On this day in history : 19th September 1997 – An Intercity 125 passenger train collides with a freight train at Southall – 7 people are killed and a further 139 are injured….

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The accident happened with no warning at around 1.20pm near to Southall Station….

The 10.32am Great Western Train’s Intercity 125 high speed eight carriage passenger train was returning from Swansea to Paddington…. The driver, Larry Harrison, had joined the train at Cardiff – relieving the first driver, who said he had found a fault with the Automatic Warning System (AWS)…. As a precaution he had disabled the system…. A trial version of a more advanced Automatic Train Protection (ATP) was also installed on the train – but this was switched off…. The ATP was designed to prevent a train from passing through a red light…. Neither driver alerted Signal Control or Railtrack – had they of done so extra precautionary signalling could have been undertaken….

Approaching Southall at 125mph Harrison passed two warning signals – a double yellow and then a single yellow – without slowing the train down…. He only reacted when he saw the red signal – by immediately applying the emergency brakes…. He then saw about a mile ahead the Hanson Class 59 locomotive 59101 – noticing it was at an odd angle he suddenly realised it was crossing his path….

Hanson Class 59 Locomotive 59101 in Southampton 1999 – Image credit : Murgatroyd49 – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

The freight train, which was towing 20 empty wagons, had been instructed to move on to the main line at Southall East Junction so it could finish its journey into the yard on the south side…. The approaching passenger train was still travelling at 80mph at the time of impact with the freight train….the driver of which, Alan Bricker, attempted to accelerate out of the way…. But the front end of the Intercity Express hit one of the 22 ton hopper wagons; two seconds later a passenger carriage collided with another wagon…. The now severed brake pipes of the freight train caused the rear hoppers to stop – the passenger train was still travelling at 60mph…. The passenger carriage turned over – two people were killed after falling through the windows…. As another hopper wagon was struck it lifted into the air and another passenger carriage slid beneath it, flattening it…. The rest of the still moving train behind then collided with it, bending the structure…. There were five more casualties in this carriage – in all seven people died, six at the scene and one later in hospital….

View of aftermath from a passing train – Image credit : Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0

It transpired that the driver of the passenger train had not seen the yellow warning signs – as he had been busy putting his stuff away in his bag at the time…. Had the AWS of been working he would have received an audible warning…. Manslaughter charges were brought against him but were dropped in July 1999…. The accident inquiry found the primary cause was his failure to respond to the first two warning signals alerting him to the freight train ahead…. Out of the two safety systems onboard, one was faulty and Harrison had not been trained how to use the ATM….

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