The Railroad Death-Rate

As the Queen of Belgium was one day going from Verviers to Brussels by rail, in May, 1847, the train in which she was journeying came into collision with another train going in the opposite direction. There was naturally something of a panic, and, as royalty is not accustomed to being knocked about with railroad equality, some of her suite urged the queen to leave the train and to finish her journey by carriage. The contemporaneous court reporter then went on to say, in that language which is so peculiarly his own, “ But her Majesty, as courageously as discreetly, declined to set that example of timidity, and she proceeded to Brussels by the railway.” In those days a very exaggerated idea — which, by the way, the world has by no means outgrown — was universally entertained of the great danger incident to travel by rail. Even then, however, had her Majesty, who as the daughter of Louis Philippe of France and the wife of Leopold of Belgium was doubtless a very sensible woman, happened to be familiar with the statistics of injuries received by those traveling respectively by rail and by carriage, she certainly never on any plea of danger would have been induced to abandon her railroad train in order to trust herself behind horse-flesh. It. is not, however, likely that she was addicted to the study of dry statistics, so doubtless both she herself and those who surrounded her would have been greatly surprised to learn that, by pursuing the course urged upon her, the queen would have multiplied her chances of accident some sixtyfold. Strange as the statement sounds even now, such would seem to have been the fact. In proportion to the whole number carried, the accidents to passengers in “ the good old days of stagecoaches ” were, as compared to the present time of the railroad dispensation, about as sixty to one. This result, it is true, cannot bo verified in the experience either of England or of this country, for neither the English nor we possess any statistics in relation to the earlier period; but they have such statistics in France, and very reliable they are also, stretching over a period of more than forty years. If these French statistics held true of New England, — and considering the character of our roads, conveyances, and climate, their showing is more likely to be in our favor than against us, — if they simply held true, leaving us to assume that stage-coach traveling was not less safe in Massachusetts than in France, then it would follow that to make the dangers of the rail of the present day equal to those of the highway of half a century back, some eighty passengers should annually be killed and some eleven hundred injured within the limits of Massachusetts alone. These figures, however, represent rather more than fifty times the actual average, and from them it would seem to be not unfair to conclude that, notwithstanding the great increase of population and the yet greater increase in travel during the last half-century, there were literally more persons killed and injured each year in Massachusetts fifty years ago through accidents to stage-coaches than there are now through accidents to railroad trains.

The first impression of nine out of ten persons in no way connected with the operation of railroads would probably be found to be the exact opposite to this. A vague but deeply rooted conviction commonly prevails that the railroad has created a new danger: that because of it the average human being’s hold on life is more precarious than it was. The first point-blank, bald statement to the contrary would accordingly strike most people in the light not only of a paradox, but of a somewhat foolish one. Investigation, nevertheless, bears it out. The fact is that when a great railroad accident comes, it is apt to come in such a way as to leave no doubt whatever in relation to it. It is heralded like a battle or an earthquake; it fills columns of the daily press with the largest capitals and the most harrowing details, and thus it makes a deep and Listing impression on the minds of many people. When a multitude of persons, traveling as almost every man now daily travels, himself meet death in such sudden and such awful shape, the event smites the imagination. People seeing it and thinking of it and hearing and reading of it, and of it only, forget of how infrequent occurrence it is. It was not so in the olden time. Every one rode behind horses, — if not in public then in private conveyances,— and when disaster came it involved but few persons and was rarely accompanied by circumstances which either struck the imagination or attracted any great public notice. In the first place, the modern newspaper, with its perfect machinery for sensational exaggeration, did not then exist, having itself only recently come in the train of the locomotive; and in the next place, the circle of those included in the consequences of any disaster was necessarily small. It is far otherwise now. For weeks and months the vast machinery moves along, doing its work quietly, swiftly, safely; no one pays any attention to it, while millions daily make use of it, as much a necessity of their lives as the food they eat or the air they breathe. Suddenly, somehow, and somewhere, — at Versailles, at Norwalk, at Abergele, at New Hamburg, or at Revere, at some hitherto unfamiliar point upon an insignificant thread of the intricate iron web,— an obstruction is encountered, a jar, as it were, is felt, and instantly, with time for hardly an ejaculation or a thought, a multitude of human beings are hurled into eternity. It is no cause for surprise that such an event makes the community in which it happens catch its breath; neither is it unnatural that people should think more of the few who are killed, of whom they hear so much, than of the myriads who are carried in safety and of whom they hear nothing. Yet it is well to bear in mind that there are two sides to this question also, and in no way could this fact be more forcibly brought to our notice than by the assertion, borne out by all the statistics we possess, that, irrespective of the vast increase in the number of those who travel, a greater number of passengers in stage-coaches were formerly each year killed or injured by accidents to which they in no way contributed through their own carelessness, than are now killed under the same conditions in our railroad cars. In other words, the introduction of the modern railroad, so far from proportionately increasing the dangers of traveling, has absolutely diminished them. It is not, after all, the dangers but the safety of the modern railroad which should excite our special wonder.

What is the average length of the railroad journey resulting in death by accident to a prudent traveler? What is the average length of one resulting in some personal injury to him ? These are two questions which interest every one. Few persons, probably, start, upon any considerable journey, implying days and nights on the rail, without almost unconsciously taking into some consideration the risks of accident. Visions of collision, derailment, plunging through bridges, will rise unbidden. Even the old traveler who has enjoyed a long immunity is apt at times, with some little apprehension, to call to mind the musty adage of the pitcher and the well, and to ask himself how much longer it will be safe for him to rely on his good luck. A hundred thousand miles, perhaps, and no accident yet! Surely, on every doctrine of chances, he now owes to fate an arm or a leg; perhaps even a life. The statistics of a long series of years enable us, however, to approximate with a tolerable degree of precision to an answer to these questions, and the answer is simply astounding; so astounding, in fact, that before undertaking to give it, the question itself ought to be stated with all possible precision. It is this: Taking all persons who as passengers travel by rail, — and this includes all who dwell in civilized countries, — what number of journeys of the average length are safely accomplished, to each one which results in the death or injury of a passenger from some cause over which he had no control? The cases of death or injury must be confined to passengers, and to those of them only who expose themselves to no unnecessary risk.

When approaching a question of this sort, statisticians are apt to assume for their answers an appearance of mathematical accuracy. It is needless to say that this is a mere affectation. The best results which can be arrived at are, after a11, mere approximations, and they also Vary greatly year by year. The body of facts from which conclusions are to be deduced must cover not only a definite area of space, but also a considerable lapse of time. Even Great Britain, with its 17,000 miles of track and its hundreds of millions of annual passenger journeys, shows results which vary strangely, one year with another. For instance, during the four years anterior to 1874, but one passenger was killed, upon an average, to each 11,000,000 carried; while in 1874 the proportion, under the influence of a succession of disasters, suddenly doubled, rising to one in every 5,500,000. If such is the case in Great Britain, the annual fluctuations in the narrower field of a single State in this country might well seem at first glance to set all computation at defiance. During the ten years, for example, between 1861 and 1870, about 200.000,000 passengers were returned as carried on the Massachusetts roads, with 135 cases of injury to individuals. Then came the year of the Revere disaster, and out of 26,000,000 carried, no less than 115 were killed or injured. Four years of comparative immunity then ensued, during which, out of 130,000,000 carried, but one was killed and forty-five injured. In other words, through a period of ten years the casualties were approximately as one to 1,500,000; then during a single year they rose to one in 225,000, or a sevenfold increase; and then through a period of four years they diminished to one in 3,400,000, a decrease of about ninety per cent.

Taking, however, the very worst of years, — the year of the Revere disaster, which stands unparalleled in the annals of Massachusetts,—it will yet be found that the answer to the question as to the length of the average railroad journey resulting in death or in injury will be expressed, not in thousands nor in hundreds of thousands of miles, but in millions. During that year some twenty - six million passenger journeys were made within the limits of the State, and each journey averaged a distance of about thirteen miles. It would seem, therefore, that even in that year the average journey resulting in death was 11,000,000 miles, while that resulting either in death or in personal injury was not less than 3,300,000.

The year 1871, however, represented by no means a fair average. On the contrary, it indicated what may fairly be considered an excessive degree of danger, exciting nervous apprehensions in the breasts of those even who were not constitutionally timid. Let us take, therefore, the whole period, the fifteen years, from 1861 to 1874 inclusive, and from them deduce an average. The number of passengers carried within the limits of the State during that period was in the neighborhood of 350,000,000. Of these, 39 were killed and 250 injured from causes wholly beyond their own control, or less than one passenger in each 8,900,000 killed, and about one in each 1,400,000 injured. Through a period of fifteen years, therefore, the average journey in Massachusetts resulting in death was about 115,000,000 miles, and that resulting in cither death or injury, over 18,000,000.

The Revere disaster, however, brought about many and important changes in the methods of operating the railroads of Massachusetts. Among others, it introduced into general use the train-brake and Miller’s method of car construction. Consequently the danger incident to railroad traveling was materially reduced; and in the next four years (1872— 75) 130,000,000 passenger journeys were made within the limits of the State, and, while only forty-two persons were in any way injured, but a single one was killed. During these years, therefore, the average journey resulting in any description of injury to a passenger was close upon 40,000,000 miles, while an aggregate journey of 1,700,000,000 miles or thereabouts was accomplished with the loss of but a single life.

But it may fairly be asked, What, after all, do these figures mean? They are, indeed, so large as to exceed comprehension; for, after certain comparatively narrow limits are passed, the practical infinite is approached, and the mere adding of a few more ciphers after a numeral conveys no new idea. On the contrary, the piling up of figures rather tends to weaken than to strengthen a statement, for to many it suggests an idea of ridiculous exaggeration. Indeed, when a few years ago a somewhat similar statement to that just made was advanced in an official report, a critic undertook to expose the fallacy of it in the columns of a daily paper by referring to a case within the winter’s own observation, in which a family of three persons had been killed by an accident on their very first journey in a railroad car. It is not, of course, necessary to waste time over such a criticism as this. Railroad accidents continually take place and in consequence of them people are killed and injured, and of these there may well be some who are then making their first journey by rail; but in estimating the dangers of railroad traveling the much larger number who are not killed or injured at all must likewise be taken into consideration. Any reader of this paper in a railroad car may be killed or injured through some accident even while his eye is glancing over the figures which show how infinitesimal his danger is; but the chances are none the less as a million to one that any particular reader will go down to his grave uninjured by any accident on the rail, unless it be occasioned by his or her own carelessness.

Admitting, therefore, that ill luck or hard fortune must fall to the lot of certain unaseertainable persons, yet the chances of incurring that ill fortune are so small that they are not materially increased by any amount of traveling which can be accomplished within the limits of a human life. So far from exhausting a fair average immunity from accident by constant traveling, the statistics of Massachusetts during the last four years would seem to indicate that if any given person were born upon a railroad car and remained upon it, traveling five hundred miles a day all his life, he would, with average good fortune, be about two hundred and twenty years old before he would be involved in any accident resulting in his death or personal injury. Even supposing that the most exceptional average of the “ Revere ” year became usual, a man who was killed in an accident at seventy years of age should, unless he were fairly to be accounted unfortunate, have accomplished a journey of some four hundred and forty miles every day of his life, Sundays included, from the time of his birth to that of his death; while even to have brought him within the fair liability of any injury at all, his daily journey should have been some one hundred and twenty miles.

In this connection it is not without interest to examine the vital statistics of some considerable city, for they show clearly enough what a large degree of literal truth there was in the half jocose proposition attributed to John Bright, that the safest place in which a man could put himself was inside a first-class railroad carriage of a train in full motion. Take the statistics of Boston, for instance, for the year 1874. During that year, it will be remembered, a single passenger only was killed on the railroads of the State in consequence of an accident to which he by his own carelessness in no way contributed. That year, too, was a disastrous one for travelers, as compared either with that which preceded or with that which followed it. Yet during the year 1874, excluding all cases of mere injury of which no account was made, not less than fifteen persons came to their deaths in Boston from falling down-stairs, and twelve from falling out of windows; fourteen were burned to death, and seventeen were killed bv being run over by teams in the streets, while the pastime of coasting was carried on at the cost of ten lives more. There were eight deaths that year in Boston from those forms of violence which are classified under the head of homicide; and, indeed, there is small risk in venturing the assertion that during the last sixteen years there have been more persons — probably at least twice as many — murdered in the city of Boston alone than have lost their lives through the negligence of all the railroad corporations in the whole State of Massachusetts. Neither are the comparative results here stated in any respect novel or peculia to Massachusetts. Years ago it was officially announced in France that people were less safe in their own houses than while traveling on the railroads; and in support of this somewhat startling proposition statistics were produced showing fourteen cases of death of persons remaining at home and there, falling over carpets, or, in the case of females, having their garments catch fire, to ten deaths on the rail. Even the game of cricket counted eight victims to the railroad’s ten.

It will not, of course, be inferred that the cases of death or injury to passengers from causes beyond their control include by any means all the casualties involved in the operation of the railroad system. On the contrary, they include but a very small portion of them. The experience of the Massachusetts roads during the four years between September 30, 1871, and September 30, 1875, may again be cited in reference to this point. During that time there were but forty-two cases of injury to passengers from causes over which they had no control, but in connection with the entire working of the railroad system no less than 1120 cases of injury were reported, of which 600 were fatal; an average of 150 deaths a year. Of these cases, naturally, a large proportion were employés, whose occupation not only involves much necessary risk, but whose familiarity with risk causes them always to incur it even in the most unnecessary and foolhardy manner. During the four years, 192 of them were killed and 220 were reported as injured. Nor is it supposed that this list included by any means all the cases of injury which occurred. More than half of the accidents to employés are occasioned by their falling from the trains when in motion, usually from freight trains and in cold weather, and from being crushed between ars while engaged in coupling them together. From this last cause alone an average of thirty casualties are annually reported. One fact, however, will sufficiently illustrate how very difficult it is to protect this class of men from danger, or rather from themselves. As is well known, on freight trains they are obliged to ride on the tops of the cars; but these are built so high that their roofs come dangerously near the bottoms of the highway bridges, which cross the tracks sometimes in close proximity to each other. Accordingly many unfortunate brakemen were killed by being knocked off the trains as they passed under these bridges. With a view to affording the utmost possible protection against this form of accident, a statute was passed by the Massachusetts legislature compelling the corporations to erect guards at a suitable distance from every overhead bridge which was less than eighteen feet in the clear above the track. These guards were so arranged as to swing lightly across the tops of the cars, giving any one standing upon them a sharp rap, warning him of the danger he was in. This warning rap, however, so annoyed the brakemen that the guards were on a number of the roads systematically destroyed as often as they were put up; so that at last another law had to be passed, making their destruction a criminal offense. The brakemen themselves resisted the attempt to divest their perilous occupation of one of its most insidious dangers.

In this respect, however, brakemen differ in no degree from the rest of the community. On all hands railroad accidents seem to be systematically encouraged, and the wonder is that the list of casualties is not larger. In Massachusetts, for instance, even in the most crowded portions of the largest cities and towns, not only do the railroads cross the highways at grade, but whenever new thoroughfares are laid out, the people of the neighborhood almost invariably insist upon their crossing the railroads at grade and not otherwise. Not but that upon theory and in the abstract every one is opposed to gradecrossings ; but those most directly concerned almost always claim that every new case is exceptional in character. In vain do corporations protest and public officials argue; when the concrete mise arises, all neighborhoods become alike, and strenuously insist on their right to incur everlasting danger rather than to have the level of their streets broken. During the last four years, in Massachusetts, eighty-seven persons have been injured, and forty-four of them fatally injured, at these crossings, and it is as certain as fate that the number is destined to annually increase. What the result in a remote future will be, it is not now easy to forecast. One thing only would seem certain: the time will come when the two classes of traffic now so recklessly made to cross each other will at many points have to be separated, no matter at what cost to the community which now challenges the danger it will then find itself compelled to avoid.

The heaviest and most regular cause of death and injury involved in the operation of the railroad system yet remains to be referred to, and again it is recklessness which is at the root of it, and this time recklessness in direct violation of law. The railroad tracks are everywhere favorite promenades, and apparently even resting - places, especially for those who are more or less drunk. In Great Britain physical demolition by a railroad train is also a somewhat favorite method of committing suicide, and that, too, in the most deliberate and cold - blooded manner. Cases have not been uncommon in which persons have been seen to coolly lay themselves down in front of an advancing train, and, placing their necks across the rail, in this way to effect very neatly their own decapitation. In England alone, during the last three years, there have been no less than eighty-eight railroad suicides. In America these cases are not returned in a class by themselves. Under the general head of accidents to trespassers, however, that is, accidents to men, women, and children, especially the latter, illegally lying, walking, or playing on the tracks or riding upon the cars, — under this head are regularly classified more than one third of all the casualties incident to working the Massachusetts railroads. During the last four years these have amounted to an aggregate of 393 cases of injury, no less. than 280 of which were fatal. Of course very many other cases of this description, which were not fatal, were never reported. And here again the recklessness of the public has received further illustration, and this time in a very unpleasant way. Certain corporations operating roads terminating in Boston endeavored at one time to diminish this slaughter by enforcing the laws against walking on railroad tracks. A few trespassers were arrested and fined, and then the resentment of those whose wonted privileges were thus interfered with began to make itself felt. Obstructions were found placed in the way of night trains. The mere attempt to keep people from risking their lives by getting in the way of locomotives placed whole trains full of passengers in imminent jeopardy. So throughout : in order to guard men against, danger in connection with railroads, the crying need is to guard them against themselves.

Meanwhile, taken even in its largest aggregate, the loss of life incident to the working of the railroad system is not excessive, nor is it out of proportion to what might reasonably be expected. It is to be constantly borne in mind, not only that the railroad performs a great function in modern life, but that it also and of necessity performs it in a very dangerous way. A practically irresistible force crashing through the busy hive of modern civilization at a wild rate of speed, going hither and thither, across highways and by-ways and along a path which is in itself a thoroughfare,—such an agency cannot be expected to work incessantly and yet never to come in contact with the human frame. Naturally, however, it might be a very car of Juggernaut. Is it so in fact? To demonstrate that it is not, it is but necessary again to recur to the comparison between the statistics of railroad accidents and those which necessarily occur in the experience of all considerable cities. Take again those of Boston and of the railroad system of Massachusetts. These for the purposes of illustration are as good as any, and in their results would only be confirmed in the experience of Paris as compared with the railroad system of France, or in that of London as compared with the railroad system of Great Britain. During the four years between September 30, 1870, and September 30, 1874, the entire railroad system of Massachusetts was operated at a cost of 635 lives, apart from all cases of injury which did not prove fatal. The returns in this respect also may be accepted as reasonably accurate, as the deaths were all returned, though the cases of merely personal injury probably were not. During that same period, 1050 cases of accidental death were recorded as having taken place in the city of Boston. In other words, the annual average of deaths by accident in the city of Boston alone exceeds that consequent on running all the railroads of the State by sixty-four per cent. Unless, therefore, the railroad system is to be considered as an exception to all other functions of modern life, and as such is to be expected to do its work without injury to life or limb, this showing does not constitute a very heavy indictment against it.

Up to this point, the statistics and experience of Massachusetts only have been referred to. This is owing to the fact that the railroad returns of that State are more carefully prepared and tabulated then are those of most of the States, and afford, therefore, more satisfactory data from which to draw conclusions. The territorial area from which the statistics are in this case derived is very limited, and it yet remains to compare the results deduced from them with those derived from the similar experience of other communities. This, however, is not an easy thing to do; and, while it is difficult enough as respects Europe, it is even more difficult as respects America taken as a whole. This last fact is especially unfortunate in view of the circumstance that, in regard to railroad accidents, the United States, whether deservedly or not, enjoy a most undesirable reputation. Foreign authorities have a way of referring to our “ well-known national disregard of human life,” with a sort of de hauten bas complacency which is the reverse of pleasing. Judging by the tone of their comments, the natural inference would be that railroad disasters of the worst description were in America matters of such frequent occurrence as to excite scarcely any remark. As will presently be made very apparent, this impression, for it is only an impression, can, so far as the country as a whole is concerned, neither be proved nor disproved, from the absence of sufficient data upon which to argue. As respects Massachusetts, however, and the same statement may perhaps be made of the whole belt of States north of the Potomac and the Ohio, there is no basis for it. There is no reason to suppose that railroad traveling is throughout that region accompanied by any peculiar or unusual degree of danger; and, indeed, there is reason for concluding that it is essentially safer there than it is in Great Britain.

The great difficulty just referred to, of comparing the results deduced from equally complete statistics of different countries, lies in the variety of the arbitrary rules under which the computations in making them up are effected. As an example in point, take the railroad returns of Great Britain and those of Massachusetts. They are in each case prepared with a great deal of care, and the results deduced from them may fairly be accepted as approximately correct. As respects accidents, the number of cases of death and of personal injury are annually reported, and with tolerable completeness, though in the latter respect there is probably in both cases room for improvement. The whole comparison turns, however, on the way in which the entire number of passengers annually carried is computed. In Great Britain, for instance, in 1874, these were returned, using round numbers only, at 480,000,000, and in Massachusetts at 33,000,000. By dividing these totals by the number of cases of death and injury reported as occurring to passengers from causes beyond their control, and in this respect the returns are probably in each case almost certainly correct, we shall arrive apparently at a fair comparative showing as to the relative safety of railroad traveling in the two communities. The result for that particular year would have been that while in Great Britain one passenger in each 5,000,000was killed and one in each 300,000injured from causes beyond their control, in Massachusetts none were killed and only one in each 6,600,000were in any way injured. Unfortunately, however, a closer examination reveals a very grave error in the computation, affecting every comparative result drawn from it. In the English returns no allowance whatever is made for the very large number of journeys made by season-ticket or commutation passengers, while in Massachusetts, on the contrary, each person of this class enters into the grand total as making two trips each day, 156trips on each quarterly ticket, and 626trips during the year. Now in 1874no less than 493,957holders of season tickets were returned by the roads of Great Britain, How many of these were quarterly and how many were annual travelers does not appear. If they were all annual travelers, no less than 210,000,000 journeys should be added to the 480,000,000in the returns, in order to arrive at an equal basis for a comparison between the foreign and the American roads: this method, however, would be manifestly inaccurate, so it only remains, in the absence of all reliable data, and for the purposes of comparison solely, to strike out from the Massachusetts returns the 6,752,540season-ticket passages, which at once reduces by over 1,400,000the number of journeys to each case of injury. As season-ticket passengers do travel and are exposed to danger in the same degree as trip-ticket passengers, no result is approximately accurate which leaves them out of the computation. At present, however, the question relates not to the positive danger or safety of traveling by rail, but to its relative danger in different communities.

Making allowance, however, for this discrepancy, and reducing the figures of the Massachusetts returns to the English basis, it will be found that during the sixteen years between 1860 and 1875, about 260,000,000 passenger journeys were made within the limits of the State, or one passenger in each 6,600,000 carried was killed, and one in each million was injured, from causes beyond their control. The doings of these sixteen years on the Massachusetts roads represent, however, after all, but little more than the doings of six months on the roads of Great Britain. In order to effect a comparison, therefore, it is not necessary to go back over so long a period of the English returns; four years are ample. Taking, then, the last four (1871-74), it is found that during that period about 1,735,000,000 passenger journeys were made over the roads of Great Britain, and these resulted in 5377 cases of injury to passengers in the cars, of which number 162 were fatal; or in round numbers one case of injury to each 333,000 persons carried, and a case of death to each 10,700,000. In other words, while owing to the terribly fatal accident at Revere in 1871, with its 29 deaths at once, the average of fatal injuries has been in Massachusetts about twice that of Great Britain, yet as respects the total of casualties the proportion is decidedly in favor of Massachusetts, her returns showing but one case in 900,000 while the English returns indicate one in about 330,000. When the question reverts, however, to the general cost of life and limb to the entire communities at which the railroad systems are worked and the railroad traffic is carried on, the comparison is less favorable to Massachusetts. Taking the four years of 1871-74, the English returns included 12,450 cases of injury, and 4345 of death; while those of Massachusetts for the same years included 635 deaths, with only 523 cases of injury; in the one case a total of 16,795 casualties, as compared with 1158 in the other. It will, however, be noticed that while in the English returns the cases of injury are nearly threefold those of death, in the Massachusetts returns the deaths exceed the cases of injury. This fact cannot but throw grave suspicion on the completeness of the latter returns. As a matter of practical experience it is well known that cases of injury almost invariably exceed those of death, and those returns in which the disproportion is greatest are probably the most full and reliable. Taking, therefore, the deaths in the two cases as the better basis for comparison, it will be found that the roads of Great Britain in the grand result accomplished seventeen-fold the work of those of Massachusetts with less than seven times as many casualties; had the proportion between the results accomplished and the fatal injuries inflicted been maintained, but 255 deaths instead of 635 would have appeared in the Massachusetts returns. The reason of this difference in result is worth looking for, and fortunately the statistical tables are in both cases carried sufficiently into detail to make an analysis possible; and this analysis, when made, seems to indicate very clearly that while for those directly connected with the railroads, either as passengers or as employés, the Massachusetts system in its working involves relatively a less degree of danger than that of Great Britain, yet for the outside community it involves very much more. Take, for instance, the two heads of accidents at grade-crossings and accidents to trespassers, which have already been referred to. In Great Britain highway grade-crossings are discouraged. In Massachusetts they are practically insisted upon. The results of the policy pursued may in each case he read with sufficient distinctness in the bills of mortality. During the years 1872-74, of 878 casualties to persons on the railroads of Massachusetts, 106 occurred at highway grade-crossings. Had the accidents of this description in Great Britain been equally numerous in proportion to the larger volume of the traffic of that country, they would have resulted in 1600 cases of death or personal injury; they did in fact result in 289 such cases. In Massachusetts, again, to walk at will on any part of a railroad track is looked upon as a sort of prescriptive and inalienable right of every member of the community, irrespective of age, sex, color or previous condition of servitude. Accordingly, during the three years referred to, this right was exercised at the cost of life or limb to 290 persons, —one in three of all the casualties which occurred in connection with the railroad system. In Great Britain the custom of using the tracks of railroads as a foot-path seems to exist, but, so far from being regarded as a right, it is practiced in perpetual terror of the law. Accordingly, instead of some 5000 cases of death or injury from this cause during these three years, which would have been the proportion under like conditions in Massachusetts, the returns showed only 1266. These two are among the most constant and fruitful causes of accident in connection with the railroad system of America. In Great Britain their proportion to the whole number of casualties which take place is scarcely a fifth part what it is with us in Massachusetts: here they constitute very nearly fifty per cent, of all the accidents which occur; there they constitute barely ten per cent.

When we pass from Great Britain to the continental countries of Europe, the difficulties in the way of any fair comparison of results become greater and greater. The statistics do not enter sufficiently into detail, nor is the basis of computation apparent. It is generally conceded that, where a due degree of caution is exercised, railroad traveling in continental countries is attended with a much less degree of danger than in England. When we come to the returns, however, they hardly bear out this conclusion; at least to the degree commonly supposed. Take France, for example. Nowhere is human life more carefully guarded than in that country, yet their returns show that of 866,000,000 passengers transported on the French railroads during the eleven years 1859-69, no less than 65 were killed and 1285 injured from causes beyond their control; or one in each 13,000,000 killed as compared with one in 10,700,000 in Great Britain; and one in every 674,000 injured as compared with one in each 330,000 in the other country, or one in 900,000 in Massachusetts. During the single year 1869, about 111,000,000 passengers were carried on the French lines, at a general cost to the community of 2416 casualties, of which 295 were fatal. In Massachusetts, during the four years 1871-74, about 95,000,000 passengers were carried, at a reported cost of 1158 casualties. This showing might well be considered favorable to Massachusetts did not the single fact that her returns included more than twice as many deaths as the French, with only a quarter as many injuries, make it at once apparent that the statistics were at fault. Under these circumstances comparison could only be made between the numbers of deaths reported; which would indicate that, in proportion to the work done, the railroad operations of Massachusetts involved about twice and a half more cases of injury to life and limb than those of the French service. As respects Great Britain the comparison is much more favorable, the returns showing an almost exactly equal general death-rate in the two countries in proportion to their volumes of traffic; the volume of Great Britain being about four times that of France, while its death-rate by railroad accidents was as 1100 to 295.

With the exception of Belgium, however, in which country the returns cover only the lines operated by the state, the basis hardly exists for a useful comparison between the dangers of injury from accident on the continental railroads and on those of Great Britain and America. The several systems are operated on wholly different principles, to meet the needs of communities between whose modes of life and thought little similarity exists. The continental trains are far less crowded than either the English or the American, and when accidents occur fewer persons are involved in them. They are apt also to move under much stricter regulation and at lower rates of speed, so that there is a grain of truth in the English sarcasm that on a German railway “ it almost seems as if beerdrinking at the stations were the principal business, and traveling a mere accessory. ”

Limiting, therefore, the comparison to the railroads of Great Britain, it remains to be seen whether the evil reputation of the American roads as respects accidents is wholly deserved. Is it indeed true that the danger to a passenger’s life and limbs is so much greater in this country than elsewhere? Locally, and so far as Massachusetts at least is concerned, it certainly is not. How is it with the country taken as a whole? The lack of all reliable statistics as respects this wide field of inquiry has already been referred to. We have no trustworthy data. We do not know with accuracy even the number of miles of road operated; much less the number of passengers annually carried. As respects accidents, and the deaths and injuries resulting from them, some information may be gathered from a careful artd very valuable, because the only, record which has been preserved during the last three years in the columns of the Railroad Gazette. From the very nature of the case, however, this record cannot be complete, nor does it pretend to anything like official accuracy. It is, however, the only guide we have. During the years 1873-74 the Gazette recorded 2294 train-accidents as occurring on the railroads of this country, resulting in 503 deaths and 2002 cases of personal injury. During the same years 2703 trainaccidents were officially reported in Great Britain, resulting in 195 deaths and 3612 eases of injury. The English returns covered with accuracy the operations of some 17,000 miles of road; the American record embraced something like 72,000. Far more trains were run, however, and more passengers carried, on the 17,000 miles than on the 72,000. Indeed, excluding all those traveling on season or commutation tickets, no less than 480000,000 passengers were carried over the roads of Great Britain in 1874; while the returns for that year of fifteen of the principal railroad States of this country, including all New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, representing considerably more than half of our whole railroad mileage, aggregate only 134,000,000 passengers. Allowing for the mileage of the remaining States in the same proportion, — manifestly an overestimate, — the number of passengers now annually carried on all the railroads in the country would but little exceed 240,000,000. In reality, it is probably less than 200,000,000. Conceding, however, that the larger number is approximately accurate, and accepting as equally accurate the record of the Gazette, we yet find that in carrying exactly half as many passengers as the roads of Great Britain, the American roads met with three quarters as many accidents, resulting in twice the number of deaths and half as many cases of injury. Under the most favorable showing, therefore, it would seem that in America, taken as a whole, the dangers incident to railroad traveling are indeed materially greater than in any country of Europe. How much greater is a question wholly impossible to answer. So that when a statistical writer undertakes to show, as one eminent European authority has done, that in a given year on the American roads one passenger in every 286,179 was killed, and one in every 90,737 was injured, it is charitable to suppose that in regard to America only is he indebted to his imagination for his figures.

Neither is it possible to analyze with any satisfactory degree of precision the nature of the accidents in the two countries, with a view to drawing inferences from them. But without attempting to enter into details, the record reveals one salient fact: out of 661 English accidents, no legs than 492 came under the head of collisions, — whether head collisions, rear collisions, or collisions on sidings or at junctions. In other words, to collisions of some sort between trains were due three out of four accidents which took place in Great Britain, while only 63, or less than ten per cent, of the whole, were due to derailments from all causes. In America, on the other hand, these figures were nearly reversed; for, while of the 3311 accidents recorded, but 835, or less than one fourth part, were due to collisions, no less than 2076, or sixty per cent., were classed under the head of derailments. These figures curiously illustrate the different manner in which the railroads of the two countries have been constructed, and the different circumstances under which they are operated. The English collisions are distinctly traceable to the constant overcrowding of their lines; the American derailments to the inferior construction of our road-beds.

Finally, what of late years has been done to diminish the dangers of the rail? What more can be done? Few persons realize what a tremendous pressure in this respect is constantly bearing down upon those whose business it is to operate railroads. A great accident is not only a terrible blow to the pride and prestige of a corporation, not only does it practically ruin the unfortunate officials involved in it, but it entails also portentous financial consequences. Juries proverbially have little mercy for railroad corporations, and when a disaster comes, these have practically no choice but to follow the scriptural injunction to settle with their adversaries quickly. The Revere catastrophe, for instance, cost the railroad company liable on account of it over half a million of dollars; and a few years ago in England a jury awarded a sum of $65,000 for damages sustained through the death of a single individual. During the five years 1867-71 , the railroad corporations of Great Britain paid out over $11,000,000 in compensation for damages occasioned by accidents. In view of such money consequences of disaster, alone, it would be most unnatural did not each new accident lead to the adoption of better appliances to prevent its recurrence.

Four of these appliances of comparatively recent origin are so important, and have so greatly diminished the dangers of the rail, that they are deserving of more than a passing notice. Two of them are of English origin, and two of American; all of them have naturally been called into existence and developed to meet the peculiar requirements of the country in which they originated. These four appliances are the block system, the interlocking of points and signals system, the continuous train-brake, and the Miller car construction. The first two were gradually developed under the tremendous pressure of traffic which is a peculiarity of the English lines; the last two are American inventions, designed the one to prevent accidents, the other to protect the passengers when accidents do occur. The limits of this paper do not admit of doing justice to these triumphs of railroad mechanism; yet they should be much more popularly appreciated than they are by those who almost daily owe their safety to them. At present they can only be alluded to; in a future paper they will be described at length.

To return, however, to the subject of railroad accidents, and the final conclusion to he drawn from the statistics which have been presented. That conclusion briefly stated is that the charges of recklessness and indifference so generally and so widely advanced against those managing the railroads cannot for an instant be sustained. After all, as was said in the beginning of this paper, it is not the danger but the safety of the railroad which should excite our wonder. If any one doubts this, it is very easy to satisfy himself of the fact, — that is, if by nature he is gifted with the slightest spark of imagination. It. is but necessary to stand once on the platform of a way-station and to look at an express train dashing by. There are few sights finer; few better calculated to quicken the pulses. It is most striking at night. The glare of the head-light, the rush and throb of the locomotive, the connecting rod and driving-wheels of which seem instinct with nervous life, the flashing lamps in the cars, and the final whirl of dust in which the red taillights vanish almost as soon as they are seen, — all this is well calculated to excite our wonder; but the special and unending cause for wonder is how, in case of accident, anything whatever is left of the train. It would seem to be inevitable that something must happen, and that, whatever it may be, it must necessarily involve both the train and every one in it in utter and irremediable destruction. Here is a body weighing in the neighborhood of two hundred tons, moving over the face of the earth at a speed of sixty feet a second and held to its course only by two slender lines of iron rails, and yet it is safe. Half a century ago, when the possibility of something remotely like this was first discussed, a writer in The British Quarterly earned for himself a lasting fame by using this expression, which has since become one of the familiar passages of literature: “We should as soon expect people to suffer themselves to be fired off upon one of Congreve’s ricochet rockets, as trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine, going at such a rate; their property, perhaps, they may trust.’’ At the time he wrote, the chances were ninety-nine in a hundred that the critic was right, and yet, because reality, not for the first nor the last time, saw fit to outstrip the wildest flights of imagination, he blundered, by being prudent, into an immortality of ridicule. The thing, however, is still none the less a miracle because it is with us matter of daily observation. That, indeed, is the most miraculous part of it. At all hours of the day and of the night, during every season of the year, this movement is going on. It never wholly stops. It depends for its even action on every conceivable contingency, from the disciplined vigilance of thousands of employés to the condition of the atmosphere, the heat of an axle, or the strength of a nail. The vast machine is kept in constant motion, and the derangement of any one of a myriad of conditions may at any moment occasion one of those inequalities of movement which are known as accidents. Yet at the end of the year, of the hundreds of millions of passengers, fewer have lost their lives through these accidents than have been murdered in cold blood. Not without reason, therefore, has it been asserted that, viewing at once the speed, the certainty, and the safety with winch the intricate movement of modern life is carried on, there is no more creditable monument to human care, human skill, and human foresight, than the statistics of railroad accidents.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr.