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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/328

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

In general terms, the brain force in our modern rapid transit, seems incommensurate with the demands laid upon it.

A fast Atlantic steamer has ordinarily, for fair weather, three or more men on watch, and two officers on the bridge; and in thick weather often not less than ten or twelve, whose sole business it is to guard the ship against outside contingencies.

We start out an express at four times the speed in equally thick weather, under the care and direction of a single man—in a few cases, perhaps, with an assistant.

Let us note the ordinary duties of this man with hundreds of lives in his keeping, plunging into the darkness, storm, snow, and fog at a speed of sixty to ninety miles an hour.

He is supposed to stand with his hand upon the throttle, looking to scan every rod of his fast-flying track, to note every crossing, every approaching vehicle, every straying animal, to observe every signal and every switch, while there are beside him in his cab from fifty to seventy-five levers, valves, cocks, gauges, handles, and what not, which he is expected to apply instantly as the exigency may arise, as danger may spring into view, or calamity confront.

It is said that Wellington, at a critical moment of Waterloo, when a message was brought to him that a certain battalion was without ammunition, failed to respond to the call. Afterward, referring to his failure and to the disaster which resulted to the battalion, he said: "It is true; but no man can think of everything."

In the heat and stress of battle a man may be pardoned an inability to recollect, even at the cost of human life; but a system of business that, every hour of the day and night, intrusts the lives and safety of the public to the care and protection of a brain overburdened and distracted, like that of a locomotive engineer, is open to the gravest criticism.

Nor is it in the duties of the engineer only that this peril abides. The Yonkers disaster, and one of those on Long Island, were from the rear; the Wabash and the Germantown from the siding. It thus appears that the demands of the modern train are insufficiently met by the intellectual guiding force at all points—front, rear, and on the sides.

The New York World in a recent article approached this question under the title of "A Psychological Puzzle." Referring to the Wabash switchman, the article says: "What made that brakeman turn the switch and let the express train plunge into the waiting freight? The accounts all agree that Thompson was a man of experience, a trusted man, and of more than ordinary intelligence. He had frequently stopped at the same siding to let the same train go by. . . . Why did he do it? Not to wreck the