Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/329

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train and kill the passengers. His mind wandered for a moment, he forgot his duty, and before he came to himself the mischief was done. Carelessness is hardly a complete explanation, nor is forgetfulness. . . . Does our mental machinery suddenly fail us at times?"

The continuity of the track is ordinarily broken by a like switch every few miles. An hour's ride takes the train over a dozen such breaks, any one of which misplaced means a horror like that of the Wabash. The rear guard may at any moment, from some irregularity to his train, be called upon to hasten back with the danger signal against an on-rushing second section or a close-following train. Should he stumble amid the storm, be blinded by the snow, or should the wind extinguish his light, or should he, like Thompson, fail from some unaccountable cause, a second Yonkers would follow.

Whether the explanation suggested by the World be the true one or not, one thing is very evident in the light of our modern experience, and that is, that such responsibilities as now attach to the trainman of a modern express, whether it be engineman, switchman, or brakeman, ought not to be longer intrusted to the protection of any single mind, however faithful, however conscientious. Were the human mind and body perfect as a machine, faultless in its workings, and with no liability to irregularity, failure, or lapse, we might be so justified. But, not to speak of the body, no mental organization is perfect. Frailty is a part of man's inheritance. Against that frailty, against that fatal moment, we have now no protection whatever. We are abandoned by our sole guardian, by the only divinity that stands over us, and we are left to a horrible death or to the tortures of hell. It is idle to say these men are careless, that they are regardless of duty. They are as faithful and as trustworthy as would be any other men put in their places—as faithful as our human nature permits.

It simply appears that we have been attempting to force from our human organization a degree of exactitude in the operations of the mind which the brain refuses to yield. And in view of the sanguinary record of the few past years, directly at the hands of the men in charge, we may well question the wisdom of a longer trial. It no longer remains an uncertainty where the weakness of our present system lies, where the danger abides. That the brain power of a modern express is disproportionate to the requirements, admits no further question. Safety in land travel, no less than in ocean travel, demands a duplication of the officers in charge. Whether it be engineman, rear guard, brakeman, switchman, or whoever undertakes to stand between the passenger and the multiplied dangers of the road, there should be a first and a second officer, that, in any and every emergency, whether through care-