to the wet and greasy condition of the rail.
Fireman Hollenback did not know what effort Engineman Tuell had made to stop the train or whether
his brake valve was cut in although he said it was possible this might have been the case. On account of the
fact that the train line on the last car had been broken at Dryden, 35.4 miles from Auburn, Conductor
Wilmarth did not know what brake-pipe pressure was carried between Freeville and the point of accident.
Brakeman Andrews, who was riding in the caboose at the time of the accident, had ridden on each of the two
engines over a part of the road. He had not heard either engineman complain about difficulty in keeping up
the brake-pipe pressure and had not noticed that the brake valve on the second engine was cut in. He stated,
however, that frequently the second engine runs with the brake valve cut in and that nearly always the
engineman will cut in the brake valve to assist in pumping up the air after making a stop. Brakeman Andrews
uncoupled the engines from the train at Freeville but thought Brakeman Schultz, who was killed in the
accident, had coupled them to the train after water had been taken.
Road Foreman of Engines Dent reached the scene of the accident shortly after its occurrence and on
examination of the engines found that the cut-out cock or the second engine was about 1/3 closed, while the
pipe underneath was broken off. In his opinion it was in such a position as to prevent the engineman of the
leading engine from having control of the train brakes. It was possible that this cut-out cock, which was
about in line with the floor of the cab, might have been turned in the accident, but he thought it more
probable that it was open and had been partially closed by the apron as a result of the accident; the apron
was found against the handle of the valve. Engines of the type involved in this accident are equipped with
one 11-inch pump, and Foreman Dent said that when these pumps were installed the practice of having the
second engine assist in charging the train line had been discontinued at all times except when both engines
had been detached from the train. In his opinion had the proper reduction in speed been made at Pauls there
should have been no difficulty in recharging the train line by the time the stop signals of Yardmaster Train
became visible; according to measurements made afterwards, these signals were visible a distance of about
2,400 feet from the point of accident.
Examination by Air-Brake Instructor Burgess of the brake equipment of the undamaged portion of
extra 1139, consisting of 38 cars and a caboose, disclosed that the brakes did not apply on 5 cars while on 2
cars and the caboose the brakes were cut out; on one car the piston travel was 111/2 inches, while on another
car the piston travel was 21/2 inches. A test run was made with this portion of the train, hauled by two
engines of the same type as those involved in the accident. Starting at the top of the grade, a speed of
approximately 28 miles an hour was attained, followed by a 10-pound brake-pipe reduction; this reduced the
speed passing through Pauls to 5 or 6 miles an hour. The brakes were then released and the speed of the
train had increased to about 12 miles an hour when the stop signals of a man were seen, these signals being
given from the paint where Yardmaster Train said he was standing when he flagged extra 1139; a 10-pound
brake-pipe reduction was then made and the train was brought to a stop before reaching the point where the
man was standing.
Although the time-table restricts the speed of freight trains on this division to not more than 35
miles an hour, the evidence indicates that extra 1139 travelled the distance of approximately 10 miles
between Ensenore and the point of accident in about 12 minutes, or at an average speed of about 50 miles an
hour, including the reduced speed at Pauls and also between Pauls and the point of accident. It also
appears that extra 1139 travelled the distance of 32 miles between Freeville and the point of accident in
about 1 hour. It is obviously impossible for extra 1139 to have maintained this high average rate of speed,
including the reduced speed between Pauls and the point of accident, observe the maximum speed limit, and at
the same time comply with local time-table speed restrictions, as follows: 6 miles an hour over highway
crossings at Groton, 25 miles an hour between Groton and Locke, a distance of 6.3 miles, 20 miles an hour
over two bridges west of Locke, and 10 miles an hour between the first highway crossing east of Moravia and
the milk station west of Moravia.
Rule 93, of the rules for the government of the operating department for this railroad, reads as
“Yard engines will use the main track within yard limits without working train orders, subject to
“First class trains must not exceed scheduled speed within yard limits.
“Other trains must run prepared to stop at any point within yard limits.
“The location of yard limits is designated in the time-table.”
In addition to this rule, the operation of yard trains within the yard at this point is Governed by
a special notice from the office of the superintendent, issued in 1916, which provides that yard engines will
ascertain from the dispatcher, through the yardmaster, if any extras are approaching and be governed
accordingly; this notice also provides that extra trains will run prepared to stop within the range of
vision. The evidence in this case indicates that the crew of extra 598 had been notified by the yardmaster
of the time extra 1139 left Freeville.
This accident was caused by extra 1139 being operated at an excessive rate of speed within yard
If the statements of the various members of the crew are correct, the brakes were working properly
in controlling the speed of the train at various *** en route, including a slow down at Pauls, within about
1 mile of the point of accident. On the other hand, the statements of Yardmaster Train and Brakeman
Danahey, as well as the estimates of the speed made by the fireman of the leading engine of extra 1139,
indicate that the application of the brakes by Engineman Fitch when he was flagged did not noticeably reduce
the speed of the train, and there is also evidence to the effect that no grinding of brakes shoes against
wheels was noticed. Under these circumstances, it seems likely that something occurred between Pauls and the
point of accident which affected the efficiency of the air-brake system. The evidence indicates that the
engineman in charge of the second engine often cuts in his brake value in assisting the leading engine to
pump up brake-pipe pressure, and it is possible that Engineman Tuell may have taken such action after the
speed of the train had been reduced by the brake application in the vicinity of Pauls, forgetting to cut out
the brake valve when approaching Auburn. While the evidence clearly indicates that the speed of extra 1139
had been excessive between Freeville and the point of accident, it does not appear that the speed between
Pauls and the point of accident was such that the train could not have been brought to a stop in time to
avert the accident had the brakes worked properly.
Engineman Tuell was employed as a trainman in August, 1903, and as a fireman in December the same
year; he was promoted to engineman in 1907. Engineman Fitch was employed as a trainman in 1902, fireman in
1903, and resigned in the same year; he was reemployed as a fireman in 1907 and promoted to engineman in
At the time of the accident the crew of extra 1139 had been on duty less than 6 hours, after about
2 hours off duty, previous to which they had been on duty about 8 hours after about 13 hours off duty. The
crew of extra 598 had been on duty about 1 hour, after about 15 hours of f duty.