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London Rail Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events

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Though it's safer than driving to your destination and perhaps also quicker and cheaper, rail travel has never been guaranteed to be completely safe. Ever since the first section of mainline passenger railway opened in Liverpool in 1830 there have been accidents, and this Entry looks at London's history of serious rail accidents, along with other mishaps that have occurred along the way. Note that while this Entry covers many major train crashes, some of the more trivial incidents have been omitted.

Early Incidents

The first murder on the railways came in 1864 when Thomas Briggs was beaten, robbed and hurled out of a train on the North London Railway. The killer, Franz Muller, was later identified by his 'distinctive hat' and hanged for the crime. In 1875, the Royal Train was stoned while passing through Eton, leading Queen Victoria to start an investigation. Seven years later, she was shot at by a madman while trying to board a train at Windsor, but of course survived.

One of the first crashes to take place in London occurred at Kentish Town on 2 September, 1861, when a passenger train on what is now part of the Gospel Oak to Barking Line was allowed by signals to collide with a ballast train, killing at least 16 passengers and derailing the train to such an extent that it left the embankment. Another accident took place at Harrow on 26 November, 1870, when a driver passed through a red signal, leading his train to crash into the back of another, killing nine people, and a bridge collapse took place at Norwood Junction in 1891, with a train derailing but managing to stop on a part of the bridge that was still stable. It is likely that there were many more rail crashes in the years leading up to World War II, but that the documents detailing them have since gone astray, or are at least quite difficult to come by.

Coulsdon North/Stoat's Nest (1910)

The earliest rail crash to be properly covered in this Entry took place on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway's Quarry Line1 between London and Brighton, which was built during the days of fierce competition between railway companies and was not the first line to pass through Coulsdon on the way south from London. Stoat's Nest was one of the stations on the Quarry Line, sitting just north of Coulsdon South station, and was the scene of a derailment on 29 January, 1910 when the Brighton to London train split into two while passing over points at the station. The rear half of the train jumped the rails and crashed into the platform, killing seven people and injuring others, though fortunately enough, a group of Boy Scouts were nearby and attended to the injured. The station was renamed Coulsdon and Smitham Downs, then Coulsdon West and finally Coulsdon North, with the station eventually closing in 1983 due to the excessive number of stations in the area.

Ilford (1915)

On New Year's Day, 1915, the 7.06 express train from Clacton to London passed straight through both the distant and home signals2 despite the signals being yellow and red, respectively, and despite the efforts of signalman Nichols to alert the staff onboard using a red flag. The express then crashed into the side of a local train that had been crossing the tracks on which the express was running, hitting the seventh coach and destroying the eighth while damaging four others. The engine of the express train ended up in a coal bin at the side of the tracks, and the accident killed 10 people and injured up to 500.

Sevenoaks (1927)

On 24 August, 1927, the service from Cannon Street to Deal was completely derailed near Sevenoaks station killing twelve passengers and badly injuring 21 others, with another passenger dying later due to their injuries. The engine had begun to rock slightly from side to side upon passing the previous set of points, with the rocking increasing when the train started to pass along a left-hand bend until one of the wheels of the engine derailed. Upon reaching the next set of points the train derailed completely, following which the engine and the front few carriages collided violently with the abutment of a bridge crossing the line. An investigation found that the rocking motion had been caused by a combination of hard suspension on the engine of the train and the poor state of the track bed at the point where the rocking had started.

King's Cross (1945)

Just after sunset on 4 February, 1945, a train heading out of Platform 5 at King's Cross station and uphill through the tunnels under the gas works started to lose its grip on the rails, coming to a halt before it could reach the northern end of the tunnel. The train then started to roll back towards the station, the wheels continuing to slip as the driver continued to apply forward power. Due to the bombing of London during the earlier years of World War II the cab of the train still had steel shutters instead of windows and the driver was forced to shut these due to the amount of smoke filling the tunnel, thus preventing him from realising his train was running backwards. By this time the points at King's Cross had been set to allow a train from Platform 10 to follow the train that was at that moment running straight back towards it. Realising what was happening, a signalman changed the points to send the backwards-running train into an empty platform but was just too late, catching the rear of the runaway train in the points and causing it to derail. The accident led to two deaths and several injuries, along with recommendations that there should be glass windows in trains and lights in tunnels so that drivers can find their bearings.

Gidea Park (1947)

On 4 January, 1947, the service to Southend departed from London Liverpool Street ahead of the delayed Peterborough train. The line was covered in fog that evening, and although the driver of the Southend service was sure of the signals given by fogmen3 on the way to Gidea Park station, the driver of the Peterborough train should have been more careful in his approach.

The last signal he saw was actually three miles west of the site of the accident, after which he lost all concept of where he was. The next signal he saw was a fogman's green lamp on a different track, but the driver assumed that this was in fact the distant signal, leading him to assume that the next signal would also be green. After passing through Romford station at express speed, the driver of the Peterborough train looked for but could not see any further signals, leading to a collision at Gidea Park station in which five passengers were killed and the last three coaches of the Southend train were destroyed. Many more were hurt, and two passengers later died of their injuries in hospital. The result of the accident was the recommendation that signals be somehow supplemented with sound indications, an idea that wasn't to catch on for another ten years.

South Croydon (1947)

A different kind of accident which has since been repeated occurred in South Croydon on the line out of London Victoria on 24 October, 1947. As with Gidea Park and many accidents since the area was covered in fog, making it difficult for the local signalman at Purley Oaks to tell where the trains he was directing were. Seeing that the train from Tattenham Corner to Victoria was being blocked from entering an empty section of line by the 'absolute blocking' mechanism designed to stop two trains from occupying the same section of track, the signalman used an override mechanism to allow the crowded rush hour train to proceed. In doing so, it crashed into the back of the service from Haywards Heath, which had until then been sitting motionless in the fog and had somehow slipped the mind of the signalman. The fact that the signalman trusted himself more than the ageing safety systems led to 32 deaths.

Motspur Park (1947)

On the evening of 6 November, 1947, Motspur Park was covered in thick fog, reducing visibility to the extent that drivers on the line between Raynes Park and Epsom couldn't see the semaphore signals guarding the junction with the branch line towards Chessington. Not sure whether to continue along the main line past the junction, the driver of a northbound Holmwood to Waterloo service was forced to rely on the fogman, who showed the driver a green light indicating that he should keep going. In doing so, the driver ploughed straight into a southbound train, which was crossing the junction to head onto the Chessington branch, killing four and wounding 34 in the process. The fogman had in fact given the wrong signal after having heard a noise similar to that of a semaphore signal moving into the 'off' position, but fortunately the collision occurred near to a new metal coach on the southbound train, thus saving the lives of other passengers on the Chessington train. Colour light signalling and the British Rail Automatic Warning System4 were later added to the junction in 1978.

New Southgate (1948)

On 17 July, 1948, an express train from Edinburgh to London King's Cross travelling above the speed limit struck a track defect which caused the locomotive to derail, damaging the track beneath it. The rest of the train then derailed, destroying a substantial section of track before coming to a halt, the overturned first coach having stopped more than half a mile sooner than the locomotive. A fireman on the train was killed and one passenger was badly injured, but as most of the train had remained upright only a few others were hurt.

Woolwich Arsenal (1948)

On 18 November, 1948, a Charing Cross to Dartford service ran into the back of the train from Cannon Street to Gravesend, killing the driver of the Dartford train and a passenger on that train. The accident was due to the driver of the Dartford train running through a red signal, but the accident was worsened by the fact that the following signal at Woolwich Arsenal station had was still set to green despite the signalman knowing that the Gravesend train was on the next section of line. The driver of the Dartford train therefore missed his only chance to realise he had made an error and did not apply the brakes until it was far too late.

London Bridge (1948, 1949)

On 23 January, 1948, a passenger train heading from Seaford into London Bridge station failed to stop at a signal just outside the station and collided with an empty train waiting at Platform 14. The collision led to the death of the driver of the Seaford train and a fireman who was in the cab with him before either could be rescued, and the crash forced the rear end of the empty train into the buffers and up into the station concourse, fatally wounding a prospective passenger and injuring many others.

Another head-on collision occurred on 24 July the following year when a train leaving London Bridge station passed through a red signal to hit the service from Tattenham Corner to Charing Cross, which was at that point traversing from one set of tracks to another atop the viaduct outside of the station. Once again, the driver had completely missed the signal, though this time no-one was killed and only a few were hurt.

Euston (1949)

On the morning of 6 August, 1949, an empty train heading into Euston station to await departure to Liverpool was sent into Platform 13 instead of Platform 12, leading it to crash into the Manchester train which was at that point being loaded with passengers' luggage ready for departure. The accident injured over 40 people, and was due to a combination of an error by the signaller and the poor view along the tracks from the cab in which the train was being controlled. At that time, trains shunted into Euston would be moved downhill into the station under gravity, though this would have to be done at a speed of at least 10mph to make it uphill around a blind corner and into the platforms, despite rules demanding a slower pace into the station. The enquiry into the accident pointed out that track circuit safety devices would make such manoeuvres much safer, and the signalling at Euston was soon modernised.

Boarer's Manor Way Level Crossing (1950)

Boarer's Manor Way level crossing lies to the east of London on the line to Dartford via Woolwich, and on the rainy afternoon of 29 April, 1950 it was occupied by a lorry just as two trains were approaching, one from each direction. The driver of the Cannon Street to Gillingham service saw the lorry in time and made a full brake application, stopping just short of the crossing, but the Slades Green to Cannon Street service was slightly closer and didn't have time to stop, colliding with the rear end of the lorry at 45mph. The three adults on board all survived the incident despite receiving multiple wounds, but a baby being carried on board was killed by the accident. Poor visibility due to the rain meant that a man who disembarked from the lorry to check for trains could not see either of the incoming services, and the investigation recommended that the crossing, which had been an 'occupation level crossing' with just a couple of gates and some decking between the rails since the railway was built in the 19th Century, should be upgraded to one with a gatekeeper. This was something that was long overdue, with the crossing having seen twelve deaths between 1925 and 1950, but Boarer's Manor Way was not an isolated incident and led to recommendations that crossing in general should be made much safer.

Harrow & Wealdstone (1952)

Harrow And Wealdstone was the site of a major train crash back on 8 October, 1952, when the Perth sleeper express train heading for London Euston ploughed into the back of a local train sitting at platform four, followed shortly by the Euston to Manchester express service which rammed the wreckage and destroyed the footbridge and parts of the platforms. The incident killed 112 and wounded another 340, making it one of the worst rail accidents to have ever occurred in the UK5. Despite this, the cause of the accident was quite simple - the intercity train ran at around 50mph through both the distant and home signals without slowing down or stopping, while the Manchester service had no chance whatsoever of stopping in time, as there was no way they could tell there was an accident ahead. A thin fog had been present around the distant signal at the time, and evidence found after the crash showed that the driver of the sleeper train had applied the brakes just a few seconds before passing through the stop signal.

Barnes (1955)

On the evening of 2 December, 1955 came a repeat of the accident at South Croydon, albeit with a slightly nastier twist. The first part of the problem came when a freight train was sent along the local line to Barnes Junction instead of the through line, though both the distant and home signals dropped back to their respective 'caution' and 'danger' positions once the freight train was through. However, it was held up at a signal at Barnes, allowing the service from Waterloo to Windsor to catch up with it. Having forgotten about the freight train, the signalman at Barnes used the override mechanism to reset the absolute block system, either because of some failure or because he had forgotten to do so earlier on when one of the other signal boxes on the line was shut off, and then allowed the Windsor train to be put through onto his section of line.

The driver of the Windsor train had no idea anything was wrong and proceeded at speed, not realising that the freight train was on the same tracks as his train until the last second. The resulting collision killed the guard of the freight train and the driver of the passenger train and knocked the passenger train onto its side, short circuiting the electrified rail so that it arced and started a fire in the wooden carriage at the front of the train. The fire quickly spread through the first carriage, with the accident eventually claiming the lives of 11 passengers as well as the two rail staff killed on impact and injuring around 40 others.

Lewisham (1957)

Fog struck once more on the evening of 4 December, 1957 between St John's and Lewisham on the line from London Bridge station. Running at about 30mph, the driver of the Cannon Street to Ramsgate steam service failed to spot two caution signals and could not stop in time after seeing a red signal. The steam train then rammed the back of a stationary electric train that had been heading from Charing Cross towards Hayes, causing the steam engine to derail onto the pillar of the bridge carrying the line between Nunhead and Lewisham. The accident resulted in the deaths of 90 passengers and caused the 1929 bridge above the crash to buckle, thus alerting the driver of a train about to head over the bridge before any further harm could be caused. The bridge was replaced a year later and still remains today, and the combination of this accident and the 1952 crash at Harrow finally led to the installation of the Automatic Warning System on mainline railways across Britain.

Dagenham East (1958)

A combination of fog and signalling problems struck again on 30 January, 1958 when the Fenchurch to Shoeburyness service ran into the back of the service to Thorpe Bay, killing ten people as the rear coach of the front train was crushed while several carriages derailed. The wreckage of the accident was then hit by a slow-moving District Line train, though no serious damage was done by this collision. Despite the thick fog reducing visibility to only a dozen yards, the noise of the crash alerted local residents, who called the emergency service. The front train had been travelling at around 5mph while waiting for a clear signal to allow it to continue along the line, with evidence suggesting that the train had somehow been prevented from continuing along an empty section, perhaps by the signal being reset to 'danger' before the train had actually passed through it. More importantly, the driver of the Thorpe Bay train missed a semaphore signal set to danger which was sat high above track level and was invisible in the thick fog, leading him to continue at 25mph into the back of the Shoeburyness train. The investigation that followed recommended that trains travelling in poor weather conditions should not have to rely on semaphore signals, but should instead be held either by colour lamps at eye level or be alerted by an Automatic Warning System upon reaching a stop signal.

Hither Green (1967)

On the evening of 5 November, 1967, a train heading from Hastings to Charing Cross hit a small wedge of metal at about 70mph and derailed completely, with three of the leading coaches ending up on their sides after sliding for over 100 metres. Much damage was done to the overturned coaches, with most of the 49 deaths occurring within those three carriages. The piece of metal responsible had fractured away from the end of a section of rail along which the wheels of the train were passing, as the old wooden timbers on that stretch of the line provided little shock absorbance, causing the bolts on the metal strips holding together adjacent sections of rail on that part of the line to vibrate apart. The investigation provided a simple solution - the sections of rail bolted together end-to-end should be replaced by rails welded together to form a continuous section of track without pieces of metal that could fracture and derail a train. Meanwhile, it was also suggested that future trains be designed so as not to damage the rails through wear and tear to such a great extent.

Eltham Well Hall (1972)

Having been built in 1890s, the course of the Dartford Loop line from Blackheath towards Bexley Heath had been strongly affected by the whims of local landowners. One such example is the section near Eltham, which at the time was built to skirt the southern edge of the Well Hall Estate so that Sir Henry Page-Turner Baron could have a station just next to his estate. This lead to a sharp bend in the line at Eltham, which finally took its toll on 11 June, 1972 when a holiday train heading from London to Margate took the bend far too fast and derailed, killing the driver and three others, with another two dying later in hospital.

Investigations found that the driver had been drinking earlier that day, and although he had showed no apparent signs of being drunk, his breath had smelt strongly of alcohol and a post-mortem had shown that he had been heavily intoxicated and had probably been drinking while driving the train. The cause of the crash had been a simple error, with the driver shutting off the power but not applying the brakes, causing the train to take the curve at 65mph and derail over the side of the embankment. A yellow signal was later added just before the site of the accident to remind drivers to slow down.

Paddington (1973)

On 23 November, 1973, the 21.35 high speed service from Penzance failed to slow down to 60mph on the line two miles from Paddington, and then continued at speed until it hit some crossover points half a mile from the terminus. The speed restriction on the points was just 25mph, and so the speed of the train led to an almost immediate derailment at the points, with the locomotive sliding separate from the rest of the train for 400 metres while most of the carriages derailed, with some toppling over. Fortunately, no one was fatally injured. The accident was due to the driver losing concentration and not keeping to the cascade of speed restrictions between Acton and Paddington, though these speed restrictions were revealed by the investigation to be ineffective unless an Automatic Warning System was attached to them. At the time, high speed trains were allowed to approach Acton at 125mph, but had no AWS warning until a point too close to Paddington to prevent accidents.

West Ealing (1973)

On the night of 19 December, 1973, a battery box door on the engine of a train travelling out of London Paddington became loose, having been improperly fastened. The door soon fell open and started to damage various structures next to the tracks, but had no other effect, with the driver accelerating to 70mph without knowing anything was wrong. However, as the train started to cross some points between Ealing Broadway and West Ealing, the open door struck the operating rods of the points, which then opened underneath the 11 carriage train, causing an inevitable derailment.

The engine came to a standstill on its side around 200 metres west of the points, with the first six coaches being badly damaged and spread in a zigzag line across all four tracks. Ten passengers were killed and many others were injured, with eight being seriously hurt. It was later discovered that the catch on the door had been modified to allow it to be secured tightly when the door was shut, also allowing it to become stuck in the open position, which was the case when the train departed from Paddington station. More importantly, the investigation recommended that trains should be more thoroughly checked, and that parts which could cause such accidents should be better designed.

Moorgate (1975)

Though the Northern City Line between Moorgate and Finsbury Park is now part of the mainline railway network, it was part of the London Underground at the time of the Moorgate Crash, and so this accident is covered in London Underground Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events.

Wembley Central (1984)

On 11 October, 1984, a freight train was crossing from one line to another just south of Wembley Central station when the passenger service from Euston to Bletchley ran into the side of it and was deflected to one side, with the front half of the passenger train turning onto its side while part of the freight train was also derailed. The deflection of the passenger train meant that the force of the accident was partly expended by the trains continuing to slide past each other, with only three passengers being killed and 17 injured. The accident was caused by the driver of the passenger train passing through a red signal and cancelling the AWS warning without thinking, though a medical examination showed that the driver may have suffered transiently from some sort of lapse which led to these errors.

Battersea Park (1985)

On the morning of the 31 May, 1985, a train heading along the Brighton Main Line from East Grinstead to London Victoria was held at a signal at Battersea Park station. Just as the Grinstead train was beginning to get underway again, the northbound Gatwick Express rammed into the back of it at a speed around 20mph greater, shunting it forwards while sending shock waves in both directions, damaging the structure of the carriages and injuring many of the passengers on the two crowded trains. The accident was caused by the driver of the Gatwick train having waved to the driver of a southbound Gatwick Express6, thus distracting the driver of the northbound train so that he missed a red signal, cancelled the Automatic Warning System warning and then continued along the line and into the back of the train in front. The inquiry into the accident recommended that a system that would stop trains from passing through red signals altogether would be the best option, but also noted that the crash-worthiness of the train carriages could be better.

Clapham Junction (1988)

On the morning of the 12 December, 1988, the 06.14 train from Poole ran into the back of the 07.18 from Basingstoke near Clapham Junction, culminating in the deaths of 35 people and leaving over 100 injured. The driver of the 06.14 had stopped to report an irregularity in the signalling, as was standard procedure. Just as he put the phone to the signalman down the late-running Poole service hit from behind, travelling at 40 miles per hour. A second collision occurred when an empty train departing Clapham Junction hit the wreckage.

The investigation into the accident had discovered that the wiring to the signalling equipment was faulty. Further investigation also discovered that some of the engineers working on the wiring had been working for over 16 hours and some had even worked weeks without a day off. As a result they were overly tired, resulting in the error being made. The outcome of the investigation led to the current working time regulations on the railway. No person may work over 12 hours and must have a 12 hour break between duties, and they must not work more than 13 days without a day off. There is now a memorial to the accident on Spencer Park, the road which runs along the top of the embankment next to the site of the crash.

Purley (1989)

On the 4 March, 1989, the 12.50 Horsham to Victoria train had just departed from Purley station and was crossing the points from the slow line to the fast. Just then the 12.17 train from Littlehampton, travelling at full speed on the fast line hit the train from behind. The leading six coaches of the Littlehampton train derailed and veered off to the left down an embankment, while the seventh coach also derailed, along with the rear two coaches of the Horsham train. This resulted in the deaths of five people and had left 88 people injured.

The inquiry into the accident had discovered that the driver of the 12.17 Littlehampton train had failed to respond to two warning signals, and was therefore unable to break in time to avoid the collision, once he had reached the red signal.

Cannon Street (1991)

On 8 January, 1991, the train from Sevenoaks collided with the buffers at the end of a Cannon Street terminus platform at between 5 and 10mph, killing one person and injuring many more. The structure and the interior furnishing of the ageing carriages made the accident worse than it should have been, with the old slam doors present on the train providing weak points where the carriages could buckle.

IRA Bombing at London Victoria (1991)

At approximately 07.44 on the morning of the 18 February, 1991, an IRA bomb exploded by the barrier line to platforms 3 and 4. The resulting explosion cost one person their life and left 51 people injured, the IRA not having given sufficient warning for the area to be evacuated.

The explosion didn't have much of an impact on the infrastructure - in fact, trains were running from the central side of the station (platforms 9 - 19) for the evening peak and platforms 1 - 8 were opened by the next day. As a result of the explosion, all rubbish bins were removed from all London's major stations and have never returned since.

Tattenham Corner (1993)

Fortunately, not all serious accidents lead to the deaths of those involved. Early on the morning of 1 December, 1993 and under the influence of alcohol, the driver of a train from London Victoria made it all the way to Tattenham Corner station, near Epsom racecourse, without mishap. However, he forgot to stop at the terminus and took the train through the buffers, across the station concourse and into a temporary wooden station building which had previously managed to survive intact for 92 years. No one was hurt, but the station was completely demolished, and it was due to this accident that the current drugs and alcohol policy for railways was introduced.

Watford (1996)

On 8 August, 1996 a late-running ECS (Empty Carriage Service) to London Euston was in the process of moving from the slow line to the fast line, in an attempt to catch up some lost time. The 17.04 service from London Euston to Milton Keynes was stopped at signals some 700 metres south of Watford Junction, but had overrun the signal while it was set to 'danger', causing the train to be in contact with the point crossing - this is known as a foul of the route. Inevitably, the ECS hit the passenger train travelling just under 70 miles per hour, injuring 69 people - 15 seriously - and costing one person their life.

An investigation into the accident showed that the driver of the 17.04 service had failed to react to two warning signals, leaving the driver with very little track space to stop by the time he saw the red. One of the other points noted by the investigation was that the train in question hadn't been fitted with Automatic Train Protection. Had it been fitted, there is no doubt that the accident would not have occurred.

Bexley (1997)

Around lunchtime on 4 February, 1997, the rear half of a freight train derailed from atop a viaduct on the Dartford loop line near Bexley, badly damaging the viaduct and injuring four people working nearby. Due to communication errors the driver had been driving too fast at the time, but it was a poorly-maintained section of track that led the train's 12th wagon, which was overloaded, to damage the track further, causing the rails to move apart and fully derail the next seven wagons. The front half of the train up to the 12th carriage then separated from the rest of the train, with the train coming to a halt quite a way ahead of the site of derailment and the 13th carriage running a little less distance before hitting the side of another bridge a short way after the viaduct. The 14th to 19th carriages all remained connected as they fell through the side of the railway viaduct, showering the street below with the spoil they had been carrying before landing mostly on their sides in the area below the viaduct. Looking at the details it is amazing that no one was hurt, but unfortunately this meant that Railtrack, the company contracted to maintain the railways in the UK, did not learn their lesson until more serious crashes later on.

Southall (1997)

On 19 September, 1997, a freight train at Southall was crossing the main lines into and out of Paddington when a high speed train heading from Swansea to Paddington collided with it. Due to a relative speed of 80mph, the two trains kept moving for quite a few seconds, with the sheer force of several impacts along the trains bending some coaches and tearing parts off others. The wreckage damaged the overhead power lines and eventually covered all four tracks, with seven passengers dying and over a hundred others being injured. The accident occurred due to the driver of the Swansea train passing through a double yellow and a yellow signal7, and had then passed the red signal at speed. The investigation found that much of the Automatic Warning System equipment on the train was faulty, meaning that the driver received no indication that he had passed through warning signals.

Spa Road Junction (1999)

On 8 January, 1999, a Thameslink service from Brighton to Bedford via London Bridge was signalled to proceed across Spa Road Junction near London Bridge station. Just as the Thameslink was starting to cross the junction, a train from Dover Priory heading towards Charing Cross passed through a red signal and started move onto the junction from another set of tracks coming from roughly the same direction. The result was a side-on collision between the two trains which derailed both services. Four people were injured but no one died, with the angle of collision being quite fortunate considering the position of the junction atop a railway viaduct. The incident was due to driver error, and so the only improvements that could have been made were to the rescue efforts afterwards, which were slowed down by lack of staff training.

Ladbroke Grove (1999)

On the morning of the 5 October, 1999, at approximately 08.09, a three carriage diesel service travelling from London Paddington to Bedwyn and a high speed train travelling from Cheltenham Spa to London Paddington collided on the Ladbroke Grove points crossing, travelling at a collective speed of 130 miles per hour. The collision and subsequent fires caused by leaking diesel tanks left over 500 injured, 227 of whom were taken to hospital, and cost 31 people their lives, including both the drivers.

The investigation into the accident found that the driver of the three-carriage diesel train had passed a signal at danger (SPAD) and had continued none the wiser; it was also noted that he had acquired his qualification to drive barely two weeks previous to the accident. It was also pointed out that the signal in question was in the top 22 of SPAD locations. Further investigation into the signalling in the Paddington area showed that the signalling equipment did not comply with industry-wide standards.

Hatfield (2000)

On the 17 October, 2000, the 12.10 express train from London King's Cross to Leeds derailed just a half a mile outside of Hatfield station while travelling at 115 miles per hour. The resulting disaster left 70 people injured and cost four people their lives, but also had much wider-ranging implications that would eventually affect the entire country.

The investigation came to the conclusion that the crash had occurred due to a broken rail, caused by multiple and pre-existing fatigue cracks in the rail. Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance had failed to maintain the track to industry standards and Railtrack had failed to monitor the work carried out by Balfour Beatty. The subsequent investigation by the British Transport Police led to convictions of both Balfour Beatty and Railtrack for offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The initial impact of the disaster also had a major effect on the entire railway infrastructure, with millions of passengers suffering from major delays due to the multitude of emergency engineering works and speed restrictions imposed that year. It is also the reason that many Train Operating Companies and passengers are subjected to weekend engineering works to this day.

Potters Bar (2002)

On 10 May, 2002, the King's Cross to King's Lynn service was approaching Potters Bar station at 100mph when the rear wheels of the third carriage and the front wheels of the fourth derailed at a set of points, with the fourth carriage following the crossover while the rest of the train continued onwards. The fourth carriage then struck a bridge and came to rest leaning to one side on top of both platforms at Potters Bar station, while the front part of the train continued until it stopped to the north of the station. Six passengers were killed in the crash, as was a pedestrian who was hit by rubble falling from the bridge struck by the fourth carriage, and 76 people were injured. The accident was caused by one of the bars controlling the points snapping as the third carriage passed, causing both directions to be selected at once, thus squeezing the wheels off the tracks. The report recommended better maintenance of points, as the bolts on the points in question had come loose, leaving one bar to take all the strain and making the points incapable of functioning properly.

Dalston Junction (2002)

On 14 August, 2002, a passenger train was allowed to pass through a red signal while leaving Hackney Central, following temporary measures put in place due to problems with the track circuit ahead of the train. However, an incorrect setting of the points at Dalston Junction led to the train crossing onto a different track so that the path of the passenger train was blocked by a freight train directly ahead. The passenger train was then moved back to the correct tracks and stopped to report the incident, but at the same time the signaller marked the passenger train as having cleared the junction and allowed a freight train onto the line just behind the passenger train. The freight train stopped just in time, and so no injuries occurred due to either incident.

Southall (2002)

On 24 November 2002, a train travelling from Swansea to Paddington at 120mph struck a piece of metal that had broken away from the rails where they met the crossover rails of some points. The front wheels of the fifth coach were derailed, knocking ballast into the air and filling the carriage with dust, but the wheels were kept from moving too far from the rails by a spare length of rail sitting next to the line. A passenger operated the communication system and the train was stopped before any serious incident could occur. The derailed wheels had damaged concrete sleepers for a stretch of nearly two miles, and the potential seriousness of the derailment led to much work on that section of track along with various recommendations to improve track maintenance.

King's Cross (2003)

Early on the morning of 16 September, 2003, engineering work was performed to replace a faulty crossover on the line out of Platform 4 at King's Cross. Due to a lack of planning, the crossover section was not replaced, leaving just a section of straight rail, but the signalman was not notified of the change and nothing was done to prevent the points from being set to send trains onto where the crossover had been. The first service to leave Platform 4 that morning was the service to Glasgow Central, and so the signaller set the signal for the crossover to green without knowing that it wasn't there. The train had reached 15mph when the driver noticed there was no track ahead of him, with the train derailing but no one being hurt.

The Future

Though the installation of the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) across the entire UK rail network was completed in 2003, the Automatic Train Protection system is yet to be installed due to the expense of doing so. The difference between the systems is that TPWS can detect and apply the brakes of trains if they exceed a certain speed or pass through a stop signal, whereas the ATP system will take over control and stop a train if its speed suggests that it could pass through a red signal. TPWS is statistically able to stop around 34 per cent of the crashes that would be prevented by ATP, but the usefulness of the latter has long been proved on the London Underground, which has a much better safety record despite also being maintained by private contractors.

1The Quarry Line is now used as a relief branch of the Brighton line, as it bypasses Redhill.2A home signal indicates whether a train should stop or not, while a distant signal provides an early warning of the stop signal ahead. There are two setups - either the home is set to 'danger' (red) and the distant is set to 'caution' (yellow), or they are both set to 'clear' (green).3These were men who would occupy a spot next to important signals and use their lamps and other signalling devices to help the drivers see the signals.4The AWS consisted of magnets used to transmit the signal into the driver's cab, sounding a warning immediately and then applying the brakes if the driver did not respond.5The worst rail accident in the UK took place at Quintinshill in 1915, involving five separate trains and killing 227 people.6Ironically, this southbound train would have been the one preventing the Grinstead train from proceeding earlier on.7The yellow signal is a 'distant' signal warning of a red 'home' signal ahead, while the double-yellow is an extra warning ahead of both which allows drivers of high speed trains enough time to stop safely.

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