Rockingham, VT Train Wreck, Jul 1869
WHO IS TO BLAME?
The Accident on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad on Saturday.
To the Editor of the Boston Transcript:
Under the above heading I desire to make a careful statement of facts connected with the almost terrible tragedy on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad on Saturday last. I left Saratoga on the 9:15 A. M. train for Boston, via Rutland, Bellows Falls and Fitchburg, and proceeded safely to Rutland, where we left the passengers going north. We left Rutland forty minutes late, and wound our way up the mountain and commenced our descent toward Bellows Falls, having made up more than half the lost time before reaching Chester, which we left at about 1:30 P. M.
About half-way between Chester and Bellows Falls is the town of Rockingham, where we had all the elements for the most terrible tragedy that ever happened in New-England, if not in the United States. They were these: we were going thirty-five miles an hour on a down grade round a sharp curve with a misplaced switch and 200 feet from that a bridge crossing a ravine of rough rocks 80 feet below the track laid on this bridge!
To cap the climax, a locomotive was following us, and was coming madly down the grade, not knowing but the track was clear, as the engineer cannot see the switch until within about forty yards of it.
The engine of our train was a fine one---the "Chester"---under the care of EDWARD FOSS, one of the best engineers on the road. On rounding the curve he saw the open switch and instantly reversed his engine and whistled for brakes, but the momentum was so great that the whole train ran on the sleepers till the bridge was reached, and then the engine took a slight turn toward one side, but being under such headway, it crossed the bridge and plunged headlong down the embankment on the opposite side, turning nearly over, and with the driving wheels furiously revolving, as the engineer had not shut off the steam.
The tender was wrenched from the engine and baggage car, and lay some distance down the bank, while poised at an angle of forty-five degrees, within a foot of the edge of the bridge, stood the smoking and first passenger cars; one foot more and the train, with its 100 or more men, women and children, would have been dashed on those cold, gray rocks, eighty feet below. The passengers, when they realized their condition, were silent in horror. It would hardly have been possible for one to have escaped if the car had gone over the awful brink. The engineer was badly cut and bruised, but was able to walk to a house some eighty rods distant, where medical aid was sent, and it was found, that though badly hurt, no bones were broken, and it was thought he would be able to be conveyed to his home in Rutland that evening.
He stuck bravely to his engine in the face of almost certain death. The fireman and the depot master of Chester (who was on the engine) escaped with only a few bruises. The baggage was scattered about among the trees and bushes, and one trunk rolled down into the stream and floated about until secured by the baggage-master.
With wonderful presence of mind, the baggage-master rushed back with a flag and stopped the coming locomotive just in season to prevent an additional catastrophe of no ordinary character; and yet I was told, that although the "Chester" carried a flag, our conductor did not know it, and that if our baggage-master had been killed, there was no one on the train to attend to checking the coming engine! Not a passenger received as much as a scratch, and the passenger cars were not injured in the least. And now it will be asked, "Who was to blame?" I walked back to the ground and the switch was wide open! I asked, "Who tends this?" "No one, Sir; the Company do not allow us to have a key; the conductor of the freight train had the key, and they took a car from this side track this morning, and, I suppose, left the switch open; we have nothing to do with it."
The hand car of the track repairer stood within ten yards of the switch, and why he did not see the danger no one can tell. Word was sent to Bellows Falls, and a car with help was sent up, and after two hours' delay we started for Bellows Falls. It was now after 4 P. M., and we had had nothing to eat since morning, and I thought it would have been common courtesy for the conductor of our train or the Assistant Superintendent, who was there, to have told us we would have ample time to stop and eat before going forward, as we must wait for the up train not then due; but not one word was said, and if we asked we were told that they were going "right off." After a delay of three-quarters of an hour we started, and got to Fitchburg about 8:30 P.M., and found the depot closed, and were told that there was no engine ready to take us to Boston.
No one seemed to know or care anything about us, but after a delay of half and hour, an engineer accidentally went into the engine-house, and was told that he must take us to Boston. With reluctance he consented, and started out. It was then after 9 P.M., and the train was not expected along the route. I chose, with a gentleman and his wife of my acquaintance, to stop in Fitchburg until morning, and take the milk train, at 6:30 o'clock Sunday morning. And now, Mr. Editor, I leave the public to judge of the merits of the case. The train was thrown from the track by the most culpable negligence on the part of the officials of the road, and the treatment of the passengers was as I have stated above. Yours, truly, WM. A. BROWN. LYNN, Monday, July 26, 1869.
The New York Times, New York, NY 28 Jul 1869