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Story - Railroad Operations Before the Telegraph

From the out-of-print book All Aboard: A History of Railroads in Michigan

By Willis F. Dunbar

An idea of how trains were operated before the day of the telegraph dispatching is given by the Michigan Central Railroad rules for conductors and engineers in 1852:

Engineers will run their trains as nearly to the time card as possible. It is not necessary for passenger trains to stop more than three minutes for wood or water. At the appointed place of meeting, if one of the trains does not arrive when the time is up for the other to start, the other must wait for the expected train thirty minutes after its own time to leave, and then proceed, continuing to keep thirty minutes behind time. When two trains which should have met and passed each other are more than half an hour behind their regular time, they must both proceed with the greatest caution, each sending a man with a flag, if in the daytime, or a red light by night, ahead around the curves.

Fortunately, trains only travelled about 18 miles per hour at this time. The Michigan Central Railroad was a pioneer in the use of the telegraph for directing train operations. Their first telegraph installation was in 1855.