Monday, March 4, 2019

Passengers Trains In Head-On Collision

From the "Odessa Record."

This Week In Odessa History

December 13, 2012

When BNSF trains going in opposite directions pass each other there appears to be perfect synchronization as one train eases onto the Odessa sidetrack and the other speeds by.

One hundred and one years ago, before radio control and electronic switching, engineers of the steam locomotives relied on telegraph messages they picked up from one station to the next along the rail line to determine the positions of other trains on the track. Railroad operations weren’t as smooth then as they are today.

The Odessa Record, in its issue of December 15, 1911, reported this head-on collision within Odessa of two Great Northern passenger trains, one the Oriental Limited, just west of today’s Birch Street crossing of the BNSF:

Eastbound passenger train #44 and westbound train #1, the Oriental Limited, met in a head-on collision in the local yards Monday morning. The engineer of #44 had orders to take the siding at Odessa for #1 to pass by, but his train was running late, and #1 had pulled out from the station and was waiting near the switch in the west end of the yards when the other train rounded the curve about 200 or 400 yards beyond.

The engineer of #44 was trying to make up time on the straight stretch of track extending for three miles west of town and when he attempted to set the air brakes to slow up for the curve the apparatus refused to work and his train rounded the curve at a speed estimated at 40 miles per hour.

The engineer of the Oriental Limited saw #44 as the train came around the curve and realizing something was wrong reversed his engine to try to get out of the way, while one of the brakemen attempted to reach the switch and throw #44 in on the sidetrack. But the flying train was upon them in an instant, and the two trains came together with a crash.

The force of impact skidded the Oriental Limited along the rails for 200 feet or more. Neither train left the rails, but the front portions of both locomotives were demolished and the front end of the baggage car of #44 was crushed in. The front wheels of the Oriental Limited were pushed in half the length of the car. The mail car itself was pitched up into the tender (the car carrying the coal for the steam engine) of the locomotive in front of it.

The engineer and fireman jumped before the trains struck, but the engineer of the Oriental Limited stayed with his locomotive and was pitched headlong out of the cab window. Passengers on both trains were thrown from their seats when the trains came together and several received slight injuries, though none was seriously injured.

A hobo who had been stealing a ride on #44 was put off at Irby and is believed to have tampered with the brakes. After the accident, an examination showed that the valve on the pipe through which the air passes to set the brakes had been shut and the supposition is that the tramp kicked the valve shut when he leaped from the tender. The brakes had been operating normally when the train slowed up for Irby.

Traffic was delayed only a little more than two hours by the wreck, the coaches of both trains being carried toward their destinations by the next scheduled passenger trains in each direction.

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