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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/252

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248
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

made for the sheer carelessness of trainmen, or for exhaustion resulting in their sleeping while still on duty, there seem to be cases enough to warrant some suspicion of the virtue of the danger signal itself. In the summer of 1904 an engineer at night ran past signals at "stop," and into an open drawbridge with his train. About a year later, a disaster was caused by the failure of an engineer at night to heed two block signals and a flagman, the engineer himself losing his life by his mistake. On still another occasion, a train ran past three or four warning red lights, and by a collision with a passenger train ahead brought death to 23 persons, injury to 85 and a property loss of $7,000. And the inherent difficulty of perceiving weak red may have been a contributing circumstance to that wandering of the attention of an engineer who recently, after passing a "distant" signal obscured by smoke, failed to notice "until he was quite near it" his "home" signal telling him to stop, and crashed into the rear of a passenger-train. This failure to see in time the warning light cost seven lives, brought injury to no less than 142 persons and destroyed property amounting to $44,000. And finally, on the night of December 30, 1906, a collision occurred in the District of Columbia, due in part to the failure of an engineer to see a red light obscured by fog; and in this disaster 43 persons were killed, 63 were injured and property valued at $16,000 was destroyed.

These fearful results, depending, as they do, upon the failure to see red lights, dimmish greatly one's confidence in this color. And this confidence grows still less as we bear in mind the many instances, which have not been adduced at all, of utter failure to observe the red "tail lights" of trains, red switch lights, or red hand lanterns—failures that ended in deadly accident. The insufficiency of a red hand-lantern carried down the track for the protection of a standing train is doubtless in part to be ascribed to the unexpected place in which these signals must of necessity be shown, and the engineers' unreadiness to note them; but it is not improbable that the very color of the signal contributes to its failure. We are accustomed to think of red as exceptionally impressive; and it truly is in many respects an effective light, attracting the attention when once the eye catches it in strength. But at degrees of illumination that would be ample for some of the other colors, it cease to penetrate the mind—somewhat as in photography, red of all colors has least effect upon the sensitive plate. Red may some day come to be regarded as a danger signal, with an unusual meaning to the words. And yet, taking all things into consideration, it is perhaps the best color to use as a sign of danger, if color must be used. Such a conclusion, however, reveals but too clearly the weakness of a system based on color—reveals how fatally mistaken it is to make the life and safety of passengers dependent upon the hurried