Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Death Rode the Rails

Death Rode the Rails

American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828–1965

Mark Aldrich

Publication Date
Binding Type

For most of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, railroads dominated American transportation. They transformed life and captured the imagination. Yet by 1907 railroads had also become the largest cause of violent death in the country, that year claiming the lives of nearly twelve thousand passengers, workers, and others. In Death Rode the Rails Mark Aldrich explores the evolution of railroad safety in the United States by examining a variety of incidents: spectacular train wrecks, smaller accidents in shops and yards that devastated the lives of workers and their families, and the deaths...

For most of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, railroads dominated American transportation. They transformed life and captured the imagination. Yet by 1907 railroads had also become the largest cause of violent death in the country, that year claiming the lives of nearly twelve thousand passengers, workers, and others. In Death Rode the Rails Mark Aldrich explores the evolution of railroad safety in the United States by examining a variety of incidents: spectacular train wrecks, smaller accidents in shops and yards that devastated the lives of workers and their families, and the deaths of thousands of women and children killed while walking on or crossing the street-grade tracks.

The evolution of railroad safety, Aldrich argues, involved the interplay of market forces, science and technology, and legal and public pressures. He considers the railroad as a system in its entirety: operational realities, technical constraints, economic history, internal politics, and labor management. Aldrich shows that economics initially encouraged American carriers to build and operate cheap and dangerous lines. Only over time did the trade-off between safety and output—shaped by labor markets and public policy—motivate carriers to develop technological improvements that enhanced both productivity and safety.

A fascinating account of one of America's most important industries and its dangers, Death Rode the Rails will appeal to scholars of economics and the history of transportation, technology, labor, regulation, safety, and business, as well as to railroad enthusiasts.

Reviews

Reviews

A fascinating account of one of America's most important industries and its dangers.

A well-made book such as this one stands out as a rare exception.

Students of rail safety, and today's Class I railroad managers, need to read this volume.

Aldrich has created a masterpiece. His research is extensive, drawing on a rich variety of obscure yet relevant sources.

Aldrich... has done an excellent and thorough job of explaining and analyzing the evolution of rail safety over nearly two hundred years.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
7
x
10
Pages
480
ISBN
9780801894022
Illustration Description
40 halftones, 29 line drawings
Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Preface
Introduction
1. In the Beginning: American Railroad Dangers and Safety, 1828–1873
2. Off the Tracks: The Changing Pattern of Derailments, 1873–1900
3. Collisions and

List of Figures
List of Tables
Preface
Introduction
1. In the Beginning: American Railroad Dangers and Safety, 1828–1873
2. Off the Tracks: The Changing Pattern of Derailments, 1873–1900
3. Collisions and the Rise of Regulation, 1873–1900
4. The Major Risks from Minor Accidents, 1873–1900
5. Engineering Success and Disaster: Bridge Design and Failure, 1840–1900
6. Coping with the Casualties: Companies, Workers, and Injuries, 1850–1900
7. Safety Crisis and Safety First, 1900–1920
8. Lobbying for Regulation: Transporting Hazardous Substances, 1903–1930
9. Private Enterprise and Public Regulation: Safety between the Wars, 1922–1939
10. Safety in War and Decline, 1940–1965
Conclusion: The Political Economy of Railroad Safety, 1830–1965
Appendix 1: Nineteenth-Century Railroad Accident and Casualty Statistics
Appendix 2: Casualties and Accidents from Interstate Commerce Commission Statistics, 1888–1965
List of Abbreviations
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Mark Aldrich
Featured Contributor

Mark Aldrich

Mark Aldrich is the Marilyn Carlson Nelson Professor of Economics Emeritus at Smith College and the author of Back on Track: American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1965–2015 and Safety First: Technology, Labor, and Business in the Building of American Work Safety, 1870–1939, also published by Johns Hopkins.