Sylacauga, AL Central of Georgia / L&N Collision, Feb 1919


May 1, 1919.

On February 24, 1919, there was a side collision between a freight train of the Central of Georgia Railroad and a passenger train of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad at the intersection of their tracks at Sylacauga, Ala., which resulted in the death of 1 passenger and the injury of 17 passengers and 3 employees. After investigation of this accident, the Chief of the Bureau of Safety reports as follows:

The Birmingham District of the Columbus Division of the Central of Georgia Railroad, on which this accident occurred, extends between Birmingham, Ala., and Columbus, Ga., a distance of 157 miles. The Anniston-Calera Subdivision of the Alabama Mineral Division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad extends between Anniston, Ala., and Calera, Ala., a distance of 86.26 miles.

Approaching the crossing from the west on the Central of Georgia Railroad the track is straight for a distance of 1-1/2 miles, with an ascending grade of .3%. Approaching from the north on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad the track is straight and practically level for a distance of 1,800 feet, there being an unobstructed view of the crossing for this distance. The crossing at the point of accident is not protected except by stop boards located 57 feet west of the crossing on the Central of Georgia track and 97 feet north of the crossing on the Louisville & Nashville track. Approximately a hundred feet north of the crossing and on the west side of the Louisville & Nashville track there is a brick building which obstructs the view of trains on the Central of Georgia Railroad approaching from the west. On the north side of the main track of the Central of Georgia Railroad is a passing track, the east switch to this track being about 70 feet west of the crossing.

Section 5474 of the Code of Alabama reads as follows:

"DUTY AS TO RAILROAD CROSSING;- When the tracks of two railroads cross each other at grade, engineers and conductors must cause the trains of which they are in charge to come to a full stop within one hundred feet of such crossing, and not proceed until they know the way to be clear, the train on the railroad having the older right of way being entitled to cross first; but the provisions of this section shall not be applicable where crossings of such roads are regulated by interlocking crossing or derailing switches, or other safety appliances or like kind to prevent collisions at crossing, nor where a flag man or watchman is stationed at such crossings, and such flagman or watchman signals that the trains may cross in safety.”

This law is not published in the book of rules or current time table of either road, nor is there any rule in their books of rules or current time tables regarding the method of operation of trains over this crossing. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad has the older right of way.

The trains involved were Central of Georgia eastbound freight train 2nd No. 39, and Louisville & Nashville southbound passenger train No. 81. Train 2nd No. 38 consisted of engine 1801, 20 loaded, 2 empty box cars and a caboose, in charge of Conductor Lindsay and Engineman Sweatt. It left Birmingham at 3:00 a.m., 4 hours and 40 minutes late, and arrived at Sylacauga at 7:50 a.m., 4 hours and 50 minutes late. After taking water the train proceeded, striking the Louisville & Nashville train on the crossing at about 8:10 a.m. Train No. 81 consisted of engine 261, 1 combination baggage and mail car and 3 coaches, in charge of Conductor Meigs and Engineman Talford. Two of the coaches were of wooden construction, while 2 had steel under-frames. This train left Anniston at 6:15 a.m., on time, and arrived at Sylacauga at 8:10 a.m. 1 minute late. When the locomotive had cleared the crossing, the engine crew observed the Central of Georgia freight train approaching and before the passenger train had entirely cleared the crossing,, the head end of the rear coach was struck by the locomotive of train 2nd No. 38, which at the time was moving at a speed of about 10 miles an hour.

The force of the collision broke the coupling on the head end of the rear car. This car was derailed and partly overturned, the head end being thrown to the east about 35 feet. The trucks of locomotive 1801 were damaged and all the drivers were derailed, but the trailers remained on the track. The engine stopped within about 35 feet after striking the coach.

Engineman Sweatt, of train 2nd No. 38, stated that he stopped at the west water plug, which is located about 490 feet from the crossing, and his train stood there about 20 minutes, during which time he made a cut for a street crossing, took water, and then crossed the Louisville & Nashville track to the sand house. After taking sand, the engine was backed up and coupled to the train; on looking ahead the engineman saw the flagman standing near the Louisville & Nashville crossing.

He sounded two blasts of the whistle, whereupon the flagman gave him a signal to come ahead. After starting his train and proceeding a short distance, the fireman told him the conductor was giving a proceed signal and he answered the conductor’s signal with two blasts of the whistle. When they were about 120 feet from the crossing he asked his fireman, who was standing in the gangway of the engine, “How about the crossing?”

The fireman looked out and replied: “All clear.” In the mean time the flagman had walked across the crossing toward the train and he assumed from this that there was nothing in sight. When within about 100 feet of the crossing, he passed the flagman, who was coming back along the track for the purpose of boarding the train. He was working steam and when the front end of his engine was within 50 feet of the crossing and he was proceeding at a speed of about 10 miles an hour, he saw the engine of train No. 81 cross ahead of him. He shut off steam, made an emergency application of the brakes, reversed his engine and opened the sanders, but it was too late to stop. He had not heard any whistle sounded by the Louisville & Nashville train. He further stated that it was his common practice to proceed over this crossing without stopping after leaving the west water plug, provided there was some member of his crew at the crossing, as there was in this instance, and he considered he was fully protected by a flag at that time.

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