19th Century Railroads: Unsafe at Any Speed

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Rairoad train heading west  just past northern boulevard albany ny c 1900

In 1865, every railroad in the state made a report to the railroad commissioners of the State of New York. There are lots of facts and figures about capital stock, funded debt, length of road laid, numbers of passenger cars and snow plows, etc. They even give the average rate of speed and the average weight of full size cars. Fascinating. But what’s really interesting are the detailed descriptions of the dozens of ways that passengers, employees, and ordinary citizens trying to cross the tracks were parted from life and limb, quite literally. Here are just a few examples from Albany area railroads, that don’t even begin to touch on the dozens of horrific ways people were killed or maimed by the iron horse that year.

Albany Railway
1864. Sept. 14. John T. Siegmann, of New York, in leaving the front platform of car No. 2, descending State street, opposite Tweddle Hall, without proper notice to the conductor or driver, was thrown down and his right arm so injured as to require amputation. The conductor and driver were exonerated from blame.
Oct. 21. John Mooney was injured in a drain excavation in the Bowery [renamed Central Avenue in 1867] by the falling of the horses of a car. No fatal result occurred.

Albany and Susquehanna
April 26, 1865. John Van De Bogart, a brakeman, while standing on the steps of a passenger car, was struck by the bridge near Guilderland, and instantly killed.

Albany and West Stockbridge
1865. Feb. 19. A boy by the name of John Kildan, in trying to get upon a stock train at Chatham fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Aug. 30. A man by the name of John Kiley, in trying to get upon a freight train at Greenbush, fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Sept. 22. A man by the name of Michael Behan, of Pittsfield, in trying to cross the track at Shaker’s Village, in front of a train, was truck by the engine and killed.

Hudson and Boston
1865. Sept. 9. Jacob M. Rivenburgh was struck by the morning train from Chatham while driving his cattle from the track in Ghent; being aware that a train was coming, and supposing at the time that it was a Harlem train until it was too late for him to escape, the engine struck him, injuring him fatally; he lived about five hours, perfectly rational, blaming no one but himself for the accident.

Hudson River Railroad
1864. Oct. 2. John Bowman jumped from the cars near Troy, and was run over and severely injured.
1865. January 31. Anson Norcutt, brakeman, stepped from his train, near Castleton, on to the opposite track, and was struck by a down train and killed.
March 9. An express train, going south, was thrown from the track near Stuyvesant, and a brakeman, named O. Jenkins, had one of his legs broken.
March 15. George Comstock, while walking on the track near Castleton, was struck by an express train, and so severely injured as to cause his death.
May 29. Patrick Kennedy, employe, while riding on a hand car between Catskill and Hudson, came in collision with a locomotive and was seriously injured.
[Many other accidents up and down the Hudson were recorded.]
Most of the accidents which have occurred are attributable to the carelessness of the persons injured, particularly to their walking on the track.

New York Central
1864. Nov. 5. Christian Shilling, a laborer, in attempting to pass from a car of a wood train to the engine, while the train was in motion near West Albany, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
Dec. 16. John Rahill, an employe, while shoveling snow from the north track in the rock cut east of West Albany, in order to avoid a gravel train moving west, passed over to the south track just in front of the Buffalo express train moving east, was run over and killed.
1865. Feb. 25. Andrew Smith, a brakeman, was killed by striking against the Johnstown and Fultonville bridge, under which his train was passing.
March 30. Thomas Merritt, an employee, got off an engine on the north track at West Albany, and while passing across the south track, was run over, by an engine backing, and killed.
April 3. Mathew Kennedy, an employe, jumped from a moving engine at West Albany car shops, fell upon the track, was run over and injured in the leg so as to render amputation necessary.
April 14. Timothy Dewelly, a brakeman, fell from a freight train moving east, about five miles west of Albany, and was killed.
May 13. Joseph Myers, while walking on the track, about a mile west of Schenectady, was struck by the engine of a moving freight train, and had one of his legs broken.
July 5. Stephen Bush was found dead on the track near Crescent Station. It is supposed he was run over the night previous by the New York mail train moving west, blood having been found upon the pilot to the engine of that train.
August 24. Baltus Flesh, a boy aged six years, got upon the tender of an engine backing, in Railroad avenue, in Albany, and while attempting to get off, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
September 2. Matthew Smith, a baggageman, was killed near Centre, between Albany and Schenectady, by the baggage car being thrown from the track by the breaking of an axle.
September 3. Ferdinand Netterman, was found dead near the track west of Schenectady. It is supposed he fell off the Cleveland express train moving east.
September 21. Patrick Dollan stepped upon the track at Schenectady, in front of a baggage car that was being slowly moved in making up a train, was run over and killed.

Rensselaer and Saratoga
1865. Sept. 3. A lad, name unknown, at play in the rear of a freight train at Schenectady, was squeezed against the bumper post and instantly killed.
Sept. 23. Charles Lambert, an employe of the Company, while at work on a car on the track at Green Island, was so seriously injured by a train backing against the car on which he was at work, that he died in a few hours.

Troy and Boston
1865. March 21. A woman named Kulchan walked on to the track at Walloomsac Station just as the up express train was passing, was struck by the engine and instantly killed.
July 6. Roddy Godfrey, while intoxicated, fell from platform of accommodation train up, when near Schaghticoke, and was so seriously injured that he lived but a few hours.
Aug. 11. William H. Stephens, a freight conductor, fell from his train near Hoosick Junction, receiving injuries from which he died the 21st of same month.
Aug. 19. John Kent, a man known to have been drunk an hour before the accident, was run over by a freight train near Eagle Bridge; when first seen by the engineer he was lying across the track.

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