On this day in history….19th September 1997

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….

Fair use

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….

On this day in history….5th November 1967

On this day in history : 5th November 1967 – A passenger train derails at Hither Green in South East London…. 49 people are killed and a further 78 injured….

It was a Sunday evening, the packed 12 coach 7.43pm express train was travelling from Hastings to Charing Cross…. At just after 9.15pm disaster was to strike when moving at a speed of approximately 70mph the train derailed…. It happened just before the St. Mildred’s Road railway bridge, close to the Hither Green maintenance depot – a little over a mile from the scene of another rail-crash killing 90 people in Lewisham ten years before….

Hither Green maintenance depot – Image credit : Leaozinho – own work – Public domain

The Hastings to London derailment occurred when the leading pair of wheels of the third coach hit a broken rail and came off the tracks…. The train carried on for a quarter of a mile until it came to a set of points – causing eleven of the coaches to derail…. Four of them turned on to their sides, with two jack-knifing….

It was a busy train, many of the passengers were standing – most of the casualties were in the over-turned carriages…. The emergency services arrived within five minutes and rescuers worked through the night under floodlights to free survivors – among them Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees and his wife, Molly….

An investigation found a rail had fractured at its joint – a triangular piece of metal had fallen out of the bolt hole…. Consequently maintenance of the line was improved, along with inspection procedures – and future rail joints made to a different specification….

A plaque at Hither Green commemorates those who died and on each anniversary flowers and wreaths are laid….

Hither Green Station, 1992 – Image credit : Ben Brooksbank CC BY-SA 2.0