In re Investigation of an accident which occurred on the Lehigh Valley Railroad near Yale, N. Y.
on March 23, 1917.
April 23, 1917.
On March 23, 1917, there was a rear-end collision on the Lehigh Valley Railroad between eastbound
passenger train No. 146 and extra freight train 389. This accident occurred at Yale, N. Y., a small
station 7 miles from Geneva on the Seneca Division of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and resulted in the death
of 3 employees and injury to 1 employee. After investigation of this accident the Chief of The Division of
Safety submits the following report:
This part of the Lehigh Valley Railroad is a double-track line, and while the tracks are located
practically north and south, the trains are considered as running east and west. Train movements are
governed by a train order system and automatic block signals.
The signals are upper quadrant, three-position, normal danger, and were installed in the latter
part of 1915. The indications for night are green for clear, yellow for caution and red for stop, electric
lights being used, illuminated only when a train is approaching. In the vicinity of the accident the blocks
are from one mile to one and one-half miles in length. The collision occurred near the east end of a block
one and one-half miles long.
Direct current track circuits are used, with signal control circuits of the same type. The signal
mechanisms and line relays are operated by storage batteries, charged at each signal location by potash
battery, all being contained in battery wells of a common type. Each track circuit has two cells in multiple
of the ordinary blue vitriol type, and these circuits vary in number and length, according to the distance
between signals. There are three sections between signals 3382 and 3372 where the accident occurred, being
approximately 2,277, 3,168 and 2,542 feet in length, starting with the one at the west end of the block. The
signals are Model T-2, made by the Union Switch & Signal Company, and the mechanisms are installed at the
tops of the masts which carry the signals. The relays are of the Hall slate base type. They are housed in
wooden relay boxes attached to the base of the signal masts, and with two exceptions are not enclosed. These
relay boxes also contain lightning arresters. There are two relays on each track section, the one at the
battery and being 16 ohms resistance and the other 4 ohms. All line relays are 600 ohms resistance. Switch
indicators are used, although there are no switches on the eastbound main track between Geneva Junction and
Reeders Siding, 1 miles east of Yale.
The wires carrying the line circuits are on the lower cross arm of the same poles that carry the
railroad telephone and telegraph wires. Except where there are indicator circuits there are five wires, a
45-degrees and 90-degrees control wire for each track, and a common. Facing south or east, the common is to
the right of the pole with the eastbound control wires outside; the westbound control wires are to the left
of the pole. Indicator wires, where necessary, are outside of the control wires. Between Geneva Junction
and Yale the pole line is on the left or east side of the track. The wires from the pole line to the track
are laid in trunking in the usual manner. All line wires are of hard drawn copper, with weather-proof,
double-braid insulation, the common and 45-degree control wires being No. 10 and the other wires No. 12.
The 45-degree control wires were put up about two years ago, when the system was rebuilt, but the other wires
are all order.
As these signals are on the normal danger system, an approaching train, as it enters the block in
advance of a signal, drops all the track relays in the block, the last of which, at the signal which the
train is approaching, closes the clearing circuit through a back contact. This circuit passes through the
coils of the 45-degree control relay, through points of all track relays, and takes battery from the next
signal in advance. It is connected to common through the back contact above mentioned, and the battery. The
90-degree control circuit passes through a circuit breaker on the signal, through the relay coils and front
contacts, the 45-degrees control relay, all track relays, and takes battery from the second signal in
advance. It is connected to common at the circuit breaker and the battery.
Therefore, as the circuits are arranged, as approaching train can clear the signal to 45 degrees
when the track relays ahead are all closed, showing the block to be unoccupied, and to 90 degrees only when
the track relays in the second block are all closed. The 90-degree position is not controlled by the actual
position of the signal arm ahead, but this relay cannot be picked up until the 45-degree relay is energized
and the signal itself has moved to caution position. By this method of installation, the signals do not
necessarily show the position of the signal ahead, but only the condition of the track. The signal system
was designedly installed on that basis.
Approaching the scene of accident from the west, and starting at a point about 3.5 miles west of
the point of collision, there are numerous curves, the one immediately proceeding the point of collision
being 7,774 feet long. This is a compound curve, the first part having a curvature of 1 degree and the
second .05 degree. The accident occurred at the extreme east end of this curve. The grade is ascending for
eastbound trains, being at the rate of 15.84 feet per mile up to a point about half a mile from the scene of
the accident, where it changes to 19.54 feet per mile. There are no deep outs to obstruct the view, but on
account of the curvature the signals immediately preceding the point of collision can be seen a distance of
approximately one-half mile. Bridge 341-B, referred to hereafter, is about 4.5 miles west of the point of
accident. Between this bridge and Yale are 4 automatic signals on the eastbound track, Nos. 3412, 3392,
3382 and 3372.
On the morning of the accident extra 389, made up of 62 loaded freight cars and a caboose, in
charge of Engineman Lerge and Conductor Rymell, left Manchester for Sayre, Pa., at 7.55 a.m., passed
Geneva at 8.49 and Geneva Junction at 9.01 a.m. It was delayed after leaving Geneva Junction by extra 391
ahead, so that as it approached Yale station it had fallen back on the time of passenger train No. 145,
although it had expected, when leaving Geneva, to reach Reeders Siding, about 1 mile east of Yale, ahead of
this train. The speed of extra 389 had been slightly reduced just west of Yale station, as the signal, No.
3372, was at stop, but as it cleared up, probably due to the fact that extra 391 had already gotten into
clear on the siding, the speed was slightly increased and it was probably running about 10 miles an hour when
it was struck by passenger train No. 146.
Eastbound passenger train No. 146, a local making practically all stops, was made up of an express
car and 2 coaches, hauled by engine 2055, and was in charge of Conductor Whittaker and Engineman Hanavan.
This train left Buffalo at 5.45 a.m. and made the usual run, *** Geneva at 8.50 a.m., where a milk car and
combined mail and baggage car were placed on the rear of the train in the order named, so that it had 5 cars
leaving Geneva. It left that station on time at 9.15 a.m., and made a short stop at Geneva Junction on
account of bridge 341-B, near there, being in process of rebuilding, but left at 9.20 a.m. for Yale, the
next regular stop. The train proceeded without reduction in speed and collided with extra 359, as above
stated, about 9.25 a.m., approximately 1800 feet west of Yale Station.
The force of the collision smashed the front platform of the caboose and pinned Conductor Rymell
under the wreckage, killing him instantly. The engine of train No. 146 was derailed, but did not leave the
roadbed, and came to rest about 50 feet from the point of derailment. As the time of accident the weather
was a little hazy, and a strong wind was blowing.
Engineman Lerge, of extra 389, stated that he was stopped at Geneva Junction and run slowly over
bridge 341-3, which was being repaired. He found the first signal beyond the bridge in the clear position,
the next at caution, and the one following at caution, but the head brakeman called the next one at stop,
although it cleared up as he got to it. He stated that he was running 4 or 5 miles an hour when he sighted
the last signal, but had increased his speed to 8 or 10 miles per hour after the signal cleared up, and was
running about at that speed when struck. This he stated was about his best speed between Geneva Junction
and Yale. He believed that he could make Reeders Siding for train No. 146, even though he had been delayed
by the signals, although he did not know what the train ahead of him would do, and at the time the signal
west of Yale cleared up, he still figured that he could just about make the siding in time to clear train
No. 146. In order to avoid delay when about at signal 3372, just west of Yale, he stated that he blow the
whistle for the switch, so that the crew of the train ahead might open it for him. He thought that his
flagman would drop off, as they were on the time of train No. 146. He states that he did not look back at
any signals after passing.
Fireman L. Fields, of extra 389, stated that he did not see any signals between Geneva Junction
and Yale, but the engineman called them to him and they were all at caution, except one west of Yale which
was at stop. He said that he knew the engineman shut off steam and later heard him say the signal was clear.
He felt the shock of the collision when the engine broke, loose from the train.
Brakeman Merrill, of extra 389, stated that he was riding in the caboose, and that they had
discussed, when passing Oaks Corners, whether they could clear train No. 145 or not, but Conductor Rymell
thought they could make Reeders Siding if nothing bothered them, although he was somewhat of the opinion
that they should get into clear at Oaks Corners. He stated that he could not see the signals between Geneva
Junction and the point of accident, although after the accident he saw the one just west of Yale in the stop
position. He believed the speed to have been about 12 miles per hour, and, although the train slowed down
just before the accident, it had picked up again and was running 10 or 12 miles an hour when struck. He said
that they had some conversation in the caboose at the time they shut off as they did not know whether they
had found a stop signal or whether the engine was slipping, but Conductor Rymell told the flagman that if
the same speed was maintained he could get off at Yale Junction, flag train No. 146 and ride up on it. He
stated that when the speed of the train increased, Conductor Rymell looked at his watch and said it was
9.24, and immediately they saw train No. 146 coming. The flagman had a flag and torpedoes in his hands,
ready to get off at the first signal west of Yale, but Brakeman Me rill does not know whether Conductor
Rymell said anything about putting down torpedoes. He was looking to the rear, watching for train No. 146,
and the conductor get out on the platform twice, being the first one to see the passenger train. The flagman
also saw train No. 146, but Brakeman Merrill does not know how far it was behind them at the time, but
apparently was coming 40 or 50 miles an hour. At that time he thought train No. 146 would stop, although he
stated that he did not know whether it was using steam or net. As the flagman went cut the rear door.
Brakeman Merrill says he went out the front door and was followed by Flagman Grace and Conductor Rymell,
but he does not know whether they got off before he did or not. He did not notice Flagman Grace until after
he had gotten up off the ground. He states that they had no time on train No. 146.
Brakeman Walls, of extra 569, stated that he was riding on the fireman’s side of the engine, and
that the first signal west of Yale did not clear up until they had gotten up within 20 or 30 car lengths of
it. He says that the third signal west of Yale was at caution and the one next west was clear. He estimated
that they were going about 20 miles per hour when approaching Yale, but the engineman shut off and reduced
to 4 or 5 miles per hour. He says that he felt the shock of the collision, but thought that they had broken
a drawnhead, the engine being at that time just above Yale station. He stated that they expected to make
Reeders for train No. 146, when leaving Geneva Junction, although they did not expect to get so many
caution signals. After the accident he run back to the depot and caboose, but did not notice any signals. He
says that he does not know whether the train was going too fast for the flagman to get off or not, but he
thought they wore going slow enough when they approached the first signal west of Yale. He stated that he
did not know of any rule requiring the calling of signals when riding on the engine, but it is his practice,
when there is any indication of danger, to call out the signals or to call attention to the signals if they
are apparently not observed.
Engineman Hanavan, of train No. 146, stated that he left Buffalo, N. Y., on time, made the usual
run and took on two cars at Geneva, leaving at 9.16, one minute late. He was hold up at the bridge east of
Geneva Junction by the work train. He said that the first automatic signal east of the bridge, and all
others, were in the clear position, up to the point of accident. In going around the curve after shutting
off for Yale, he noticed something in front and saw that it was a caboose. He states that he made an
emergency application of the brakes, shouted to the fireman and jumped, believing that they were then 100 or
150 feet from the caboose of extra 589, and was running between 20 and 30 miles per hour. He says that after
the train stopped, he was between the fourth and fifth cars of his train and then he walked toward the
caboose and saw the fireman lying beside the track. He then got a signalman to take him back to signal 3382,
which he saw to be at danger, and the test which the maintainer made of it did not change its position. The
signalman then took him back, but had disconnected the signal, although he did not wish him to do so. He
thinks the accident occurred about 9.24. He states that he had a false clear signal on March 17th near
Shields, and he has observed clear signals on the opposite track when the block was occupied.
Conductor Whittaker, of train No. 146, states that the usual run was made from Buffalo to Geneva
Junction, but he saw no signals between Geneva Junction and Yale. He says that they passed Geneva
Junction at 9.20 or 9.25 running 40 or 50 miles per hour, after leaving the junction. The first indication
of trouble he noticed was the application of the brakes in emergency, and the crash same immediately, but
with little reduction in speed, so that they must have been running 36 or 40 miles an hour when they struck.
He stated that the engine was shut off after the accident. He states that he talked with Engineman Hanavan,
who told him that the signals were clear, but he did not go back to look at any signals, nor did he notice
any as the train was pulled back.
Brakeman Inman, of train 146, said he was in the fourth car of the train, when he felt the shock of
the emergency application. He says that he went back to the next signal in the rear at once, to flag, and
the signal was then at stop. There was some reduction in speed after the emergency application had been made
and there was, perhaps, an interval of two seconds between the application and the collision.
Assistant Signal Maintainer Parmalee, temporarily in charge of the signals in this section, stated
that he was in the baggage car on the rear of train 146, watching the signals as well as he could see from
the side door on both sides. He says he saw that signal 3414, just east of Geneva Junction, was at stop,
that signal 3412 was clear, and that signal 3392 was at caution, but he did not see signal 3382 on account of
getting a cinder in his eye approaching it. After the accident he noticed that signal 3372 was at stop. He
states that there was quite a reduction of speed after the brakes were applied and before the accident
happened, and he saw the fireman jump from the engine. After the accident he states that he went up to the
head end of train No. 146 and took Engineman Hanavan back on his speeder to signal 3582. Upon reaching this
signal he tested the relay to see if it would pick up and clear the signal with a train in the block, but it
remained in the stop position, and he says that he called the engineman’s attention to it, but the engineman
repeated that the signal was clear when he passed it. He states that he left the signal disconnected so that
it would not clear up, while the wreckage was in the block, and took the engineman back on his speeder. He
states later he returned to the signal and waited for Signalman Hill, and they took readings on the relay
and at each out-track section. He states that the signal worked properly after the accident and that no
repairs or alterations were made, and the signal was in working order when he left it. He states that the
relay case was locked up and had always been so looked, and he locked it again when he took Engineman
Signalman Hill states that he was notified of the accident, and upon arriving at signal 3382, at
11.00 a.m., met Assistant Signal Maintainer Parmalee and assisted him in testing out the relay. He states
the meter showed no current flow through the coils of the relay. After the first test he states that he
returned to the signal again and made all the former tests. He states that he saw the signal clear on his
way to Geneva later.
Batteryman Robinson stated that he was riding on the last car of train No. 146 watching out on the
left hand side for westbound signals, but saw no eastbound signals. He says he saw extra 589 from the west
side of the train two seconds before the brakes were applied, and thinks there were two seconds before the
two shocks he felt. He states he did not go back to the signal after the accident.
Lampman Lyden states that he was also observing signals from the last car and saw eastbound signal
3592 at caution but could not see signal 3382 on account of cinders. He states that he saw the back part of
extra 389, but did not see the caboose, and saw the engineman jump, who was opposite the milk car when train
No. 146 stopped. The train was almost up to signal 3392, he states, when he saw it, and it went to danger as
the train passed it. This operation of the signal caused him to think that probably a train was ahead, but
there was no reduction in speed that he noticed, when passing signal 3392. He states that he did not see
that signal after passing it.
Signal Maintainer Lake stated that he was sent to the scene of the accident, although it was not
in his territory, arriving there about 4.00 p.m. He says that he examined the relays of signal 3382 and the
track sections. He found no current flowing in the signal relay and no foreign current on the track,
although he examined only the section just ahead of the signal. He states that he examined the line wires
and there were no crossed or slack wires hanging down. He says that the relay case was locked when he get
there, and there were no signals that the signals had been tampered with.
Signal Supervisor Rise, in charge of the Seneca Division, stated that they had a false clear
signal indication at signal 2831, near Shields, on March 17th, caused by a control wire and telegraph wire
being crossed, a lineman having made a temporary patch which left sufficient slack for the wires to some
together. Mr. Rise stated that he had knowledge of false clear indications caused by the insulation being
damaged in a shop wiring, allowing the wire to come in contact with the signal case. He has no other records
of false clear signals on this division. He thought that it was impossible that a false clear signal could
be caused by the crossing of wires due to high winds, since the cross would not remain on long enough for the
relay to pick up and the signal to clear, and it is far less likely to remain long enough for the signal to
remain clear so that it would be observed by an approaching train. Mr. Rice states that he has made no
special tests for foreign current and has noticed none in the vicinity of the accident, but some readings
found on the track when battery was disconnected were due to leakage from adjacent track sections. Mr. Rice
states that he makes inspection of apparatus, but not at stated intervals, and tests are made to see if
signals will properly clear when trains are in the block. The last test of signal 3382 was made on March
8th, when it worked properly.
A throughout test and inspection of the signal installation between signals 3382 and 3372, in which
block the accident occurred, was made by the signal engineer and inspectors of the Commission. Tests were
made at signal 3382 to ascertain if any current was flowing through the control relays with a train in the
block, but nothing improper was found. With a train in the block, the 4-ohm relay was shunted. This created
the same conditions as though a second train were approaching. The signal did not clear. The signal
mechanism was examined and found to be working freely. The underground battery wire, where it came in
contact in the trunking with the control wires, was examined and the insulation found to be in excellent
condition. The wiring in the relay cases was in good condition and was installed in a workmanlike manner.
All the track relays were examined and found to be in good condition. The battery was disconnected from such
track section and meter readings taken, and while in some cases a flow of 10 milliamperes was noticed, this
is insufficient to energize the track relays. The line wire was examined and found to be free from crosses,
and the wires did not appear to be slack enough to cause swinging crosses even in a high wind. There seemed
to be no possibility of any of the telegraph wires coming in contact with the signal wires. Some of the
weather-proofing of the wires was good and some poor, a usual condition after such wire has been up a few
years. The location of the wires on the pole line is such as to make a dangerous cross between the signal
wires themselves extremely impossible.
The investigation disclosed that the signals were apparently working perfectly for extra 389. The
testimony of the signalman who were riding in the rear car and more making it a point to observe the signals
so far as it was possible, indicates that the signals were working properly for train No. 146, except that
all of these men failed to see signal 3982, the one next in the rear of extra 389. The signal that should
have given a caution indication for signal 3592 was observed to be in the caution position by one of these
signalman on train No. 146, just before the engine of that train reached it. It is impossible these
statements with that of Engineman Hanavan, that all these signals were clear.
The line wires were in such a condition that a swinging cross due to the high wind was apparently
impossible, and even if such a cross had occurred, it would not have remained long enough to clear the signal
and permit its observation by the engineman of train No. 146. While a cross with telegraph wires might have
caused a false clear signal, there is an evidence that such a cross existed; no work was being done on the
As stated above there are three out-track sections in the black in which this accident occurred,
and extra 389 occupied the last one of these. After the collision, train No. 146 also was wholly in the last
section. Therefore, this condition of the track was the same as existed immediately before the accident, and
any condition that might have caused signal 3382 to clear with extra 389 in the block, would have been likely
to continue for a few minutes at least after the accident.
Only two false clear failures are on record for the signals now in service between Geneva and
Bayre, and these were explained and the cause removed. The statement that signals have been seen in clear
position with the block unoccupied (a wrong position with a normal danger system) does not necessarily
indicate improper operations of the signals. This could be brought about by any interruption of the track
circuit ahead of a signal, such as a broken rail, open switch, etc., but the signal in the rear of the
trouble would be at stop; nor would the signal concerned clear up from the cause mentioned, if the block
ahead of it were not clear.
As the signals involved worked properly just previous to the accident and immediately afterward,
and as careful examination and tests failed to disclose any condition that might have caused them to display
a false clear indication, it seems reasonable to conclude that Engineman Hanavan misread the indication of
signals 3392 and 3382.
This conclusion, however, is difficult to accept in view of Engineman Hanavan’s exceptionally good
record and his unquestioned reputation for veracity, as well as a consideration of the conditions under which
the signals were observed. The weather conditions were not such as to prevent proper observation of the
signals, which could be seen a distance of at least one-half mile, approaching from the west. It is
inconceivable that under such conditions the signals should have been misread by a careful conscientious
engineman, such as Engineman Hanavan was known to be.
Notwithstanding the evidence that the signals were in proper working condition immediately
preceding and immediately following the accident, and the further fact that a series of tests failed to
disclose any condition that might have caused them to display a false clear indication, as well as the fact
that in all false clear failures of record on this type of signals the cause has been definitely located, it
is not at all impossible that some intermittent trouble, which could not be detected, might have produced a
momentary false indication just at the time the signals were observed by Engineman Hanavan. It should be
remembered that the tests by our signal engineer were not made until some time after the accident, and it was
impossible for him to know and reproduce the exact conditions that were present at the time the collision
It is impossible, therefore, definitely and positively to fix the primary cause of this accident.
It was due either to Engineman Hanavan misreading the indication of signals 3392 and 3382, or these signals
displaying improper indications when they were observed by him.
Contributing to this accident were the failures of Conductor Rymell and Flagman Grace properly to
perform their duties and take measures for the protection of their train while it was moving slowly and
occupying the main track on the time of train No. 146. Rule No. 99 in part as follows:
“When a train stops or is delayed under circumstances in which it may be overtaken by another
train, the flagman must go back immediately with stop signals. * * *.”
Both the conductor and flagman were killed in the accident, but the statements of the Brakeman
Merrill make it clear that the crew of extra 389 knew that they were on the time of train No. 146, that they
had no order giving them additional time on this train, that their train was running slowly and was in danger
of being overtaken at any time, and that they saw train No. 146 approaching some time before the accident
occurred. Under such circumstances it is strange that as effort was made to provide proper protection.
Engineman James Hanavan entered the service as fireman, May 17, 1886, and was promoted to
engineman June 1, 1899. His record is clear. Fireman James E. Brown entered the service on February 19,
1910, and had a clear record. Conductor O. A. Rymell entered the service as brakeman July 25, 1899, and
was promoted to conductor September 20, 1906. His record was clear. Flagman H. P. Grace entered the
service as trainman October 22, 1910, and had a clear record.
The engine crew of train No. 146 had been on duty about 5 hours, after a period off duty of over 50
hours. The conductor and flagman of extra 389 had been on duty about 3-1/2 hours, after a period off duty of
about 16-1/2 hours.