TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Chicago 1970s Accident

Chicago 1970s Accident
3 Jan 2006 09:48:49 -0800

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Did you see that nice picture of me on
> the front page of the Chicago Daily News?

Don't have access to that. Is it on the web?

> Also, you just now spoke about the 'g-force' of the trains hitting,
> but where you are wrong about that was the train I was on (which got
> smacked up pretty good) was one of the newer, more 'light-weight' and
> more flimsy cars.

The report I read (back at the time) said the full shock would have
killed passengers on both trains, old and new. That's why automobiles
today are purposely engineered with "crumble zones" to absorb the
impact of energy in collisions. Likewise some abutments have barrels
of water or sand in front of them to do the same thing. Some highway
sign poles are designed to be 'breakaway' rather than rigid.

Of course, sometimes the law works strangely. There was an accident
in an intersection of two local streets. One car hit another and
pushed it into a utlity pole and the occupant was killed. The power
company was sued blamed for having a pole in a dangerous place, even
though the pole was on the sidewalk area, not in the roadway, and it
was a local street, not a throughway. What was particularly galling
was that the intersection and pole placement dated from the 1920s when
that neighborhood was built, and many thousands of intersections just
like that exist throughout the country. The power company didn't
cause the accident, the errant auto did. But the power company had
deep pockets which the auto owner didn't, so they got nailed.

> the newer cars and take along with me a heavy, large size 'phillips
> screw-driver' I could take the entire car apart before we got to
> downtown.

Odd. The 1960 el cars I rode in Phila used an odd screw head,
presumably to thwart that sort of thing.

> There were other incidental situations where a 'new' car was bumped
> by an old car (they did that as part of their testing) and even though
> the 'old' car just barely bumped the 'new car' there were still dent
> marks on the 'new' car.

For many years there was a federal standard that rail cars had to take
800,000 lbs of compression without deformation, and every car was so
tested. I understand recently the Feds have raised that higher,
meaning that new cars must be heavier to meet that standard. I am not
aware that a heavier car is any safer, there are other factors that
kill passengers that are more significant (severe collisions such as
yours are relatively rare).

Anyway, that's the minimum standard. It's possible, even likely that
the older cars could take more of a hit so that's why there was a

I believe in your accident the following train didn't stop at that
station so it was going at full speed, thus the severity of the
collision. In something that high impact there isn't too much that can
be done to protect people. More effort is made to prevent collisions
in the first place, though I know of two accidents where the engineer
deliberately bypassed the safety gear and people were killed. One was
a CTA L train where the motorman bypassed the autostop and kept power
going (no one knows why) and rear ended another train causing them to
fall off the L). Another was a Conrail freight that disregarded a
yellow then a red signal and hit an Amtrak train (the engineer was high
on pot, and disengaged the safety device).

> My friend (who I said a couple days ago I had taken to New Orleans
> with me on vacation earlier) called the railroad one day to report
> (by car number and axle number) a 'flat wheel' on one of the new cars.
> (A 'flat wheel' is one that is not entirely round, at a certain place
> in the circumference of the wheel it is a bit out of shape; the result
> is a person with a good ear or lots of railroad experience [as he had]
> can hear a certain 'chunk-chunk' noise as the train rapidly moves down
> the track). The railroad told him off good also, but then a day or two
> later called him back to say they had investigated it and found it to
> be as he said it was.

Flat spots are very common on trains. They make freight trains noisy.
Some passenger trains have wheel-slip protection which is essentially
anti-lock brakes and they serve to reduce locked wheels which causes
the grinding down and flat spots. Severe flat spots are annoying to
ride over if your particular car has them. Actually, I don't think
unpowered coaches have them, only self-propelled electric cars.

RR shops have truing machines that grind the wheel down to eliminate
flat spots. After a while the wheel must be replaced, this is
standard maintainence, at a train shop you'll see wheels lying around.

> Those 'new' cars were no match for the 'older' (1920-ish) cars they
> abandoned for no good reason. PAT]

I don't know the particulars, but 50 year old equipment, as those
were, have some disadvantages to new equipment. One is no air
conditioning. Another is heavy weight which comes out to higher power
consumption. A third is speed--newer trains can usually accelerate
and stop faster which is significant in commuter service. A fourth is
maintenance -- parts must be hand manufactured ($$$) for old cars and
breakdowns are common.

Shortly after Amtrak was created it had a major upgrade of the coaches
it inherited. It converted the tough steam powered utility lines to
electric which was more reliable.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I do not think Chicago Daily News
exists anywhere these days except as fond memories in the minds of its
readers. It went out of business in 1976. All afternoon daily
newspapers in Chicago were gone about that time. Hearst had the
Chicago Herald; eventually merged it with the Chicago American to make
the Herald-American, then sold it off to the Chicago Tribune. The
Herald-American folded in 1967 and was replaced by a short lived paper
called 'Chicago Today', which lasted for seven years and left the
scene in 1974-75. The Daily News was edited and printed over on Canal
Street near Madison Street and was founded in the late 1800's by
Victor Lawson (of Lawson YMCA fame), who then sold it to Mr. Knight
who had it until he sold it to the Chicago Sun-Times [itself a combo
made up of the Chicago Sun and the Chicago Times which merged as the
Sun-Times in 1941], then the Sun-Times closed the Daily News a few
years later in 1976. Chicago Public Library has (or had) microfilms of
the Daily News from its beginning to its end, but I seriously doubt
any of it made it on computer. For three years, when I was 10-13 or
thereabouts I had two paper routes: in the morning I delivered the
Sun-Times and the Tribune; in the afternoon I delivered the Herald-
American, the Daily News, a Polish newspaper called the 'Daily Zygoda'
(I think that was it?), the Christian Science Monitor and one or two
customers took the Wall Street Journal. I recall the Monitor always
came by train from the east coast, and it always arrived two or three
days after the publication date. But at the news agency, they always
gave me a stack of those each day; also the 'TV Guide' magazine on

I do not have any of those newspaper reports of the train crash any
longer. I suppose I should have kept a copy of them but whoever thinks
they are going to get old and want to go back to look at things in the
future? PAT]

Post Followup Article Use your browser's quoting feature to quote article into reply
Go to Next message: "Penn Central"
Go to Previous message: Jim Rusling: "Re: Oklahoma-Texas Fires, California Mud Slides-Floods"
TELECOM Digest: Home Page