Who that recalls the railroad conditions of forty years ago does not remember the constant succession of misfortunes chargeable to the single track, the imperfect bed, to broken rails and wheels, and a hundred other imperfections in machinery and the necessary appliances?
All these mishaps and catastrophes were a part of the new conditions men were seeking to master.
Not only was the whole scheme new to mankind, but the burden at once thrown upon it was utterly beyond its design or its capabilities. No one was more keenly alive to the inadequacy of these first plans to meet the public want, than were the railroad men themselves. But an enterprise involving millions of dollars in a definite, precalculated system is not like a garment that can be thrown aside and replaced by another at pleasure.
However desirable, the abandonment of existing conditions and the adoption of others must necessarily be slow in enterprises of such magnitude and expenditure.
Nevertheless, during those forty years, such was the mastery of general principles and detail in the construction of the road and the rolling stock, and such the perfect adaptation of part to part, that to-day failure—i. e., so-called accidents—pertaining to either of these particulars is rare.
During these years experience met each weakness as it became apparent, until now a first-class road runs thrice the weight at thrice the speed with almost entire immunity from casualty from these causes. The "accidents" of the earlier years have been wellnigh eliminated from our modern train.
But "accidents" yet remain no less frequent than in those days of inexperience. This undreamed-of accession of power and speed has also brought a larger range of liability, new conditions, and new perils.
In the earlier mishaps the fault was found to exist mainly in our want of knowledge of the innate strength of the materials used—a fault inseparable from our inexperience. In our later "accidents" the fault has not been found in the material nor in the structure. Quite otherwise.
In that frightful Yonkers calamity the fault was found to be in "the man." In the two Long Island wrecks, in the Dedham, the Chester Bridge, in the Wabash, the Germantown, and so on almost without variation, the fault has been in "the man," not in the road.
That is, in the development of these immense steam forces we appear to have reached a point where the brain force undertaking the guidance and control has become the fault-bearing element and the more fruitful cause of calamity. And so manifest has this preponderance become, that it calls for the most serious consideration.