Report of the director, Bureau of Safety, accident on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Tortuga, California, September 20, 1938


Material Information

Report of the director, Bureau of Safety, accident on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Tortuga, California, September 20, 1938
Portion of title:
Accident on the Southern Pacific Railroad, Tortuga, California, September 20, 1938
Physical Description:
24 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
United States -- Interstate Commerce Commission. -- Bureau of Safety
Patterson, W. J
U.S. Government Printing Office
Place of Publication:
Washington, D.C
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Railroad accidents -- California -- Tortuga   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


General Note:
Cover title.
General Note:
At head of title: Interstate Commerce Commission.
General Note:
"Investigation No. 2294."
General Note:
Signed W.J. Patterson, director.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 004955794
oclc - 662618741
System ID:

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Full Text






SEPTEMBER 20, 1938




TC .1 neL'S-T.0(7



Railroad ---------------
Location ---
Kind of accident_ -
Trains involved ---------
Train Nos. ----
Engine Nos. ----------------
Operation --


Time -------------------------
Casualties -----------

Southern Pacific.
September 20, 1938.
Tortuga, Calif.
Head-end collision.
Passenger__--- Passenger.
44--------- 5.
4304 --------------4362.
11 cars ------- 14 cars.
Standing -------- 30-40 m. p. h.
Timetable, train orders, and automatic
block-signal system.
Single; tangent; 0.44 percent descending
1:36 a. m.
11 killed; 139 injured.
Switch opened directly in front of approach-
ing train.

On September 20, 1938, there was a head-end collision between
two passenger trains on the Southern Pacific Railroad at Tortuga,
Calif., which resulted in the death of 8 passengers and 3 employees
and the injury of 132 passengers, 3 railway mail clerks, 3 Pullman em-
ployees and 1 train-service employee. The investigation of this acci-
dent was made in conjunction with a representative of the Railroad
Commission of California.


This accident occurred on that part of the Los Angeles Division
designated as the Salton Subdivision which extends between Indio,
Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., a distance of 121.8 miles. This is a single-
track line over which trains are operated by timetable, train orders,
and an automatic block-signal system. At Tortuga, a siding, 3,642
feet in length, parallels the main track on the north; the accident oc-
curred on this siding at a point 232 feet west of the east switch. En-
trance to the east end of the siding is made through a No. 10 turnout
with a maximum curvature of 7 22'; the clearance point is 191 feet from
the switch points. Approaching from the east the track is tangent more
than 8,000 feet to the point of accident and a distance of more than
4,000 feet beyond. The grade is 0.44 percent descending westward
more than 8,000 feet to the point of accident and a distance of about
1,000 feet beyond. Westward home signal 6789 and westward distant
signal 6795 are located 68.5 and 2,069 feet, respectively, east of the
switch involved, with approach-lighting circuits for both signals ex-
tending 11,648 feet east of the home signal. Eastward home signal
6790 is located on the south side of the track opposite the westward
home signal; these signals display red aspects when the block east of
signal 6790 is occupied and the switch-points of the east switch are
opened one-fourth inch or more.


-5, 678

Yuma, Arizono

6.6 mi:
Aroz Jc., Co/if

28. omi


/3. 5 mi

6. /m.

Tor/ugao (R /A.)



6.? m/
N//lan d

56. 6m/i
In dIo, Co/i'





The automatic block signals involved are of the one-arm, lower
quadrant, semaphore, approach-lighted type and display the following
Home signal:
Red---------------- Stop.
Green ------------- Proceed.
Distant signal:
Yellow --------------Proceed, prepared to stop at next home
Green-------------- Proceed.
The switch stand at the east switch is a Southern Pacific standard
switch stand and is located on the north side of the main track with
the center of the switch shaft 7 feet 2 inches from the north rail.
The operating table has two lever-slots 45 degrees apart on the
quadrant, in which to secure the operating lever. There is a hasp
on the lever corresponding to one under each slot for inserting the lock.
The lever is 21 inches in length and is fastened to the shaft 2 feet 3%
inches above the switch tie on the east side of the stand and its normal
position is vertical. To set the switch for the siding the lever is
disengaged from the slot, raised to horizontal position, then pushed
45 degrees to the north slot where it is pushed downward to engage
the slot. The switch shaft is 6 feet 2 inches in height and at a point
5 feet above the head-block there is a banner 18 inches in diameter
which displays red aspects to the east and the west when the switch is
set for the siding. Except within yard limits switches within auto-
matic-block territory are not equipped with lights; the point of accident
was not within yard limits and there was no light on the switch stand.
Rule 104 (C) reads in part as follows:
Trainmen and other employees must not unlock derails or main track switches
to enter main track until the trains which are to be met or passed have cleared
the switch, and must not stand within twenty feet of the switch stand while a
train is closely approaching or moving over the switch. When practicable, they
must take position on the opposite side of track from switch stand while train is
passing. When a switch is thrown, the employee using it must see that both
points have moved to proper position. A switch must be fastened as soon as
thrown either way, and, when locked, the chain pulled to insure that lock is
securely fastened.
The maximum authorized speed for passenger trains is 65 miles per
Westward trains are superior to trains of the same class in the
opposite direction.
The weather was clear at the time of the accident, which occurred
at 1:36 a. m.



No. 44, an east-bound passenger train known as "The Californian,"
consisted of two baggage cars, four chair cars, one diner, three Pullman
tourist sleeping cars and one lounge car, in the order named, of standard
all-steel construction, except the third, fourth and fifth cars, which
were constructed of Cor-Ten and stainless steel and were so-called
lightweight streamlined cars, hauled by engine 4304, and was in
charge of Conductor Rankin and Engineman Mason. At Indio, 67.6
miles west of Tortuga, the crew received train order No. 473 which
conferred on No. 44 right over No. 5 from Indio to Araz Junction, 47.6
miles east of Tortuga. At Niland, 11 miles west of Tortuga, train
order No. 405 was received, reading as follows:
No. 5 meet No. 44 at Tortuga and No. 4 and No. 6 at Iris No. 44 take
This train left Niland at 1:12 a. m., according to the train sheet, 4
minutes late, entered the west switch of the siding at Tortuga and
about 1:32 or 1:33 a. m. stopped with the head end of the engine 232
feet west of the east switch; it was struck by No. 5 about 3 or 4
minutes later.
No. 5, a west-bound passenger train known as "The Argonaut,"
consisted of one combination mail and baggage car, one baggage car,
one coach, two chair cars, one Pullman tourist sleeping car, one
diner, one lounge car, five Pullman sleeping cars, and one business
car, in the order named, of standard all-steel construction, except
the fourth car which was a so-called lightweight streamlined car con-
structed of Cor-Ten and stainless steel, hauled by engine 4362, and
was in charge of Conductor Cantrell and Engineman Richardson.
At Yuma, 54.2 miles east of Tortuga, the crew received train order
No. 473 and at Glamis, 19.6 miles east of Tortuga, train order No. 405
was received. This train left Glamis at 1:12 a. m., according to the
train sheet, 3 minutes late, passed Amos, 6.1 miles east of Tortuga,
at 1:30 a. m., on time, according to the statements of the crew, and
while traveling at a speed estimated to have been between 30 and 40
miles per hour collided with No. 44 on the siding at Tortuga.
No. 44 was shoved westward approximately 88 feet by the impact;
the locomotive was practically demolished and stopped on its left
side with its front end 320 feet from the siding switch and about 20
feet north of the north rail; the tender stopped on its left side, badly
damaged, attached to and behind the locomotive. The first and
second c:irs, coupled together, were derailed and stopped upright on
the siding; the front end of the first car was telescoped a distance of
about 3 feet by the rear of the tender and it stopped at a point 20
feet west thereof; the rear end of the second car stopped on the
transom of the third car. S. P. 2418, the third car, and the front car


of an articulated two-car unit, was derailed and stopped upright and
in line with the siding; the front end was telescoped a distance of
18 feet by the rear end of the second car; the superstructure of the
front end containing 16 seats was demolished; all the passengers
killed were in this car. S. P. 2419, the rear car of this unit, and the
other seven cars were neither derailed nor damaged.
The locomotive of No. 5 was practically demolished and stopped on
its right side on the siding at an angle of about 45 degrees thereto,
with its rear end fouling the main track and the front end about 10
feet from the front end of the locomotive of No. 44; the tender and the
first car stopped on their right and left sides, respectively, north of
the track, next to and parallel with the locomotive; both were badly
damaged. The second car, T. N. 0. 608, passed the first car and the
tender and stopped upright on the siding with its front end telescoped
a distance of 18 feet and against the overturned locomotive. The
rear end of the third car and the front end of the fourth car, S. P. 2438,
buckled to the south and stopped on their left sides at an angle of
about 45 degrees to the main track, with their north ends adjacent
to the rear end of the second car and their greater portions lying on the
south side of the roadbed; the third car was badly damaged and the
fourth car was demolished. The head end of the fifth car was forced
to the north, and stopped upright adjacent to and parallel with the
fourth car; it was badly damaged. Both trucks of the sixth car and
the leading truck of the seventh car were derailed; these cars stopped
in upright positions and remained coupled to the remaining seven
cars which were neither derailed nor damaged.
The employees killed were the engineman and the fireman of No.
5 and the fireman of No. 44; the employee injured was the head
brakeman of No. 5.
Engineman Mason, of No. 44, stated that Head Brakeman Jacobson
opened the west switch and derail at Tortuga and No. 44 entered the
siding. The locomotive stopped at a point about 200 feet from the
east switch which was properly set for the main track. The westward
and eastward home signals were in proceed position at that time. The
engineman extinguished the headlight, released the automatic brakes
on the train, left the independent brake applied, got off the right side
and proceeded to oil and inspect the locomotive. He reentered the
engine cab on the left side as No. 5 approached and looked ahead
through the right front window for identification; when the locomotive
was within 200 or 300 feet of the switch the illumination from the
approaching headlight revealed that the switch points were open;
simultaneously the engineman of No. 5 sounded two blasts of the
whistle and Engineman Mason shouted a warning to his fireman, who


was behind him, and jumped out the left gangway; the accident oc-
curred 2 or 3 seconds thereafter. No. 5 was not in the block when No.
44 stopped and he estimated that No. 44 had been standing about 3%
minutes when the collision occurred. Subsequent to the accident
Brakeman Jacobson stated to the engineman that he had thrown the
switch. He said that he is personally acquainted with Brakeman
Jacobson and has considered him to be very dependable; he briefly
conversed with him after stopping on the siding and Brakeman
Jacobson appeared normal in every respect at that time; no reference
was made to the switch during the conversation. The weather was
clear and the visibility was good at the time of the accident.
Head Brakeman Jacobson, of No. 44, stated that he read and fully
understood the train order requiring No. 44 to take siding at Tortuga;
he opened the switch and derail for the entrance and rode on the pilot
of the engine to the point where the train stopped near the east end
of the siding; he then conversed briefly with Engineman Mason but
no mention was made of the switch. About 30 seconds after the train
stopped, as he started toward the east switch, he saw the beam of the
headlight of No. 5 come around the curve, located about 8,000 feet
east of the switch. As he proceeded toward the switch he had no
thought of heading No. 5 into the siding. Nearing the switch he
observed that the eastward home signal indicated that the train was in
the block which is about 3 miles in length. Somewhere between the
locomotive and the switch, it slipped his mind that No. 5 was to hold
the main track, and about 15 seconds after his arrival at the switch
he leisurely unlocked the switch, lined it for the siding, hung the lock
in the hasp, in accordance with his usual practice when meeting No. 5
at this point, and took a position on the opposite side of the track about
4 or 5 feet from the south rail. About 15 seconds later, when No. 5
was closely approaching, he suddenly realized his error, hurried to the
switch and tried to close it, but the locomotive passed him before he
could remove the lock from the hasp. He said that immediately
thereafter he left to assist the injured, leaving the switch lined for the
siding. He did not know whether No. 5 was past the distant signal
when he opened the switch and due to the glare of the headlight
he could not estimate how far distant the train was at that time
nor at the time he hurried to close it. On being informed that the
switch was found lined and locked for the main track after the accident
occurred, he stated that to the best of his knowledge he did not close
it and he did not return to it after the collision occurred. During the
9 months he had been acting as brakeman on No. 44 this train usually
had met No. 5 at Tortuga; in nearly all cases No. 5 took the siding
and he has opened the switch to head that train in; he said that without
a doubt this custom was the cause of his error. Had there been a light
on the switch'stand it probably would not have helped him discover


his error earlier, but had it been so equipped the indication might have
been seen by the engineman or the fireman of No. 44 who could have
warned him by shouting or sounding the whistle. Brakeman Jacobson
stated that he is 63 years of age and has been employed as passenger
brakeman on the division involved for a period of 18 years. He was
off duty a period of 51 hours before reporting for the trip on which
the accident occurred; he had ample rest during this time, having
slept undisturbed about 9% hours the night previous, and Y to 1 hour
during the day, before he reported for duty at 8:05 p. m. He had no
worries of any kind, took alcoholic drinks very seldom, used no nar-
cotics, and was physically and mentally in normal condition.
Conductor Rankin, of No. 44, was on the rear platform of the rear
car as his train stopped near the east end of the siding about 1:32 or
1:33 a. m. He could see the reflection of the headlight of No. 5 about
3 miles distant, and he watched the approaching train until the east-
ward home signal displayed a red aspect indicating to him that the
locomotive had passed it, and shortly thereafter he heard three short
blasts of the engine whistle, following which the collision occurred.
He estimated that from 8 to 15 seconds elapsed between the time of
the display of the red aspect of the eastward signal and the time of the
collision. As No. 44 stopped in the siding, he saw Brakeman Jacobson
with his lighted lantern near the locomotive, at which time No. 5 was
rounding the curve about 1 miles distant, but he did not again see
him before the collision. No. 44 had been standing about 3 or 4
minutes when the accident occurred. He could not see the position
of the banner on the east switch stand because of the darkness; had
the switch been equipped with a light, he could have observed its
position at any time. He had worked with Brakeman Jacobson
during the past 4 years and considered him to be safe and dependable.
He stated that the brakeman was in good spirits during the trip on
which the accident occurred, was alert in the discharge of his duties,
and appeared normal in every respect.
Rear Brakeman Hall, of No. 44, stated that he was examining a new
journal bearing on the north side of the rear car immediately prior to
the collision; the train was shoved backward about one car length by
the impact.
Conductor Cantrell, of No. 5, stated that the air brakes were tested
at Yuma, a running test was made when departing, and they func-
tioned properly en route. His train passed Amos, 6.1 miles east of
Tortuga, at 1:30 a. m., on time. When the whistle was sounded for
the station at Tortuga, at a point about 1 mile distant, he gave the
engineman the communicating signal for the meeting point; it was
acknowledged. The brakes were applied to reduce the speed of the
train from about 60 to between 30 and 40 miles per hour when the


locomotive was near the distant signal, apparently for the purpose of
identifying No. 44, after which they were released. While looking
out the open door at the rear end of the third car when approaching
Tortuga, the visibility was good, and at a point between the distant
signal and the home signal he observed that the home signal was
displaying a green aspect, which indicated that the switch was lined
for the main track. The headlight of No. 5 was burning brightly and
that of No. 44 was extinguished. About 30 seconds after the release
of the brakes the engineman made an emergency applica t ion near the
east. switch, and the collision occurred immediately thereafter. About
35 or 40 minutes after the collision he examined the switch and found
it undamaged and lined and locked for the main track.
Rear Brakeman Soutar, of No. 5, stated that approaching Tort uga
the brakes were applied when they were near the mile board, reducing
the speed from about 60 to about 35 miles per hour. Preparing to
identify No. 44, he looked out the open door in the rear vestibule of
the thirteenth car at the time of the brake application and observed
that both the distant and the home signals displayed green aspects.
Signal Supervisor Bliss stated that after the accident he inspected
the signals involved and found that they were operating properly.
In his opinion, a light on the switch stand involved would be of no
additional advantage from a safety standpoint, as the west ward signal
is very close to the east switch.
Trainmaster Cantrell stated that he first observed the westward
signal at the east end of the siding about 6 a. m., and it was functioning
According to records furnished by Southern Pacific officials, when
No. 5 departed from Yuma on the date of the accident there were no
steam leaks visible on locomotive 4362 which would obstruct the view
of the engineman or the fireman. During the period from May 1 to
the date on which the accident occurred, Head Brakeman Jacobson
had been on duty on No. 44 at 50 meeting points with No. 5; at 46 of
these meeting points No. 5 took siding; 34 meeting points were at
Tortuga, of which No. 5 took siding in 32 instances.
Engineer of Car Construction Dailey, of the Southern Pacific Co.,
stated that he was fairly familiar with the construction of the light-
weight, streaminlined equipment involved in this ac-'ident, having been
at the car works when these cars were built. He said tliat the chief
engineer of the Pu]lmian-Standa ird Car Manufacituring Co. said they
met all the strength requirements of the Post Office De'par(m ent speci-
fications, the underframe being designed for a buffing strength of
400,000 pounds. He stated there was no denying the fact that the
light weight cars suffered greater damage than the regular equipment in
the accildentt but he could offer no explanation for it as they have been
operating for years in the same service without any trouble, but had


never had an accident test of this kind before. He thought the
Pullman Co. made a test of a section of an underframe at its plant
about November and that they may have a record of it, showing a test
of 1,000,000 pounds applied to the center sills, which seemed to pro-
vide a good factor of safety.
He stated the underframe stood the accident very well although it
cracked, but the superstructure did not stand it so well. His opinion
was that R. I. car 4120 jumped up above the coupling when its center-
plate rivets sheared so that it telescoped the lightweight car 2418.
The car body, the roof, underframe and the truss construction are of
Cor-Ten steel; the lightweight equipment suffered more damage in
both trains than did the conventional equipment and lightweight car
2438 in train No. 5 was the only car damaged beyond repair; all the
passengers killed were in lightweight car 2418, and he thought that if
the superstructure had stood the shock as well as the center sills,
there would have been considerably less damage and probably no
fatalities. It was his opinion that had car 2418 been of open-hearth
steel, standard construction, it would have telescoped just as far and
as badly and the loss of life would have been as great. However, he
also stated that in his opinion Cor-Ten steel being much harder than
open-hearth steel, its shearing value would probably be less than open-
hearth, and stated that this was demonstrated by some of the other
cars where the open-hearth end posts bent back but did not break,
while on car 2418 the Cor-Ten end posts were sheared off. It was his
opinion that end posts of open-hearth steel would have better resisted
He stated that he intended to give further consideration to light-
weight cars and discuss their construction with his superiors; and also
that the chief engineer of the Pullman Co. had advised him he was
going to give these matters further study. He said the use of open-
hearth steel for center sills, and also for end posts to comply with the
Post Office Department specifications, is being seriously considered,
as well as the possibility of applying a plate from the corner post to the
bolster, from the side sills to the belt rails, and welding this plate to
the frame construction. He said he was still of the opinion that it is
safe to operate lightweight cars in association with conventional steel
cars and that he did not think it necessary to have them placed at the
rear of conventional equipment.
Master Car Repairer Peek stated that he heard the statements of
the engineer of car construction and agreed with them from a practical
According to the carrier's specifications of these so-called lightweight
cars, the car structure in general, including underframes, side framing,
end and roof framing, etc., were fabricated of high tensile alloy steel of
self-supporting, welded construction as developed by the Pullman


Co., the yield point specified for this steel being a minimum of 50,000
pounds per square inch and the ultima te strength a minimum of 75,000
pounds per square inch; the cars were sheathed with corrugated stain-
less steel. The specifications provide for buffing stresses of 400,000
pounds at the draft gear without the use of buffers. The weights shown
in records for articulated cars 2418 and 2419 are 86,770 pounds and
86,150 pounds, respectively, and for unit cars Nos. 2436 and 2438,
having two trucks each, they are 104,500 pounds and 104,700 pounds,
Following is a statement of damage to equipment as reported by the

West-bound No. 5 (moving-14 cars) East-bound No. 44 (standing-11 cars)

Position in train No Etimated Position in train No. E
damage damage

Engine_----------------- -- 4362 $50,000 Engine ---------------------- 4304 $50,000
First car B&M-SP------......------ 5126 8,000 First car Bag-RI-------.....-... 4129 2,000
Second car Bag-T&NO --..---- 608 4, 500 Second car Bag-RI-.--------- 4120 3,500
Third car Chair-T&NO------.. 401 5,000 Third car (Art. Ch.) --------- 2418 40,000
Fourth car streamline chair (Lt. 2438 60,000 Fourth car (Lt. Wt.) -------.- 2419 None
Wt.). Fifth cai (Lt. W[. .............. 2436 None
Fifth car Chair-SP ------------. 2534 1,500 No damage back of third car.
No damage back of fifth car.
129,000 95, 500
Total, 4221,'4:0

Southern Pacific lightweight cars 2418 and 2438 were built in
May, 1937, by the Pullman-Standard Car and Manufacturing Co.
Records secured from this company show that in October, 1936, tests
were made of a section of a Cor-Ten steel underframe which was
duplicate of that used on the Southern Pacific streamlined cars
involved in this accident. The section was 8 feet % inch in length,
which represents the greatest unsupported span which occurs at the
center of the car, the cross-sectional area being 18.883 square inches.
The test was made in a wheel press, extensometers being applied at
several points on the center-sill section. Actual extensometer stress
readings were made up to 900,000 pounds, at which point the instru-
ment readings were discontinued, but calculated stresses were applied
up to 1,000,000 pounds pressure, at which point it was apparent that
the yield point had been reached. The same section of underframe
was subjected to a test made by the Pennsylvania Railroad, at Wil-
mington, Del., about February, 1937, and withstood a pressure of
920,000 pounds before any sign of failure or distortion appeared.
Chief Engineer Parke, of the Pullman Co., also referred to another
test of this same type of car made by the Pennsylvania Railroad in
connection with the construction of cars of the same type for their


service. For this purpose the Pullman Co. furnished a complete
skeleton car frame, without interior finish, windows, etc., and the
test was made in February, 1938, at Altoona shops of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. The actual, full-size car frame was subjected to a longi-
tudinal compression test and the report covering this test shows that
the center sills began to spread just back of the draft casting when a
pressure of 395,000 pounds was indicated by the hydraulic gage, or
at a pressure of 370,000 pounds as indicated by Brinell. The test
was stopped at this point and a plate 16 by 22%2 by 25?6 inches was
applied to the bottom of the sill, after which the test was continued
up to a pressure of 909,000 pounds on the hydraulic gage. The report
shows that the draft casting failed at 882,000 pounds and the center
sill cracked at 909,000 pounds.

According to the record in this investigation, the trains involved
in this accident regularly met at Tort uga or some other nearby point.
No. 5 was superior by direction but usually it was instructed by train
order to take siding in meeting No. 44. In this instance No. 44 was
given right over No. 5 but subsequently an order stipulating a meet
between these trains at Tortuga designated that No. 44 take siding.
The head brakeman of No. 44 had frequently occupied the same
position when his train met No. 5. On the night of the accident he
had read the meet order and understood its contents; he opened the
west switch to permit his train to enter the siding, and then rode on
the engine to the east end of the siding so as to be in position to open
the east switch after No. 5 had passed. According to his statement,
he was walking from the engine toward the east switch when he saw
the headlight of No. 5 rounding the curve at a point about 8,000 feet
distant. At that time he stated he had no thought of heading No. 5
into the siding; however, after arriving at the switch, instead of
waiting until No. 5 passed, he waited only about 15 seconds, then
opened the switch, hung the lock in the hasp and took a position on
the opposite side of the track in accordance with his usual practice
when meeting No. 5; he had stood at that point about 15 seconds
when he realized his error; he then rushed to the switchstand but
before he could restore the switch to normal position No. 5 passed
that point and struck No. 44. The evidence indicates No. 44 had
been standing on the siding 3 or 4 minutes when the collision occurred.
The statements of various witnesses corroborate the head brakeman's
statement up to and including the time he opened the switch. From
the evidence it was impossible to determine just where No. 5 was
located when the switch was opened. When the conductor of No.
5 was between the distant and home signals he looked out from the


rear door of the third car and saw that the home-signal aspect was
green, at which time the speed of his train had been reduced to 30 or
40 miles per hour. The distance from the distant signal to the home
signal is approximately 2,000 feet; placing the conductor of No. 5
approximately 340 feet behind the front of the locomotive it follows
that the locomotive was within 1,660 feet of the switch before it was
opened. However, it is probable that it was much closer. The con-
ductor of No. 5 said his train was near the east switch when the
emergency application of the brakes was made. The conductor of
No. 44 was looking directly toward No. 5 as it approached and he
was observing the eastward home signll at the instant the red aspect
was displayed; according to his statement the collision occurred
between 8 and 18 seconds thereafter; assiuming that the speed of
No. 5 was 40 miles per hour, the locomotive would then have been
between 470 and 880 feet distant from the switch when it was opened.
It is probable, therefore, that not as much time elapsed between the
time the switch was opened and the time the head brakeman returned
to it as he indicated, because a red aspect would have been displayed
by the westward home signal the moment the switch was opened.
Out of a total of 34 days on which No. 5 and No. 44 met at Tortuga
from May 1 to the time of the accident, when the head brakeman
involved in this accident was on No. 44, No. 5 took siding 32 times;
according to his statement the fact that No. 5 was to hold the main
track in this instance contributed to his confusion. The evidence
indicates he was in normal condition and was apparently alert at all
times in the discharge of his duties prior to the time he left the engine
to go to the switch.
Under rule 104 (C), he should not have stood within 20 feet of the
switch as No. 5 was approaching, and should not have unlocked the
switch until that train had passed.
The evidence is to the effect that a service application and an
emergency application of the brakes were made and that the whistle
on No. 5 was sounded just prior to the accident, which is conclusive
that the engineman of that train was not incapacitated.
Had the switch involved been equipped with a light it is possible
that the red aspect, might have attracted the attention of the engine-
man, the fireman, or the conductor of No. 44 in time to enable one of
them to call the attention of the brakeman to his error.
The investigation disclosed that all of the fatalities to passengers
occurred in the third car of No. 44, which car was the forward section
of a two-car articulaited unit of lightweight, streamlined design. The
car was telescoped a distance of 18 feet, or slightly more than one-
fourth of its total length, sustaining far more serious damage than
either of the two cars hell d of it. In No. 5 the car which sustained


the greatest damage was the fourth car, which was practically de-
molished and which was likewise a lightweight, streamlined car.
In both of the trains involved in this accident these lightweight
cars were being operated in association with heavy, all-steel, standard
equipment, the lightweight cars being the third, fourth, and fifth cars
in the 11-car east-bound train, and the fourth car in the west-bound
14-car train. All other cars in each of the two trains were of heavy,
all-steel, standard type, thus placing the light-weight cars between
the standard cars and ahead of the heavier diners, lounge cars, and
Obviously, in the collision, the most violent impact occurred be-
tween the two locomotives, which were practically demolished and a
great amount of the destructive shock was thus dissipated. The
destructive shock then progressed backward, carrying to the fifth
car in No. 5 and to the third car in No. 44, there being no damage to
equipment in either train back of these points. There was consid-
erable damage to the forward standard cars in each train, further
dissipating the destructive force, but the first lightweight car in each
train suffered the greatest damage. It is evident that the collapse of
these cars further absorbed the destructive shock to such an extent
that but little damage occurred beyond them.
The statement of the damage to equipment discloses that of the
total of $124,500 estimated damage to cars, $100,000 or 80 percent
of the total amount was on lightweight cars which constituted only
16 percent of the total number of cars involved. The 21 standard
cars, constituting 84 percent of the total cars involved, suffered only
$24,500 damage, or 20 percent of the total amount. Considering
only the eight cars within the zone of actual damage at the forward
end of each train, the six standard cars in this zone suffered $24,500
damage or an average of $6,083 per car, while the two lightweight
cars in same zone averaged $50,000 damage per car.
The evidence indicates that no tests were made by the Southern
Pacific as to the strength and stability of these lightweight cars as
compared with the heavy steel cars of stflndard designs with which
they were associated in trains. Apparently the cars were accepted
from the manufacturer with the understanding that they met the
requirements of Post Office Department specifications for railway mail
cars, and that the underframes were designed to withstand buffing
stresses of 400,000 pounds. The Postal Department specifications
require a safety factor of two in the calculation of buffing stresses,
fixing the minimum for actual failure due to buffing shocks at 800,000
pounds. It appears from the records that the manufacturer relied
upon calculations and the result of two tests made with an 8-foot section
of the underframe in the matter of buffing strength rather than on any
test with a complete car structure. A few months subsequent to the


construction of the Southern Pacific cars involved in this accident,
tests were made by another carrier of the same type of car, using a
complete underframe with skeleton car body, furnished for the purpose
by the same manufacturer, and in these tests the center sills began to
spread at 395,000 pounds pressure; a reinforcing plate was then
applied, and pressure was then increased to approximately 900,000
pounds before failure occurred. It does not appear that a similar
reinforcing plate was applied to the Southern Pacific cars.
During the development in recent years of the so-called lightweight,
streamlined equipment for passenger-train service, the Bureau of
Safety has on various occasions stressed the necessity for maintain-
ing that high degree of safety, which has been developed by years of
experience in steel passenger-car construction. In the annual report
for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1936, in referring to streamlined,
lightweight cars, the following statement was made:
Equipment of this type must be considered as being still in the experimental
stage. As yet there is no case on record where a train of this type has been
involved in a serious collision or derailment of such character as to furnish data
relative to its ability to withstand impact shocks and tearing and shearing stresses
The accident here under investigation constitutes the first demon-
stration of the ability of such equipment to withstand impact shocks
of a major collision; what would have occurred had either train
been made up entirely of standard equipment or lightweight equip-
ment is a matter of mere conjecture or speculation. The results of
this accident raise a grave doubt whether the operation of such light-
weight cars between or ahead of heavy, all-steel cars of standard
design should be permitted until their ability to withstand shocks
with equal safety has been proven by appropriate tests; furthermore,
the effect of operating cars without buffers in association with cars
having buffers also should be given careful consideration.


This accident was caused by a switch being opened directly in
front of an approaching train.


It is recommended that railroad officials give serious consideration
to discontinuance of operation of so-called lightweight cars between
or ahead of standard cars unless and until the strength of construction
has been determined by suitable tests to be substantially the same
as that of other cars with which they are associated.
Respectfully submitted.
W. J. PATTERSON, Director.









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FIGURE 7.-View showing damaged condition of baggage car C. R. I. & P. 4129, the first car in No. 41.

Fv;ilR : 8. -View showing damaged condition of baggage ear C. It. I. & P. 4120, the second car in No. 44.

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