Sunday, May 13, 2012

April 1886: Railway safety

The return of accidents on Indian railways for the third quarter of last year might be interesting, if it were a few months younger. About seven hundred accidents of all kinds are reported; more than a third of these being due to the presence of cattle on the line--the most fruitful source of accidents int he country. The butchers' bill, however, is extremely low; being only one railway servant killed, and fifteen servants and passengers killed. 

More statistics are given; they aren't terribly interesting or important. Following is a 'scrap' commentary about how it happens that so many cows are struck by trains:

A contemporary, writing on cows and their catchers, says that any one who has seen a cow 'airily flying off at a tangent from the cow-catcher and landing legs upward in a distant ditch, is not likely to forget the appearance of easy unconcern with which the engine comes out of the fracas.' This is a misleading statement, which must be  corrected, lest an Englishman, confiding in the Pioneer's description, should stand in the way of a cow-catcher, and expect to be landed airily 'legs upward in a distant ditch.' What really happens is this. A cow trespasses on a railway line; and is presently aware of a strange monster advancing swiftly in its direction. The trespasser ambles away, keeping between the metals; and thus clinching its doom. The locomotive comes nearer; the amble turns to a trot, a lumbering canter and finally an agonized gallop-- for the notion of turning aside from the terrible parallel lines of steel never enters the flying brute's head. Then comes the beginning of the end. The advancing locomotive smites the cow a tergo, driving it forward on its knees twenty or thirty yards ahead; catches it up again and repeats the process until the mangled mass of beef can pass between the bottom-bar of the cow-catcher and the permanent way--a space of about seven inches -- to be caught up and futher mangled amid the hurrying wheels of the carriages in rear. The cow-catcher is not a pretty sight afterwards; the shock to the train is no light one, and the carcass of a 'vagrom cow,' can derail a train very satisfactorily; especially if the train is on a curve at the time. The Report which has been noticed above bears witness to this last fact; and all the others may be proved by any man who will allow himself to be overtaken by the 'seductive cow catcher' -- which is a sausage-making machine of the grisliest type. 

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