Railroad Safety Appliance Act

Railroad Safety Appliance Act

The Safety Appliance Act is a United States federal law that made air brakes and automatic couplers mandatory on all trains in the United States. It was enacted on March 2, 1893 and took effect in 1900 after a 7 year grace period. The act is credited with a sharp drop in accidents on American railroads in the early twentieth century.

The original safety appliance act was entitled, "An Act to Promote the Safety of Employees and Travelers upon Railroads by Compelling Common Carriers Engaged in Interstate Commerce to Equip Their Cars with Automatic Couplers and Continuous Brakes and Their Locomotives with Driving-wheel Brakes, and for Other Purposes." Its first section makes it unlawful, among other things, for a railroad company engaged in interstate commerce to run any train without having a sufficient number of the cars so equipped with train brakes (such as air brakes) that the engineer on the locomotive can control the speed of the train without requiring brakemen to use a hand brake for that purpose.

The second section prohibits such a carrier from hauling or using on its line in moving interstate traffic any car not equipped with couplers which can be coupled and uncoupled automatically "without the necessity of men going between the ends of the cars", and the fourth section forbids the use in interstate commerce of any car not provided with secure grab irons or hand holds on the ends and sides of the car "for greater security to men in coupling and uncoupling cars." The sixth section imposes for every violation of the act a penalty of $100.

The original law was amended by a subsequent act in 1903, whose first section provides that the requirements of the original act respecting train brakes, automatic couplers, and grab irons shall be held to apply to all trains and cars used on any railroad engaged in interstate commerce, unless a minor exception were satisfied. By its second section this act requires that not less than 50 per cent of the cars in a train shall have their train brakes used and operated by the engineer on the locomotive, and confers upon the Interstate Commerce Commission authority to increase this minimum percentage to the end that the objects intended may be more fully accomplished. By an order promulgated June 6, 1910, the Commission increased the minimum number of cars whose train brakes must be under the engineer's control to 85 per cent.


* [http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/49/20302.html Act of Mar. 2, 1893, 27 Stat. 531, 45 U.S.C. § 2 (1988 ed.), recodified, as amended, 49 U. S. C. A.§20302 (Supp. 1995)]
* "U.S. v. Erie R Cc", 237 U.S. 402 (1915) (U.S. Supreme Court decision excerpted here)

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