Phillipsburg, N.J., 01/09/1937

INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON
REPORT OF THE DIRECTOR BUREAU OF SAFETY

ACCIDENT ON THE LEHIGH VALLEY RAILROAD

PHILLIPSBURG, N. J.

JANUARY 9, 1937

INVESTIGATION NO. 2135

SUMMARY

Railroad:      Lehigh Valley

Date:      January 9, 1937

Location:      Phillipsburg, N. J.

Kind of accident:      Rear-end collision

Trains involved:      Freight      : Freight

Train numbers:      Extra JA-1      : Extra JS-3

Engine numbers:      464      : 282

Consist:      40 cars, caboose      : 70 cars, caboose

Speed:      Standing      : 8-12 m.p.h.

Track:      Tangent, then 4 degree right curve 300 feet to point of accident

Weather:      Dense fog

Time:      7:23 a.m.

Casualties:      1 killed; 1 injured

Cause:      Failure of first train to be properly protected by flag; failure of
following train to be operated in accordance with automatic signal indications

March 11, 1937
To the Commission:

On January 9, 1937, there was a rear-end collision between two freight trains on the Lehigh Valley
Railroad at Phillipsburg, N.J., which resulted in the death of 1 employee and the injury of 1
employee. This accident was investigated in conjunction with the New Jersey Board of Public
Utilities Commissioners.

Location and method of operation

This accident occurred on the Lehigh Division, extending between New York, N.Y., and Penn Haven
Junction, Pa., a distance of 130.8 miles; in the vicinity of the point of accident this is a
double-track line over which trains are operated by timetable, train orders, an automatic
block-signal system and an automatic train-stop system of the intermittent inductive type. The
accident occurred within yard limits on track 1, the west-bound main track, at a point 125 feet west
of signal 751, on a 30-foot fill near Mercer and McKeen Streets; approaching this point from the
east there is a 40 curve to the left 1,630 feet in length, then 750 feet of tangent, followed by a 40
curve to the right 1,080 feet in length, the accident occurring on this latter curve at a point 300
feet from its eastern end. The grade for west-bound trains is descending for several miles, being
0.45 percent at the point of accident.

Stockton Street is located three city blocks, or about 2,000 feet, west of signal 751; just west of
Stockton Street and south of the tracks there is a telephone box; Phillips-burg tower is located
about 2,200 feet west of Stockton-Street. The tracks run through a rock cut around the 40 left
curve east of the point of accident. This cut is locally known as Black Dan’s cut, and it is about
600 feet in length; its western end is located about 1,600 feet east of the point of accident; and at
this end of the cut there is a facing-point spur track switch leading off track 1 to the northwest to
a foundry.

The signals involved in the accident are automatic signals 741 and 751, located 4,472 feet and 125
feet, respectively, east of tie point of accident. Signal 741 is a position-light signal displaying
a distant indication for automatic signal 751 and Phillipsburg interlocking signals 1 and 38. Signal
751 is of the upper-quadrant, semaphore type; it is the approach signal for interlocking signals 1
and 38. Phillipsburg tower is equipped with annunciators and the control circuit actuating the
annunciator or west-bound movements on track 1 beings at signal 721, located about 4 miles east of
Phillips-burg tower. The integrity of the automatic train-stop and the signal apparatus is not
involved in the cause of this accident.

Diagram

Inv. No. 2135 Lehigh Valley R.R. Phillipsburg, N.J. Jan. 9, 1937

Phillipsburg is within yard limits, and rule 93, relating to movement of trains within yard limits,
dispenses with flagging requirements under certain conditions. On the contrary, however, employees
are instructed to disregard this provision of rule 93 and to afford protection within yard limits in
accordance with the requirements of rule 99, the flagging rule.

There was a dense fog at the time of the accident, which occurred about 7:23 a.m.

Description

Extra JA-1, a west-bound freight train, consisted of 40 cars and a caboose, hauled by engine 464,
and was in charge of Engineman Grube end Conductor Angst. At the time of the accident, however,
Fireman Vaughn, a qualified engineman, was operating the engine. This train left Bellewood, the
last open office and 11.5 miles east of Phillipsburg, at 6:21 a.m., according to the train sheet,
passed signals 741 and 751, both of which were displaying caution indications, following which a stop
was made, at about 6:55 a.m., with the engine east of Stockton Street and the rear end of the
caboose 125 feet west of signal 751. Engineman Grube went to the telephone to notify the towerman at
Phillipsburg of the arrival of his train; he communicated with the towerman about 7:18 a.m. and was
told to proceed. The engineman then crossed the tracks and signaled his train ahead, and the fireman
sounded the engine whistle to recall the flagman, but only two blasts had been sounded when the
caboose was struck by Extra JS-3.

Extra JS-3, a west-bound freight train, consisted of 70 cars and, a caboose, hauled by engine 282,
and was in charge of Conductor German and Engineman Reppert. This train passed Bellewood at 7
a.m., according to the train sheet, passed signal 741, which was displaying a caution Indication,
and the engineman operated the forestalling device and prevented an automatic brake application;
however, instead of approaching the next signal prepared to stop, in the dense fog, the engine passed
signal 751 in the stop position and collided with Extra JA-1 while traveling at a speed estimated
to have been between 8 and 12 miles per hour.

The caboose of Extra JA-l stopped down the embankment a the foot of the slope and was destroyed by
fire, and four cars in that train were damaged. Engine 282 headed down the embankment and stopped on
its right side, badly damaged; the first car and the forward truck of the second car in Extra JS-3
were derailed. Tracks 1 and 2 were blocked by the wreckage. The employee killed was the head
brakeman of Extra JS-3, and the employee injured was the flagman of that train.

Summary of evidence

Engineman Grube, of Extra JA-l, stated that when his engine stopped at Stockton Street he went to
the telephone and called the towerman. The first he knew of anything wrong was on starting toward
his engine; he gave a proceed signal to the fireman, who was operating the engine, but while the
train was still standing and the flagman was being recalled, the engineman heard the explosion of two
torpedoes, this sound being followed in a few seconds by the accident. He said that when a stop is
made at this location under conditions similar to those in this instance, instructions require the
engineman to whistle out a flag, and also require the flagman to go back immediately whether or not
he is whistled out; the engineman could not definitely recall whether the fireman whistled out a flag
when the stop was made at Stockton Street. Fireman Vaughn gave testimony similar to that of
Engineman Grube; the stop was made east of Stockton Street, as is customary in foggy weather, so as
to avoid blocking street crossings. As it is not possible to see the position of the home signal at
Phillipsburg interlocking plant under such conditions, telephone inquiry is made of the towerman as
to the position of the signal. Firemen Vaughn estimated that vision was restricted, by fog to about
300 feet; he did not recall whether he whistled out a flag. The train brakes were released and the
independent brake only was applied when the collision occurred.

Conductor Angst, Head Brakeman Hager and Flagman McDonnell, of Extra JA-l, were in the caboose,
the head brakeman having boarded the caboose at Bloomsburg, 7.9 miles east of Phillipsburg.
Conductor Angst said that Flagman McDonnell was his regular trainman but had been acting in the
capacity of flagman for a few trips while the regular flagman was off. Speed was reduced to about 5
or 6 miles per hour through the rock cut, in order to bring the train under control approaching
signal 751, end if it was displaying a caution indication it was customary to stop at Stockton
Street and telephone the towerman, asking for the home signal at Phillips-burg interlocking plant.
He said he had never dropped off lighted fusees when the train was in motion, regardless of weather
conditions. The conductor at first said that as soon as the train stopped he got off the caboose and
started ahead on the left side of the train. He did not know why he did this other than to see if
his train had the home signal, and said that the head brakemen preceded him on the same side of the
train. Then he got off the caboose he saw Flagman McDonnell walking toward the east with lighted
red and white lanterns; as vision was restricted by the dense fog to about three or four car lengths,
the flagman disappeared from view at that distance. As the flagman had been in the service a number
of years, the conductor felt assured that he would go back a sufficient distance to provide full
protection end for this reason he did not tell him how far back he should go. Later, however, the
conductor said that he did not get out of the caboose at once, but remained there until several
minutes before the accident occurred, and that when he did start ahead he did not know whether the
flagman was back, nor did he look to see, although he felt positive that he had gone back. After
reaching a point about five or six car lengths from the caboose, he heard a train approaching from
the rear and he thought it was a pusher engine; he started walking very slowly toward the rear end,
on track 2, the east-bound main track, and had walked about one car length when the collision
occurred. Conductor Angst said that his train stopped about 6:55 or 7 a.m., and that the accident
occurred about 7:10 or 7:12 a.m. After the accident occurred he did not immediately go back to the
rear of his train, but stopped west of the fourth car ahead of the caboose, which car was fouling
track 2; the first person he saw after the crash was the head brakeman, who came back to that point.
He did not see his flagman at this time and he then went ahead to the telephone at Stockton Street;
he did not hear any one call to him before he started ahead to telephone. The head brakeman went to
Stockton Street ahead of him and obtained a red lantern to protect the east-bound track, ant the
conductor telephoned the dispatcher and reported the accident. After taking the undamaged portion of
his train to Easton, 05 mile west of Phillipsburg, he returned to the scene of the accident with his
engine; he could not find his flagman then, but several minutes later the flagman came to him, and
several hours after the accident the flagman told him that he was back to the foundry switch in the
rock cut, and that he had torpedoes down, but the conductor did not ask him where the torpedoes were
placed or whether he had lighted a fusee, the flagman saying that he flagged the engine when it went
by him. Conductor Angst said that ho heard two torpedoes explode within less than one minute prior
to the accident, and that he did not see the reflection from the headlight of the following engine
until it had nearly reached the caboose. He did not hear the approaching engineman answer any
flagging signals.

Head Brakeman Hager said that when his train stopped he saw the flagman start through the rear door
of the caboose with full flagging equipment but he did not follow his movements further. At first
the head brakeman said that when his train stopped he got off the front end of the caboose and
started ahead of the conductor, on the right side, and reached a point within six car lengths of the
engine when the collision occurred, but later he said that he remained on the caboose for some time
after it stopped and then started ahead at 7:05 a.m. On hearing the crash he waited about two or
three minutes and then crossed over to the opposite side of the train at the sixth car from the
engine and walked beck along track 2 for about three car lengths, where he met his conductor, and the
conductor told him to protect track 2 as their caboose had been struck. The held brakeman said that
he did not go back at any time to see what happened at the rear end; he estimated that vision was
restricted in the dense fog to about one car length.

Flagman McDonnell stated that he is a qualified flagman, but not a qualified conductor. He had been
acting as flagman for about two weeks on this run, and was a regular member of the crew. It is
customary to receive a caution indication at signal 751, which indicates that the home signal at the
interlocking tower is not clear; the speed of his train was about 6 or 7 miles per hour through the
rock cut. He did not think that his train was going to stop at Phillipsburg, and while he should
have dropped off a lighted fusee in the cut it did not occur to him to do so, although he was out on
the back platform and knew the instructions required that lighted fusees be dropped off at regular
intervals when his train was liable to be overtaken by a following train. Vision was restricted from
40 to 200 feet in the fog. He knew there were cars to be set out at Easton, but none at
Phillips-burg. When the caboose stopped just west of signal 751 at 6:55 a.m. he said that he was the
first one to get off and had red and white lanterns, torpedoes and fusees, and he immediately started
back to protect, as fast as he could walk; he did not see the conductor or head brakeman get off. On
reaching a point east of South Main Street he placed one torpedo on the rail and about three or
four car lengths farther east he placed another torpedo opposite the points of the foundry track
switch. He lighted a fusee as he reached the switch and heard, the rumble of an approaching train,
and about two minutes afterwards he saw the reflection of its headlight; he was stop signals, with
his red and white lanterns and the lighted fusee, on the engineman’s side, but received no answer to
these signals and the train passed him drifting at a speed of about 35 or 40 miles per hour and with
no brakes applied; the torpedoes were then exploded and about 45 seconds later the collision
occurred., at about 7:10 a.m. The air brakes were applied shortly before the train stopped. His
fusee was about half burned when the train passed him; it burned out completely as he walked toward
his caboose. He did not see anyone at that point except the student fireman of Train JS-3 with whom
he talked, this being about 10 minutes after the accident; he then continued ahead and flagged the
east-bound track until his conductor came along, about 35 or 40 minutes later. Flagman McDonnell
also said that he heard his own engine whistle sounded to recall him and about the time two blasts
were completed the accident occurred; he said that he was not back a sufficient distance to afford
proper protection. He was last examined on book of rules August 7, 1936, and at that time the
necessity for strict observance of rule 99 was stressed. Flagman McDonnell stated that his train
was moving slowly enough for him to have gotten off in the cut, but he did not think it safe to do so
in the fog on account of the height of the caboose steps from the ground and the poor footing
afforded by the stone ballast.

Engineman Reppert, of Extra JS-3, stated that the air brakes and automatic train-stop apparatus
were tested and worked properly. The automatic train-stop was cut in and sealed. Approaching signal
741 the speed was about 55 to 60 miles per hour; this signal was displaying a caution indication and
the head brakeman called it. Engineman Reppert forestalled an automatic brake application with the
acknowledging lever and the audible signal of the automatic train-stop device sounded. After making
a 16-pound brake pipe reduction the speed was reduced to about 20 miles per hour; the engineman
released the brakes just west of signal 741, and passing through the cut the speed was about 15 miles
per hour and he placed the reverse lever in center, closed the drifting valve and used the
independent engine brake. He had his head out of the side cab window, maintaining a lookout ahead.
The first he knew of anything wrong was on being flagged with a red lantern from the left side of the
track when about one or two car lengths east of signal 751. The speed was about 8 or 10 miles per
hour and he immediately applied the air brakes in emergency, shouted a warning of danger, saw signal
751 displaying a Stop indication, then the caboose markers and some colored lights in the caboose
about 100 feet away; he also saw a man in the caboose doorway apparently trying to light something,
and the man jumped off the left side of the caboose just before the collision occurred. Engineman
Reppert did not see a lighted fusee or hear any torpedoes exploded prior to the accident, but he did
hear an explosion similar to a torpedo at the time the collision occurred. He also heard someone
calling for the conductor shortly after the accident and asking whether he had gotten out all right,
and he thought this was one of the firemen. Engineman Reppert said that his headlight was burning
brightly, but he misjudged his exact location in the fog and thought he would be able to see signal
751 sooner than be did; he was expecting to find that signal displaying a stop indication and was
watching closely for it and thought he would be able to stop before reaching it.

Statements of Instructor Fireman Parsons and Student Fireman Gesford of Extra JS-3, were similar
to those of Engineman Reppert; within less than two minutes after the accident. Flagman McDonnell
came to them on the left side of their train and said that Extra JA-l had bean stopped there about
& minutes, immediately following which the flagman went west on track 2 with red and white lanterns.
At no time between the cut and the point of accident did they see a burning fusee or hear torpedoes
exploded. Conductor German and Flagman Beck were in the caboose and were not aware of anything
wrong until thc accident occurred; the conductor immediately looked at his watch and it was 7:25 a.m.

Road Foreman of Engines Richard arrived at the scene of the accident shortly after 8 a.m. He
looked for indications of exploded torpedoes east of the point of accident and found where two had
exploded, both on the south or high rail of track 1; the first one was at a point 8 feet west of
signal 751, at the insulated rail joint, and the other was 80 feet west of the first torpedo, the
accident occurring 125 feet west of signal 751. The remains of these torpedoes being blue and dry
and free from rust, indicated that they had been recently exploded. He then walked back as far as
the east end of the cut, but could not find the remains of any burned out fusee.

Assistant to General Manager Hartenstein stated that he is a member of the rules examining
committee which conducts examination classes on the current book of rules for employees in the
operating department. He said that rule 93 the yard limit rule, is not adequate in its present form
in that its provisions do not satisfactorily cover flagging within yard limits and it is proposed to
have this rule rewritten so as to require the same protection within yard limits as that required at
any other point. At each instruction class conducted during the last two examinations, covering a
period of four years, the employees were instructed that they must furnish the same protection within
yard limits as is required at any other point on the railroad, regardless of the present provisions
of rule 93. Instructions were given in each class during two separate examinations, to protect in
yard limits as required by rule 99, and to drop off fusees while moving at slow speed during
inclement weather.

Tests made of the automatic train-stop and signal apparatus involved after the accident disclosed it
to be in proper working order.

Discussion

Under the rules, block signals govern the use of the blocks, but, unless otherwise provided, do not
supersede the superiority of trains nor dispense with the use or the observance of other signals
whenever and wherever they may be required. Trainmen acting as flagmen must protect the rear of
their trains in strict accordance with the rules, and must allow nothing to interfere with the prompt
and efficient discharge of this duty. Conductors must invariably require their flagman to act with
the utmost promptness and in strict accordance with the rules. In this instance Extra JA-l stopped
at Phillipsburg about 6:55 a.m., and the accident did not occur until about 7:23 a.m., or 28 minutes
after the train stopped. Flagman McDonnell said that he placed two torpedoes on the rail east of
South Main Street and flagged the following extra with a burning fusee from a point opposite the
switch leading to the foundry track, this switch being located about 1,600 feet east of the point of
accident. There was stronger evidence, however; to indicate that the two torpedoes were placed on
the south rail at points only 37 feet and 117 feet, respectively, behind the caboose, or between the
caboose and signal 751, and that the flagman stationed himself at a point about one or two car
lengths east of signal 751 and flagged from the left side of the track, with red and white lanterns
only. There was ample time at the disposal of the flagman to have afforded proper protection and he
should have gone back a sufficient distance to insure full protection. The conductor should also
have required the flagman to afford full protection, and should have instructed, him accordingly,
regardless of the flagman’s length of service.

Engineman Reppert, of Extra JS-3, was familiar with conditions in this locality; the automatic
train-stop apparatus and the air brakes were working properly and the headlight was burning brightly.
The evidence indicates that approaching Phillipsburg the speed was about 55 or 60 miles per hour,
signal 741 was displaying a caution indication and the engineman forestalled an automatic application
of the brakes by operating the forestalling device; speed was reduced to about 15 miles per hour
passing through the cut and Engineman Report was expecting to find signal 751 displaying a stop
indication but he misjudged his location in the dense fog and was not aware of anything wrong until
he was flagged with a red lantern from the left side of the track when about one or two car lengths
east of signal 751. It was then too late to stop and Extra JS-3 passed signal 751 displaying a stop
indication, and collided with the caboose of Extra JA-l, which was standing 125 feet west of the
signal. He did not see any lighted fusee prior to the accident, nor did he hear any torpedoes
exploded, but there was a sound similar to exploding torpedoes just as the crash occurred.

The present book of operating rules, in use by this railroad was adopted in July 1924; Rule 93 of
the operating rules reads as follows:

“Within yard limits the main track may be used, protecting against first-class trains.

Second-class and extra trains and yard engines must move within yard limits prepared to stop, unless
the main track is sees or known to be clear.

First-class trains must not exceed schedule speed within yard limits.

Trains carrying passenger’s are not relieved from observance of Rule 99 within yard limits.

Yard limits will be designated on the timetable and indicated by yard limit signs.”

Special General Instruction No. 8 in the current timetable modifies operating rule 93 by requiring
yard engines, while using main tracks under rule 93, to observe the requirements of rule 99 at all
times; nothing is said, however, with respect to other trains doing so. Rule 99 of the book of rules
makes no provision for rear end protection to a slowly moving train other than that the flagman’s
must go back immediately with flagman’s signals and proceed rapidly to a distance sufficient to
insure full protection, etc.; there are no provisions calling for fusees to be dropped from the rear
of a slowly moving train as added protection. However, a member of the rules examining committee
stated. that during all examination classes conducted within the pest four years, all employees were
instructed that flag protection must be provided for all trains occupying the main track within yard
limits, as required by rule 99; in addition in these examination classes rule 99 was interpreted as
requiring that when a train is moving under circumstances in which it may be overtaken by a following
train, lighted fusees must be dropped off as may be necessary to insure protection. These
requirements are not included in the rules as written. It is not doing justice to employees to place
a verbal interpretation on a rule during examination classes and then, for reference and study,
present them with books containing rules reading at variance with the verbal interpretation placed
upon them. The member of the rules examining committee also stated that rule 93 in its present form
has not been satisfactory for the past four years and is to be rewritten. There is no justification
for allowing an unsatisfactory rule to remain in the book of rules for such a length of time without
supplementing it with an appropriate rule in a manner such that it may be constantly before employees
whose duties are affected thereby.

It is to be noted that the current timetable in which rule 93 is modified with respect to yard
engines, took effect on September 27, 1936; if it was intended that the rule should also require
flag protection to all trains while occurring the main track within yard limits, the modified rule
appearing in the timetable should so state; the same principle applies to rule 99.

Conclusions

This accident was caused by failure of the first train to be properly protected by flag, and of the
following train to be operated in accordance with automatic block-signal indications.

Recommendations

It is recommended that the rules of this railroad be revised to correspond with the verbal
modifications placed upon them.

Respectfully submitted,

W. J. PATTERSON.

Director.

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