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DIFFICULTIES OF THE COUPLER PROBLEM.
The general situation is not materially different from that described in our sixteenth annual report. This is not to say that there has been no progress. The new couplers that have been put in service during the past year are of better quality and design in some respects than those used in former years. In particular the use of solid knuckles (with no openings for the old link and pin) is much more noticeable. This improvement, giving stronger couplers and so reducing breakages in service, tends to prevent accidents. It is recommended by the Master Car Builders' Association and ought to come rapidly into general use. The coupler problem, as a whole, has been freed of its difficulties to a considerable extent in some localities by the introduction of frictiondraft gears. These reduce breakages and prevent minor collisions of cars by doing away with severe shocks.
THE AIR-BRAKE SITUATION.
The number of air brakes used is steadily increasing and many freight trains are now run with 70 to 90 per cent of their cars airbraked and the brakes in service. In a great many trains in the fastfreight service and in some ordinary freight trains all of the cars, 100 per cent, are air-braked. This might be true much oftener than it is but for the lack of a little care and forethought on the part of the officers in immediate charge of train movements. In ordinary service 75 per cent affords ample brake power, and the main reason for the use of 100 per cent is to prevent a collision in case of the accidental parting of a train on a descending grade; but, as such collisions are comparatively infrequent, or seem so to the local officer, the need of the exercise of constant care to prevent them does not always appear to be appreciated.
VALUE OF THE INSTRUCTION CAR.
The air-brake situation has been improved by the constantly extending use of the instruction car. The instructors who educate the enginemen and other trainmen in the use of the engineer's valve, the triple valve, and the other delicate mechanisms which form the essential features of the power brake, give their lectures by the aid of machinery which is shown in actual operation in the lecture room, and of large colored charts; and this lecture room is in a car, enabling the lecturer to visit every division headquarters no matter how remote. These cars are becoming more and more common and the efficiency of the men is being constantly raised by the teaching which is thus made possible.
IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF SAFETY APPLIANCES.
Notwithstanding the great benefits of the air-brake instruction car there is still need everywhere of more efficient instruction. The inspectors find, even on the most prominent roads, that a large percentage of the enginemen of freight trains have but an imperfect knowledge of the air brakes and appliances and processes necessary to use them to the best advantage. So simple a question as one relating to the capacity of the main air reservoir on the engine will often elicit an answer showing complete ignorance on the part of the engineman.
THE TESTING OF BRAKES IMPERATIVE.
An essential feature of automatic-brake operation is the testing of the brakes of every train immediately before it begins its journey. If the facilities are not good this testing is liable to be omitted or improperly done. It is, therefore, gratifying to be able to state that there are now a larger number of testing plants in freight yards where trains are made up than there were a year ago. These arrangements for testing are not only a necessity but often prove of great value in utilizing the capacity of a railroad to its full extent by preventing delay in starting out important trains.
STANDARDIZING OF MATERIALS AND PRACTICE.
The administration of the safety-appliance laws, which from the first has been beset with many obstacles, is aided to some extent by the standardizing of materials and of practice that has been brought about by the consolidation of large railroads. The problem of unifying the varied designs and methods which are found in a dozen, or two dozen, or 50 railroad shops or managing offices is a difficult one at best, and it takes a long time to bring about an appreciable improvement. But the need of making such improvements, tending as they powerfully do to economy in operation, is appreciated by the managers and operating officers of the large railroad systems and the task is always promptly undertaken. Every reduction of the number of different designs of couplers and uncoupling parts, and every simplification in the regulations for the conduct of the men who run the trains and who attend to the repair work, increase the efficiency of the service and make easier the work of the Commission's inspectors.
SEPARATE GROUPING OF HEAVY AND LIGHT CARS.
The preservation of couplers in good condition and the consequent promotion of safety have been promoted materially by the adoption on some roads of a rule requiring that heavy cars be placed in the forward parts of trains. As is well known, the enormous number of new freight cars built during the past five years consists almost wholly of heavy cars of large capacity. When a train is made up of part heavy and part light cars indiscriminately, the shocks due to the momentum of the heavier ones produce great and often dangerous strains on the light ones, and in many cases crush the latter. The obvious remedy for this condition is to keep the light cars in separate trains; or, as the next best thing, to keep them in the rear parts of composite trains.
GREATER CARE IN RETURN OF
An improvement in the service which produces some benefit, though perhaps mostly indirect, is the greater care taken to send home promptly all freight cars belonging to other companies. This increased promptness has been brought about by the changed method of payment for hired or borrowed cars. Payment is now made by the day, instead of by the mile as formerly, thus inducing the prompt return
As has been pointed out in previous reports of the Commission, a considerable percentage of the violations of the safety-appliance law which have been found and reported by the Commission's inspectors have been due to, or at least sought to be excused by, the fact that the fault was on a foreign car. An inspector or repair man will see that the cars of his own company are well cared for and maintained, but will neglect to keep up other companies' cars to the same standard. This is said to be due to the difficulty of getting suitable materials with which to replace broken parts; but the men responsible seem to lose sight of the fact that the law imposes upon them the same duties in respect of foreign cars as in respect of those of their own company. The smaller the proportion of foreign cars in use at any given point, the smaller, probably, will be the number of faults which violate the law; hence the benefit of the new rule.
As before stated, however, this catalogue of favorable things reported by the inspectors during the past year is, on the whole, overbalanced by indications of the opposite kind. The ever-present deficiency in regard to the automatic-coupler law, the lack of uncoupling mechanisms, and the frequency with which the inspectors find mechanisms out of order appear to be as bad as ever. Neglect to keep in repair these apparently secondary features continues to be general.
THE UNCOUPLING APPARATUS.
The uncoupling apparatus is not a secondary feature, because on its efficiency depends the ability of the trainmen to take advantage of the protection which is intended to be afforded by the law-protection from the necessity of going between two cars. The inspectors continue to
report that chains for lifting the coupling pins are too long, and thus useless; or, when broken, are repaired by the use of a wire, this makeshift having been observed on cars just out of the repair shop. The use of a coupler which has not a “lock set” in place of one broken which had that appurtenance is still seen everywhere. This careless substitution of one pattern for another often defeats the purpose of the law, as the new one, needing an uncoupling rod with suitable end casting, which the other coupler did not need, is often sent out without any efficient uncoupling device whatever. A considerable increase, amounting to 4 per cent, is found in the defect known as "wrong end lock," which is the end casting just referred to. Details relating to the use of this defective appliance are shown in the appendix. Such pronounced increase in the use of a single defective part calls for serious attention on the part of railway managers. By the use of the wrong end lock the uncoupling lever in raised position can not, on many kinds of couplers, be locked, and the man engaged in uncoupling must run along with the car to hold the lever in that position. It is apparent that frequent casualties may occur when this fixture is unsuited to the particular kind of coupler used on the car, and as this fixture may be readily applied at slight expense the omission to correct the defect is without excuse.
LACK OF SYSTEM IN THE GAUGING OF COUPLERS.
There is still almost an entire absence of systematic work in gauging couplers to test the degree to which they have been worn. A coupler which has been long in service gradually becomes worn to such an extent as to be in danger of becoming uncoupled while the car is in motion, and thus imperiling the train and the men on it. This danger needs to be guarded against by periodical testing of the couplers, but the simple matter of providing the railroad inspectors with gauges, with which to quickly and easily perform this duty, is generally neglected, except in the shops. If repair men in the train yards were required to attend to this detail of maintenance dangerous couplers would be much more surely detected.
In connection with the increased use of new cars of the latest design, mention was made of the general improvement in couplers. It must be said, however, in exception to this statement, that one or two designs of couplers lately brought out appear to be eliciting very general complaint among the yardmen and trainmen.
NEGLECT RESULTING FROM ABNORMAL PRESSURE OF WORK.
We have said that a larger percentage of the cars in trains are airbraked. The satisfaction afforded by this statement is quite materially neutralized by the very general evidence of neglect which, as before stated, has been an incident of the abnormal pressure of work in the freight yards. The trains are dispatched so hurriedly that the essential preliminary of testing the air brakes is frequently neglected. This may occur a great many times without disastrous results, but the practice is, nevertheless, one to be severely reprehended. With brakes, as with couplers, “light repairs” which might be attended to in the train yard are omitted, if by so doing some time can be saved, and so large numbers of cars are sent out in a condition which is really a violation of the law. The per diem rule, in itself a good thing, interferes with repair work by making station men abnormally anxious to send cars forward, in spite of the efforts of the repair department.
CARELESSNESS IN KEEPING REPAIR RECORDS.
The maintenance of the air-brake apparatus in good condition is also impaired by carelessness in keeping the records. Most roads now require the triple valves and cylinders to be cleaned every year, and a few try to reduce this period to six months; but the inspectors find cylinders on which the date is marked with chalk instead of being stencilled with paint, as required by the interchange rules of the Master Car Builders' Association. A chalk mark is soon obliterated and the absence of a date implies neglect of that cylinder.
IMPORTANCE OF THE RETAINING VALVE.
The retaining valve, a vital part of the air brake of every car which is to be run over a line of steep grades, continues to be neglected. On thousands of miles of railroad free from very steep grades the retaining valve is little, if ever, used, and it is neglected so much that perhaps when at some other place occasion arises it can not be used. Again, on the steep-grade lines, where the trainmen should be educated to fully understand the value of this device, it will be found that they do not appreciate it, and a brakeman who finds a valve hard to turn will knock off the handle and put it out of order rather than take suitable measures to have the valve put in proper condition. New cars are found which have no retaining valve whatever. These cars may be suitable for use on all of the lines of the company which owns them, but they should not be regarded as safe cars for use in traffic on the lines of other companies, where it may be necessary to run them on steep grades.
STATEMENT OF ACTUAL CONDITIONS.
This somewhat discouraging catalogue may perhaps be thought to reflect the views of men who, being employed to look for faults and deficiencies, have become blind to things which are in good and normal condition, and to the meritorious conduct of trainmen and repair men in general. But that the picture is a true one may be seen by reference to the expressed views of railroad men themselves.