razy night at the club house. First, after all the work we did on electrical things over the last month, another failure, this time caused (we think) by a bad toggle or turnout motor in Martin Yard. So, rain delay until Fearless Frank and Big Bob could root around in the catacombs and bypass it. If we had to lose a turnout out of the dozen in the throat, this was the best. So, lucky break for us.
I ended up on the dispatcher panel again. The night was fun but weird – trains weren’t sequencing like I usually see. Harris Glen, the consummate bottleneck, ran hot with trains pacing through at a pretty even rate. But along the river route, Mingo Junction to Cincinnati, there were all sorts of snarls. I was moving trains in twos and threes, complementing myself on my efficiency, and that’s when I killed 23 people, injured 41, and put several wrecked engines, three passenger cars and a dozen coal hoppers into the ditch.
This is a great example of why clear radio procedure is so critical.
So, running along our wending riverbank, in and out of the jutting Pennsylvania ridges ran three trains west for distant Cincinnati. In front was 95, a passenger train. Next, running at restricted speed, was 247, a general freight. And then behind him came Silver Bullet #1, our crack passenger train, also under restricted. Every siding was blocked with locals and there was no place to get 247 out from between them so I was resigned to run then through to Cincinnati in that order.
Meanwhile, at the mine just outside of the Cincinnati tunnel, 414 (an eastbound coal drag) was waiting in the lead for Champion Mine, seeking paper to run to Calypso. I knew that the first westbound, 95, had called off-division at Cinci. I was just getting ready to look to see where everyone was when the crew for 247 entered the dispatcher’s office. Okay, so that was two down. I figured Silver Bullet had been riding the freight’s ass and was probably in. With this in mind, I cut a warrant for the coal to run east. First mistake, I should have nailed down the end of the parade with a restriction for him to wait into Silver Bullet #1. I didn’t think I needed that. The express should be in.
But then, looking at the board, I began to suffer doubts. What if the Silver Bullet wasn’t past? I hit the mike button. “414, this is dispatcher. Stop immediately.” Then I called Silver Bullet on the overhead for a callback. “Where are you at?” I asked when I raised him. “Going towards Cincinnati.” Okay, so if he was past the Champion Mine cutoff, 414 could roll. I called the coal on the overhead again and told him he could release brakes and continue.
And, of course, 414 and Silver Bullet #1 collided about two minutes later, a nice big fat headon.
It turns out, as was learned in the inquest that followed, that Silver Bullet 1 was somewhere between Mingo Jct and Zanesville (and nowhere close to Cincinnati). But the engineer responded with what he was doing, i.e. going towards Cinci. And I heard what I thought was his location, i.e. going towards Cinci. It was all over except for the explosion.
I wanted to blame the crew of Silver Bullet for about a minute. But, no, it was my fault. I didn’t confirm, I acted on assumptions, and I got sloppy with my warrants. It was a perfect storm of fat-headedness.
I haven’t caused a cornfield in years. This leaves me a little older. And a little wiser.
And out of a railroad job.