• Railway time

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Railway time
I've often read that railway time was introduced in the UK and the US because of a number of accidents caused by non-standard time. However, I've never found any description of an accident which specifically makes reference to a disparity in local times causing an accident.
One alleged such accident which appears on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1853_Prov ... _collision" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
but on closer inspection seems to have been caused by faulty watches not a local time mix up.
Please, if you know of any such accidents, post the link or resource where I can find out details which confirm this.
Thanks for your help.
  by ExCon90
I've never read about an accident caused by a time difference, and I read a lot. The primary reason for the adoption of the four Standard Time Zones (five in Canada) effective November 18, 1883, was that prior to that time every railroad chose the standard of time by which it would operate (usually that of its headquarters city or other major city along the line). The Ohio & Mississippi, connecting Cincinnati with East St. Louis, nicely split the difference by not using either Cincinnati or St. Louis time, but rather Vincennes time, about halfway between, and I'd assume a division point. As rail travel became more widespread, particularly after the Civil War, it became very confusing for passengers needing to transfer at major gateways. For example, the Hudson River Railway observed New York City time from New York to Albany, and the New York Central used Albany time from there to Buffalo (one minute difference!), a practice which continued even after the merger into the NYC&HR. From Buffalo to Chicago the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern used Columbus time, as did the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago, Marietta & Cincinnati, and Wheeling & Lake Erie, none of which went through Columbus (perhaps an Ohio state law?). Thus a passenger from New York to Chicago would arrive in Buffalo on Albany time and depart on Columbus time, neither of which was Buffalo time. It was common for gateway stations like that to have three different clocks, each displaying a different time. By 1880 there was enough public clamor to induce the railroads to introduce the four zones, with each railroad deciding which zone best suited its own operations. Of course there was still a time difference at the gateways, but it was always 60 minutes exactly, a lot easier to figure out. I never heard of any collisions resulting from a time difference, however. (Now stand back -- I'll bet somebody found one.) And yes, it seems clear from the Wiki article that the standard of time had nothing to do with the collision.
  by edbear
Don't forget that at Buffalo, besides the various times the railroads were using, Buffalo City Hall, some of the big churches with clocks in their towers and clocks behind the check-in desk or in the lobby of major hotels would probably display sun time.
  by ExCon90
Exactly -- passengers had to be aware. In an 1883 Guide the Lake Shore listing states in one place that the line observes Columbus Time; elsewhere in the same listing was the statement that trains of this road are governed by the Depot Clock in Cleveland. If both statements are correct, the depot clock in Cleveland must have displayed Columbus time (sensibly enough since that's what the trains ran on), but a casual observer in Cleveland who set his watch by the depot clock would be 4 minutes off.
  by Railway time
Thanks all for your posts. It seems that accidents being caused by local time is somewhat of a fallacy. There are lots of incidences of time interval working being the cause, but none purely based on confusions between local times.
  by ExCon90
Exactly. Most accidents were caused by misreading of train orders, conflicting orders issued by a dispatcher, or the crew simply forgetting them, or a stopped train failing to provide proper flag protection -- just about anything but confusion about the time in effect.
  by D Alex
ExCon90 wrote:......the adoption of the four Standard Time Zones (five in Canada)....
Actually, Canada has 6 time zones: Pacific (GMT+8), Mountain (+7), Central (+6), Eastern (+5), Atlantic (+4), and Newfoundland (+3.5).
  by ExCon90
Forgot about Newfoundland -- for 30 minutes they had to have their own zone? And did that date from 1883, or was it established later? (I don't think it ever made the cover of the Official Guide.)
  by Engineer Spike
Standard time had little to do with the passengers knowing when to catch their trains. At that time, automatic signals were just starting to be invented, as electrical devices were cutting edge. Most railroads ran on timetables and train orders. If there were two trains which were to make a meet, one might be superior by direction. The inferior train had to be in a siding before the superior train was scheduled to arrive. If the superior train was to arrive at 12:46, both crews had to have a common understanding of when 12:46 was. If they didn't it could cause a head-on collision. This is why time was standardized. Passengers knowing when exactly when their trains were due was really a by-product of this.