Operating Rules in effect on 12-23-1926

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When First #2 "Ponce de Leon" and #101 "Royal Palm" collided head-on at Rockmart GA on the night of 12-23-1926, a freight train, Extra 5243 was in the siding at Rockmart. First #2 was supposed to go into the siding along with Extra 5243. #101 had just taken water and was drifting slowly on the main, waiting for First #2 to go into the siding. Road foreman Bob Pearce, running engine 1219 pulling First #2, failed to take the siding, resulting in the collision. According to the operating rules in effect on the Atlanta Division at that time, would Extra 5243's headlight have remained on while it was waiting in the siding, or would it have been turned off? (I have read where some have speculated that Pearce might have mistook the headlight of Extra 5243 for #101 and thought that #101 was in the siding).

-- Lamar Wadsworth (LW.Sou.Ry.seam@juno.com), December 07, 1999


Operating Rule No. 17, Effective August 1, 1923 reads as follows:The headlight will be displayed to the front of every train by night, but must be concealed when a train turns out to meet another and has stopped clear of main track, or is standing to meet trains at the end of double track or at junctions. When an engine is running backward a white light must be displayed by night on the rear of the tender. Under that rule, both No. 101 and Extra 5243 should not have displayed a headlight. If the extra had not extinguished its light, that certainly would have contributed to the accident.

The investigation also turned up a bad habit that Road Foreman Pearce had. When he relieved Engineman S. J. Keith at the throttle, he allowed Keith to go back and ride in the combination car as there was no third seat on the locomotive. Other Road Foremen interviewed by investigators stated that Pearce was the only one who did this and that they did not interpret their presence on locomotives as relieving the assigned engineer of his responsibility. When they ran, they required the assigned man to remain on the locomotive. This subsequently resulted in an additional rule to the effect that assigned enginemen must not leave the locomotive even when it is being operated by other qualified men.

Incidentally, the whole accident would have been prevented if the Southern Railway had been able to activate the Absolute Block Signals and Automatic Train Control systems that they had installed on that line. Both locomotives were outfitted with ATC boxes but a delay on a supplier's part prevented the railroad from activating the system on the originally intended date.

-- Alan Walker (awalker2002@comcast.net), January 14, 2003.

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