Bethlehem, Pa., 09/27/1926


INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION

REPORT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU OF SAFETY IN RE INVESTIGATION OF AN
ACCIDENT WHICH OCCURRED AT THE INTERSECTION OF THE TRACKS OF THE CENTRAL
RAILROAD OF NEW JERSEY AND THE LEHIGH VALLEY RAILROAD AT BETHLEHEM, PA., ON
SEPTEMBER 27, 1926.

October 25, 1926.

To the Commission:

On September 27, 1926, there was a side collision between passenger trains at the intersection of
the tracks of the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Bethlehem, Pa., which
resulted in the death of 4 passengers and 4 persons traveling on free transportation, and the injury of 38
passengers and 2 employees. The investigation of this accident was made in conjunction with representatives
of the Public Service Commission of Pennsylvania.

Location and method of operation

In the vicinity of the point of accident the tracks of the New Jersey and Lehigh Division of the
Lehigh Valley Railroad are on the south bank of the Lehigh River, their general direction being east and
west, and Bethlehem union station is located on the south side of these tracks. On the opposite bank of the
river are the tracks of the Lehigh and Susquehanna Division of the Central Railroad of New Jersey,
hereinafter referred to as the Jersey Central, and at a point known as Bethlehem Junction there is a
single-track connection which leads off to the right from the Jersey Central main tracks, thence across a
bridge over the Lehigh River and diagonally across the tracks of the Lehigh Valley Railroad to the Reading
tracks on the south side of the union station. The Lehigh Valley Railroad at this point is a four-track
line over which trains are operated by time-table, train orders and an automatic block-signal system. The
tracks are numbers from south to north, 2, 1, 4 and 3, and the accident occurred at the intersection of the
Jersey Central track with Lehigh Valley eastbound track 2. Approaching this point from the west on the
Lehigh Valley’s tracks there are 2,400 feet of tangent, a 30′ curve to the right which is 350 feet in
length, and then tangent track extending to the point of accident, 500 feet distant, and for some distance
beyond; the grade is slightly descending. Approaching the point of accident on the Jersey Central
connection there is a compound curve to the right 560 feet in length extending to the northern end of bridge
over the Lehigh River; the curvature varies from 7 degree to 12 degree. The track is then tangent across
the bridge, a distance of 440 feet, while the point of accident was 123 feet beyond the leaving end of the
bridge. The grade is slightly descending.

The interlocking signals governing movements over the crossing are electrically operated from
Bethlehem tower, located in the southwest angle of the intersection. Th interlocking signals governing
eastbound movements on Lehigh Valley track 2 are semi-automatic signals 1and 2, located on signal bridges
1,742 and 633 feet, respectively, west of the point of accident; both of these signals are of the
two-position, lower-quadrant type. Automatic signal 892, a position-light signal, in located 5,544 feet west
of the point of accident, while automatic signal 902 is located about 2 miles west of the point of accident.
When an eastbound train passes signal 902 its approach is indicated to the towerman by means of an
annunciator.

Trains of the Jersey Central en route to the Reading Railway by means of the single-track
connection on which the accident occurred first encounter signal 47, located a short distance west of JU
tower, immediately west of Bethlehem Junction. This signal governs their movement from the Jersey Central
main track to the single-track connection and thence around the curve and across the bridge over the Lehigh
River as far as Semi- automatic signal 16. Signal 16 is located on the bridge 42 feet from its southern end
and is mounted on the upper part of the framework on the engineman’s side of the track; this signal is also
of the two-position, lower-quadrant type, and is operated from Bethlehem tower. The center of the lens is
about 21 feet above the rails and is 2 feet 4 3/4 inches to the left of the inside edge of the framework.
When in the stop position the end of the semaphore blade extends outward 13 inches beyond the outside edge of
the bridge framework; this projecting end can be seen by the towerman in Bethlehem tower and also by the
engineman of an approaching Jersey Central train as it comes around the curve north of the bridge, providing
he is keeping a very careful lookout, otherwise his first view of the sina1 is not obtained until after his
engine reaches the northern end of the bridge. There is no derail connected with the operation of this
signal. The interlocking plant is so arranged that when a lever is reversed for the purpose of giving a
proceed indication all conflicting levers are looked in normal position.

When a Jersey Central train is to be turned over to the Reading Railway the towerman at JU tower
can only give it a signal authorizing its movement as far as signal 16; in the meantime the Reading
yardmaster has been notified and when he is ready to receive the train he in turn notifies the Lehigh Valley
towerman at Bethlehem tower and the latter clears signal 16; which allows the train to cross the four Lehigh
Valley tracks; there is then another signal which governs the entrance of the train to the tracks of the
Reading Railway.

It was daylight and the weather was clear at the time of the accident, which occurred at about 5.48
a.m.

Description

Eastbound Lehigh Valley passenger train No. 6 consisted of two coaches, one club car, and eight
Pullman sleeping cars, hauled by engine 2092, and was in charge of Conductor Kromer and Engineman Donlin.
It left Allen-town, its last stopping point, at 5.40 a.m., on time, received clear automatic and
interlocking signal indications as it approached Bethlehem, and was entering the station at a speed of about
15 miles per hour when it was struck by Jersey Central train No. 306.

Eastbound Jersey Central passenger train No. 306 consisted of two baggage cars, one mail car, one
coach, four Pullman sleeping cars and a combination car, in the order named, hauled by engine 825, and was
in charge of Conductor Terry and Engineman Schmidt. This train also left Allentown, over the Jersey
Central tracks, at 5.38 a.m., on time, passed JU tower, the last reporting station at 5.47 a.m., although
its time at Bethlehem Junction, just beyond JU tower, is 5.53 a.m., and collided with Lehigh Valley train
No. 6 near the union station at Bethlehem while traveling at a speed estimated to have been from 12 to 15
miles per hour.

Engine 825 struck the side of train No. 6 near the rear end of the first car, that end of the car
being derailed while the head end of the car broke away from the engine hauling the train. The second car
was overturned while the third car came to rest in an upright position opposite the head end of the second
car; none of the other equipment in this train was derailed or damaged. Engine 825 swerved to the left after
colliding with the side of the Lehigh Valley train and turned over on its left side parallel with the
Lehigh Valley tracks; neither the tender nor any of the cars in this train was derailed. All of the persons
killed were riding in the second car of the Leigh Valley train.

Summary of evidence

Towerman Reilly said that when train No. 6 reached the annunciator circuit he cleared the
interlocking signals for the purpose of allowing the train to pass through the interlocking plant and enter
the station, signal 16, governing Jersey Central trains moving over the connection, being in the stop
position, although he did not at that particular time look at the position of the semaphore blade; train No
306 was not then in sight, although he had been notified by the Reading yardmaster that it was on time and
let it come through the interlocking plant to the Reading tracks when it arrived. By the time the Lehigh
Valley train cane within his range of vision he could also see the Jersey Central train on the other aide of
the river. He did not, however, pay any particular attention to that train until he saw it coming across the
last span of the bridge. He then looked at signal 16, saw that it was in the stop position, this being when
the engine was within 10 feet of the signal, and remarked to Car Inspector Confer, who was in the tower,
that the Jersey Central train was not going to stop. He did not see the engineman until the engine had
passed the signal and had practically cleared the end of the bridge, at which time Engineman Schmidt
appeared to be looking up the track toward the approaching Lehigh Valley train; the speed of his train,
however, did not seem to decrease until the collision occurred. Towerman Reilly estimated the speed of the
Jersey Central train to have been from 12 to 15 miles per hour and that of the Lehigh Valley train to have
been 15 or 20 miles per hour. Towerman Reilly further stated that signal 16 had not been cleared for the
passage of a train over the Jersey Central connection since the passage of an earthbound paper train at
about 3.45 or 3.50 a.m. Such evidence as Car Inspector Confer was able to give practically corroborated the
statement of Towerman Reilly; the car inspector did not see the position of signal 16 but said he did notice
that the signals governing the approach of the Lehigh Valley train were in the clear position. He also said
that the towerman had not been manipulating the levers prior to the time he cleared the signals for the
passage of the Lehigh Valley train.

Engineman Donlin, of train No. 6, said he received a clear indication at signal 892, indicating
that the route through the interlocking plant was lined for his train, and that when passing the signal
location he could see the clear indications displayed by interlocking signals 1 and 2. After calling the
indications of these signals the fireman went back into the tender and Engineman Donlin said he did not know
anything about the approach of the Jersey Central train on the fireman’s side of the track until the
accident occurred, at which time the speed of his train was about 15 miles per hour. Fireman Markan said
there was a lump of coal in the stoker and that this caused him to go back into the tender when the engine
was about 300 feet west of signal 2, which was displaying a clear indication at that time. On returning to
the engine he went to the left side and saw the engine of the Jersey Central train just leaving the bridge,
at which time his own engine was about on the crossing. At first it did not seen possible to him that there
was going to be a collision but he continued to watch the Jersey Central engine and saw it collide with the
side of his train. He did not observe the Jersey Central engineman prior to the accident.

Engineman Schmidt, of train No. 306, said he received the proper signal indication at JU tower
indicating that the route was lined for the movement of his train to the single-track connection, and that he
reduced the speed of his train to about 15 or 18 miles per hour/as to round the curve prepared to signal 16
at signal 16 if necessary. As his train approached the northern end of the bridge, with the brakes applied
1ight1y, he looked for the end of the semaphore blade which is visible when the signal is in the stop
position, but did not see it, thus being led to believe that the signal was in the clear position. As soon
as the engine entered on the bridge he saw the signal itself, displaying a green or proceed indication, and
after proceeding a short distance further and coning into full view of the semaphore blade be saw that it was
down, then glanced around at the water glass, noticed the fireman with his back turned apparently engaged in
gathering together his personal belongings preparatory to leaving the engine at the station, and then looked
ahead again. He said signal 16 was still in the proceed position, at which time his engine was within 30
feet of the signal, and he then looked across the Lehigh Valley tracks to the signal governing the approach
of his train to the Reading tracks; that signal was also displaying an indication authorizing his train to
proceed into the station. By this time his engine had reached signal 16 and he again looked at the signal
and saw that it was in stop position, apparently due to the fact that his engine was on the track circuit.
He then heard the noise of an approaching train, looked westward, and saw Lehigh Valley train No. 6 passing
under the signal bridge located 633 feet front the point of accident, moving at a speed he estimated to have
been at least 40 miles an hour. At first he thought it was Lehigh Valley train No. 4 going into the station
on, one of the Reading tracks paralleling his own track, but on again looking at it he realized that it was
entering the station on the Lehigh Valley tracks and he said that at the speed the Lehigh Valley train was
running he felt he had a better chance to stop his own train, which was moving at a speed of 8 or 10 miles
per hour. He at once applied the air brakes in emergency, at which time his engine was starting across the
first of the Lehigh Valley tracks; this application of the brakes brought his train practically to a stop
with the engine just touching the side of the Lehigh Valley train as it crossed in front of him. There was
then a sure from the rear of his train which pushed his engine ahead into the side of the Lehigh Valley
train, causing the derailment of the càrs in that train and the subsequent derailment of his engine.
Engineman Schmidt further stated that the fireman did not call the indication of signal 16 and was positive
that he himself did not misread its indication.

Jersey Central time-table No. 56 took effect at 12.01 a.m. September 26, the day before the
accident. Under the time-table previously in effect train No. 306 was scheduled to leave Bethlehem Junction
at 5.48 a.m., while under the new time-table its time was 5.53 a.m., only one time being shown. Engineman
Schmidt said his train passed Bethlehem Junction on the morning of the accident at 5.48 a.m., and he
considered that he had a right to the track between Bethlehem Junction and sina1 16 at that time When asked
the direct question as to whether he thought he had a right to leave Bethlehem Junction before 5.53 a.m. he
answered, “1 believe that my time will permit me to come into the P&R station at that time, going through
yard .limits”. After further questioning, however, accompanied by a discussion of the rules, he admitted
that clear signal indications did not supersede the time-table schedule and that his train should not have
left Bethlehem Junction prior to 5.53 a.m. He stated, however, that he had not confused the time shown in
the old, time-table with the time shown in the time-table in effect on the date of the accident.

Fireman Engler, of train No. 306, said the speed of his train was about 20 miles per hour when
passing through the crossover to the single-track connection, that the speed was reduced at the bridge over
the Lehigh River, and that the train was traveling at about 15 miles per hour when Engineman Schmidt ap1ied
the air brakes in emergency, about the time the engine passed signal 16. Fireman Eng1er had finished
cleaning up the deck of the engine preparatory to turning it over to the Reading crew for the continuation
of the run to Philade1hia and was putting on some clothing at the time the emergency application was made;
he did not see the indication of the signal nor did he observe the approach of the Lehigh Valley train. It
further appeared from his statements that Engineman Schmidt would always call the indication of a signal
when it was displaying a stop indication and would never call its indication when it was displaying a proceed
indication, and in this particular case the engineman did not say anything about the indication of signal 16
thus causing him to think that it must have been in the clear position. Immediately after the accident the
first thing the engineman said to him was that the signal had been disp1aying a proceed indication and that
the towerman changed its position just as the engine reached it.

Conductor Terry, of train No. 306, said he had walked ahead through the first Pullman sleeping car
and opened the trap doors of the coach, this being at the time the train reached the northern end of the
bridge, moving at a speed of about 12 miles per hour. The brakes were again applied, still further reducing
the speed, and suddenly they were applied in emergency, bringing the train to a stop. Previous to reaching
the bridge he had noticed the Lehigh Valley train but had not paid any particular attention to it, and when
crossing the bridge he again noticed the Lehigh Valley train but supposed it was Lehigh Valley train No. 4
entering the station on the Reading tracks, paralleling his own train. After the accident he helped the
engineman and fireman and while so engaged the engineman told him that signal 16 had been in the clear
position. Conductor Terry further stated that since only one time was shown for his train at Bethlehem
Junction, 5.53 a.m., that it was the leaving time at that point whereas the accident actually occurred at
5.48 a.m. He also stated, however, that since his train was shown as leaving the preceding station, VN
tower, at 5.44 a.m., then under the rules it was due at Bethlehem Junction, the next station where time was
shown, at any time after 5.44 a.m. and he considered that his train was within its rights in leaving
Bethlehem Junction at about 5.47 a.m. for the reason that the Jersey Central time-table was not in effect
on the single-track connection on which the accident occurred. The statements of Baggagemaster Smith,
Assistant Baggagemaster Glancey and Brakeman Weaver, all of Jersey Central train No. 306, brought out no
additional facts of importance.

Lehigh Valley train No. 4 had arrived at Bethlehem prior to the time of the accident and
Conductor Welch, Baggagemaster Main, Brakeman Folleran and Flagman Kane, all of the crew of train No. 4,
stated that they saw the signals displaying clear indications for the approach of train No. 6 but that they
could not see the indication displayed for Jersey Central train No. 306. Assistant Baggage Agent Osmun
said it was the custom before going into the waiting room to announce the arrival of a train to look at the
signals governing the train’ s approach and that he had followed the usual custom in this instance, noting
that clear indications were displayed for the movement of train t No.6; he did not see the indication of
signal 16. Janitor Cunningham said that when making his rounds inside of the general office building of the
Lehigh Valley ai1rod at Bethlehem he passed through one of the offices and noticed that the signals were
clear for train N. 6 while at about the same time he heard the Jersey Central train whistling for the sig
nal at Bethlehem Junction on the opposite side of the river. On passing into another of the offices he saw
that signal 16 was in the stop position, saying that he could see the black semaphore atm in the horizontal
position; this arm is painted yellow on the side toward the approaching engineman and black on the reverse
side

Road Foreman of Engines Mason, of the Jersey Central, said he qualified Engineman Schmidt for
passenger service, that he had ridden with him on many occasions, and that he considered him to be a
first-class engineman. When questioned regarding the schedule of train No. 306,under the present time-table
he said that that train should not depart from Bethlehem Junction before 5.53 a.m., which statement was
concurred in by Jersey Central Superintendent Reamer.

Assistant Superintendent Sweeney, of the Jersey Central, said with reference to the time of train
No. 306 at Bethlehem Junction that so far as the Jersey Central is concerned this train lost all
time-table authority after reaching Bethlehem Junction and being diverted to the single-track connection
leading to the Reading Railway, and that its operation beyond Bethlehem Junction was only as a yard
movement.

Conclusions

This accident was caused by the failure of Engineman Schmidt, of Jersey Central train No. 306,
properly to observe and to obey signal indications.

Engineman Schmidt said signal 16 was displaying a clear indication as his train approached the
bridge and that it was still displaying a clear indication when his engine was within 30 feet of it, not
going to the stop position until the engine passed the signal, thus causing it to assume the stop position.
His statements, however, were not supported by those of any other witnesses; Towerman Rei11y, as well as
the janitor in the office building, saw signal 16 displaying a stop indication, while there were 10 witnesses
who saw clear indications displayed for the movement of Lehigh Valley train No. 6. Tests showed that the
interlocking plant was so arranged that clear signal indications could not possibly have been displayed for
both trains at the same time, and in view of this fact it seems apparent that signal 16 was displaying a stop
indication when train No. 306 approached and that for some reason this indication was not properly observed
and obeyed by Engineman Schmidt.

A change in the time of train No. 306 at Bethlehem Junction had been made in the time-table which
took effect on the day prior to the accident, and under the new schedule it should not have left that point
until 5.53 a.m., instead of 5.48 a.m., as had previously been the case. While the failure of the crew of
train No. 306 to hold their train at Bethlehem Junction until 5.53 a.m. did not cause the accident, the
fact remains that had the time-table schedule been observed the accident would not have occurred.

There was no derail installed in connection with the operation of signal 16, and the investigation
developed that originally there had been a derail at this point but that on account of the existing physical
conditions it was considered to be a menace rather than a safeguard and for that reason was removed on
October 30, 1922. It is not believed that a recommendation for the restoration of this derail is in any way
warranted. On the other hand although signal 16 is not well located, from the standpoint of visibility, yet
if it were located at or west of the entrance to the bridge it is probable that the rear end of a train
stopped at the signal would foul the Jersey Central main tracks, resu1ting in delay to traffic in the event
the train were held at that point for any great length of time. It does not appear, however, that the
arrangement as now in effect is one which provides the greatest degree of safety consistent with the
operating difficulties presented, and it is recommended that all movements over this single-track connection
be required to come to a full stop before passing over the Lehigh Valley tracks. If it is not desired to
stop at this particular point, then the present sina1 layout should be so rearranged as to insure that a
signal could not be given to authorize a movement from the Jersey Central main tracks to the Reading
tracks, or vice versa, until the entire route from one end of the connection to the other end had been lined
for the movement in question, with the signals governing conf1icting routes displaying the proper
indications. The general idea of these recommendation was discussed with representative of the Public
Service Commission of Pennsylvania and. met with their approval.

Engineman Schmidt vas first employed as a brakeman in 1902, began firing in 1903 and was promoted
to engineman in 1907; in June 1925, he was qualified for passenger service and had run over the territory in
which the accident occurred since September, 1925. All the other employees were also experienced men and
none of them had been on duty in violation of any of the provisions of the hours of service law.

Respectfully submitted,

W. P. BORLAND,

Director.

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