INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION
REPORT OF THE DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU OF SAFETY IN RE INVESTIGATION OF AN
ACCIDENT WHICH OCCURRED ON THE LEHIGH VALLEY RAILROAD NEAR MOUNT CARMEL,
PA., ON JUNE 2, 1928.
July 25, 1928
To the Commission:
On June 2, 1928, there was a derailment of a passenger train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad near
Mount Carmel, Pa., resulting in the death of two employees, and the injury of five passengers, six
employees, three of whom were off duty, and one Pullman porter. This accident was investigated in
conjunction with a representative of the Pennsylvania Public Service Commission.
Location and method of operation
This accident occurred on that part of the Mahanoy and Hazelton Division extending between Penn
Haven Junction and Mount Carmel, Pa., a distance of 51.8 miles; in the vicinity of the point of accident
this is a double-track line over which trains are operated by time-table and train orders, no block-signal
system being in use. The accident occurred within yard limits, at a point about 145 feet west of the east
yard-limit board at Mount Carmel, on the westbound main track, on what is known as Morris Ridge curve;
approaching this point from the east the track is tangent for a distance of 622 feet, followed by a 13 degree
curve to the right 1,645 feet in length, the accident occurring on this curve at a point 496 feet west of its
eastern end, or 105 feet west of the easement curve. The grade for more than 1 mile approaching the point of
accident is descending for westbound trains, varying from 1.375 to 2.313 per cent, being at the minimum at
the point of accident.
The track is laid with 110-pound rails, 33 feet in length, rolled in September, 1913, and relaid at
this point in February, 1927, with 20 treated ties to the rail-length, fully tie-plated, double-spiked on
the inside and single-spiked on the outside, and ballasted with cinders from 18 to 24 inches in depth. The
track is well constructed and is maintained in good condition. The super-elevation and gauge were
practically uniform; the gauge from the eastern end of the curve to the point of accident varied from 4 feet
8 9/16 inches to 4 feet 8 14/16 inches, while the maximum superelevation was 3 inches. At the point of
accident the gauge was 4 feet 8 14/16 inches and, the superelevation was 2 11/16 inches. At the extreme
eastern end of the curve there is a “Speed on Curve” sign, restricting the speed of westbound trains to 10
miles per hour while rounding the curve.
‘The weather was clear at the time of the accident, which occurred at about 10.40 p.m.
Westbound passenger train No. 209 consisted of one baggage car, one smoking car, one coach and one
Pullman chair car, in the order named, all of steel construction, hauled by engine 1613, and was in charge
of Conductor Houser and Engineman Conahan. This train left Park Place, the last open office, 17.3 miles
east of Centralia, at 10 p.m., according to the train sheet, five minutes late, made a stop at Centralia,
and on reaching a point approximately 2.18 miles beyond that point the train was derailed while traveling at
a speed estimated by members of the crew to have been from 15 to 20 miles per hour.
The engine, tender and the first car were derailed to the left and came to rest down the 30-foot
embankment on the outside of the curve. The engine was on its left side, badly damaged and headed toward the
tracks, at a point 212 feet beyond the first marks of derailment, with the tender immediately behind the
engine. The first car was torn from its trucks but remained upright and came to rest against the engine and
tender, headed away from the tracks, with its rear end projecting above the roadbed. The forward trucks of
the second and third cars were also derailed but these cars remained upright on the roadbed and were not
badly damaged. The employees killed were the engineman and fireman.
Summary of evidence
Conductor Houser stated that the last stop was made at Centralia and at this point he looked at
his watch, having in mind the connection at Mount Carmel, and noted that it was 10.35 p.m., after which he
took out his time-table and noted that his train was four minutes late. As his train was approaching Morris
Ridge curve the conductor was riding on the forward end of the rear car, and as soon as the train had come
to rest after being derailed he looked at his watch and noted that it was 10.40 p.m. Conductor Houser raid
that the air brakes worked properly en route and he noticed nothing unusual as to the handling of the train,
the stops being made in the regular way.
On previous trips it was his observation that the speed of the train would be reduced at points
between Centralia and the point of accident, but he did not notice whether the brakes were applied between
these points on this particular trip, nor did he notice any air-brake application made preparatory to
rounding Morris Ridge curve on this trip, and while, he was not paying any particular attention to the speed
of his train he thought it was from 18 to 20 miles per hour. After the accident he made an examination of
the track and roadbed, but did not find anything to indicate how the accident occurred. Conductor Houser
further stated that prior to starting on the first trip this day, at 4.30 p.m., he had asked Engineman
Conahan how he was feeling, knowing he had been off duty several days on account of sickness, and the
engineman replied that his head did not feel right.
Brakeman Wise stated that be was thoroughly familiar with the territory involved and knew where the
air brakes were usually applied, that on approaching these points it was customary for him to put one foot
forward in order to brace himself, and that he did so on this occasion when approaching Morris Ridge curve.
He was riding in the second car and felt an air brake application made; the brakes then were released, after
which a second application was made, the accident occurring in about one-half to one minute from the time the
second application was made. Brakeman Wise noticed no indication of excessive speed, like rough riding or
rolling of the bars, and could not make any estimate as to the speed at the time of the accident.
Baggagemaster Dougherty, who was riding in the second car between Centralia and the point of
accident, observed nothing unusual in connection with the speed of the train nor did he notice whether any
air-brake application was made, as he was not paying particular attention to the matter, but he did not think
the speed was in excess of 20 miles per hour at the time of the accident, at which time he said it felt as
though the air brakes applied in emergency. All three of these members of the crew thought the train would
gather sufficient momentum on the heavy descending grade to cause it to be derailed on the curve provided the
air brakes were not used.
Division Engineer Donovan stated that in his opinion train No. 209 could have rounded Morris
Ridge curve in safety at a speed of 20 miles per hour.
The first indication of derailment was found on a tie outside of the high rail of the curve; at
this point the end of the tie was splintered, not the result of a wheel mark, but apparently caused by some
heavy object having been dragged across it, and immediately west of this mark what looked like a trench had
been dug in the ballast between the westbound and eastbound tracks, about 3 feet in depth and 30 feet in
length. The eastbound track was torn out and pushed to the south, down the embankment, while the westbound
track was slightly distorted. No distinct mark of derailment was found on the tops of the rails or on the
ties at the point of derailment or east thereof which would have indicated the presence of dragging equipment
nor was any wheel mark found on the rails or ties to indicate that a wheel or wheels had dropped off the
rails. One of the two air pumps on the left side of the boiler of the engine was found buried in the ballast
about midway between the point where the first mark of derailment appeared on the outside of the high rail
and the point where the engine came to rest.
Engine 1613 is of the double-cab, 4-6-0 type, with a driving wheel-base of 13 feet 4 inches and a
total wheel-base of 25 feet 4 inches. A thorough inspection was made of the engine and cars following the
accident, but nothing was found that would have contributed to the occurrence of the accident.
This accident is believed to have been caused by the operation of train No. 209 at an excessive
rate of speed on a sharp curve, for which Engineman Conahan is responsible.
While the surviving members of the crew estimated the speed of the train not to have been in excess
of 20 miles per hour, the weight of evidence is to the contrary. It appears that the rate of speed at which
the engine rounded the curve was so great that it overturned to the left by centrifugal force. The absence
of marks on the rails, the condition of the wreckage, the distance the engine traveled and the manner in
which the equipment came to rest indicate conclusively that the maximum rate of speed permitted on this
curve, 10 miles per hour, was being greatly exceeded, while there was no evidence to show that the condition
of the track or equipment was in any degree responsible for the accident.
According to the statements of Conductor Houser it was 10.35 p.m. when he looked at his watch at
Centralia, after which he took out his schedule and observed that his train was four minutes late, gave a
proceed signal, and the train departed. , He further stated that on looking at his watch following the
accident, after the equipment had settled, it was a little after 10.40 p.m. Taking these figures, and not
taking into consideration getting up speed on departing from Centralia or the time it took for the conductor
to gather himself together following the accident before looking at his watch, the train traveled the
distance between Centralia and the point of accident, 2.18 miles, in five minutes, or at an average rate of
speed of approximately 26 miles per hour, although within this distance there was one slow order in effect,
as well as two curves, on which a 15-mile speed limit is in effect, prior to reaching the curve on which the
Engineman Conahan entered the service of this railroad as a fireman in November, 1905, and was
promoted to engineman in October, 1912; his record was good. At the time of the accident none of the
employees involved had been on duty in violation of any of the provisions of the hours of service law.
W. P. Borland,