T&T Accident Report - ICC #7/Q1/21

Extracted and summarized from the I.C.C. Reports

by David T. Sprau

Go to the full text of report #760

Excerpt from Interstate Commerce Commission Accident Bulletin No 7
First Quarter 1921, US Government Printing Office, 1921:


Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad

Head-end collision between a mixed train and a work extra near Dumont, California on January 14, 1921, resulting in the death of three employees and the injury of three employees.

This accident was caused by the work extra being operated against an overdue superior train without orders and without proper flag protection, for which the conductor and engineman are responsible.

This accident occurred on a single-track line over which trains are operated by time-table and train orders, no block signal system being in use. In the vicinity of the point of accident there are many curves and the view is materially restricted. Approaching the point of accident from the south the track is tangent for several hundred feet, followed by a curve to the right of approximately eight degrees approximately 1,100 feet in length; the accident occurred near the northern end of this curve. Approaching from the north, the track is tangent for several hundred feet, followed by the curve on which the accident occurred, the grade is 1.42 percent descending for northbound trains. The weather was clear.

Northbound mixed train No. 9 consisted of nine freight cars, one combination baggage car and coach, and one Pullman sleeping car, hauled by engine 10. It left Ludlow, 73.6 miles from Dumont, at 5.37a.m., 47 minutes late; left Silver Lake, the only open telegraph office between Ludlow and the point of accident, at 7.35a.m., 35 minutes late; and collided with work extra 1 while traveling at a speed of about 20 miles an hour.

Work extra 1, which was moving southward at the time of the accident, consisted of 3 freight cars, engine 1, and a caboose, in the order named. It had tied up the preceding night at Sperry, 4.73 miles north of Dumont. Prior to leaving Sperry on the day of the accident, the conductor had inquired of the dispatcher concerning train No. 9 and had been informed that it left Silver Lake 35 minutes late. Work extra 1 departed from Sperry at 7.55a.m., proceeded southward to a bridge where three cars of sand were unloaded. and then proceeded towards Dumont, picked up the flagman who had been protecting the train while it was unloading the sand, and had started around the curve when it collided with train No. 9.

Engine 10, of train No. 9, was derailed and overturned; the first two cars were derailed, while the next three cars were demolished. The three flat cars of work extra 1 were demolished, while the front end of the engine was considerably damaged. The employees killed were laborers who were riding on the flat cars of work extra 1.

The crew of train No. 9 held no train orders relative to work extra 1 and the first knowledge any of them had of its approach was when the engineman saw smoke across the curve; he immediately applied the air brakes in emergency, the collision occurring almost immediately thereafter.

According to the dispatcher, there is only one wire available on this railroad, and when wire trouble develops there are no means of making other arrangements for the issuing of orders. This work extra had been working daily for the past few months, and at first it was the custom for the conductor to call the dispatcher each morning and receive a copy of train order No. 1 for that date, specifying the points between which the train was to work. On account of wire trouble which occurred at different times prior to this accident, resulting in the work extra working without orders, the dispatcher suggested to the conductor that he give him a block of work orders. The dispatcher sent to the conductor about 50 such orders, with the date left blank, with instructions that if they were out of communication with each other the dispatcher would protect the order each day between the working limits shown thereon, and that if the conductor could get in communication with the dispatcher he would complete the order. The dispatcher said that at the time of the investigation these work orders were not being made complete to the conductor more than 20 percent of the time; that the order held by the crew of work extra 1 to work between Dumont and Shoshone, within which territory this accident occurred, was not made complete to the conductor on the day of the accident, and that the work extra was working on this day on the authority of one of the orders written by the dispatcher in the manner above described.

In making this arrangement for the handling of train orders the dispatcher was acting entirely on his own initiative and had said nothing about it to the Superintendent.

The conductor and engineman of Work Extra #1 were familiar with the method of operating work extras authorized by the dispatcher and had been operating this work train in this manner for some time, both of them having been in this work-train service about 5 weeks. Under these circumstances, when occupying the main track on the time of an overdue superior train, it was their duty to see their train was provided with proper flag protection.


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