Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash

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Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash

View of the platforms from the north after the crash
Details
Date8 October 1952
Time8:19 am
LocationHarrow and Wealdstone
CountryEngland
Rail lineWest Coast Main Line
(BR London Midland)
CauseSignal passed at danger
Statistics
Trains3
Deaths112
Injuries340
List of UK rail accidents by year
 
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Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash

View of the platforms from the north after the crash
Details
Date8 October 1952
Time8:19 am
LocationHarrow and Wealdstone
CountryEngland
Rail lineWest Coast Main Line
(BR London Midland)
CauseSignal passed at danger
Statistics
Trains3
Deaths112
Injuries340
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Harrow and Wealdstone rail crash was a multiple train collision at Harrow and Wealdstone station in London at 8:19 am on 8 October 1952. An express train from Perth, Scotland crashed at speed into the rear of a local passenger train that had stopped at the station; within a few seconds of the collision an express train, travelling at speed in the opposite direction, crashed into the Perth train's locomotive. It was the worst peacetime rail crash in the United Kingdom:[1] there were 112 fatalities and 88 people were detained in hospital. The slow lines were reopened early the following morning, but it was several days before traffic was allowed on all lines.

The Ministry of Transport report found that the driver of the Perth train had passed a caution signal and two danger signals before colliding with the local train. The accident accelerated the introduction of Automatic Warning System – by the time the report had been published British Rail had agreed to a five-year plan to install the system that warned drivers that they had passed an adverse signal.

Contents

Collisions

On 8 October 1952 the 7:31 am Tring to Euston local passenger train, consisting of 9 carriages hauled by a steam locomotive, stopped at Harrow and Wealdstone station, approximately seven minutes late due to fog.[2] As scheduled, it had travelled from Tring on the slow line, switching to the fast line just before Harrow and Wealdstone to keep the slow lines to the south clear for empty stock movements.[3] Carrying approximately 800 passengers, the train was busier than normal as the following service had been cancelled.[4] At 8:19 am, just as the guard was walking back to his brake van after checking doors on the last two carriages, the train was struck from behind by the 8:15 pm night express from Perth, Scotland[5][6] that was travelling at 50–60 miles per hour (80–100 km/h). This train consisted of a locomotive hauling 11 carriages carrying approximately 85 passengers and was running approximately 80 minutes late.[2] It had passed a colour light signal at caution and two semaphore signals at danger.[7]

A second or two after the first collision the 8:00 am express from Euston to Liverpool and Manchester, 15 carriages carrying approximately 200 passengers hauled by two locomotives,[7] passed through the station on the adjacent fast line in the opposite direction at approximately 60 miles per hour (100 km/h).[4] The leading locomotive of this train struck the locomotive of the Perth train and derailed.[7]

Sixteen carriages were destroyed, of which 13 were compressed into a space 45 yards (41 m) long, 18 yards (16 m) wide and 18 feet (5.5 m) high under the station footbridge.[7]

There were 112 fatalities, including the driver and fireman of the Perth express and the driver of the lead engine of the Liverpool express. A total of 340 people reported injury: 183 people were given treatment for shock and minor injury at the station and 157 were taken to hospital, of whom 88 were detained.[7]

Aftermath

The first emergency response arrived at 8:22 am with the fire brigade, ambulance and police services being assisted by doctors and a medical unit of the United States Air Force. Help was accepted from the Salvation Army, the Women's Voluntary Service and local residents.[8] The first loaded ambulance left at 8:27 am and by 12:15 pm most of the injured had been taken to hospital. The search for survivors continued until 1:30 am the following morning.[7]

There are three pairs of running lines through Harrow and Wealdstone station, and from east to west these are the slow lines, fast lines and the DC electric lines.[9] All six lines were closed including the undamaged slow lines to allow the injured access to ambulances that left from the goods yard. The slow lines reopened at 5:32 am the following morning. The electric lines were used by cranes to remove the Liverpool locomotive and carriages and reopened 4:30 am on 11 October. The fast lines were reopened, with a speed restriction, at 8:00 pm on 12 October and a temporary footbridge was opened the same evening.[7]

Report

The Ministry of Transport report on the collision was published in June, 1953. Witnesses were interviewed, the visibility of the signals on the line examined, and tests showed no equipment fault on the Perth train or the signalling equipment.[10] A post-mortem on the driver of the Perth train showed he had been in good health and had not drunk alcohol or been poisoned by carbon monoxide.[11] After consideration, the report found that the signalman had not changed the route after the Perth train had passed the caution signal,[11] concluding that the driver of the Perth train had not slowed his train in response to this signal and had then passed two danger signals before colliding with the Tring train.[12]

The report praised the then new steel British rail standard coaching stock that had survived better than the older wooden and steel coaches[13] and stressed that the rules of the railway were correct, and that safety depended on drivers obeying signals.[14] The report considered a system warning drivers that they had passed a signal at caution or danger would have prevented ten percent of the accidents in the previous forty-one years, saving 399 lives, including the 112 at Harrow,[15] British Rail had under development an "automatic train control" system that warned drivers of an adverse signal and automatically applied the brakes until this was cancelled by the driver and by the time the report had been published a five-year plan had been agreed to install this system on 1,332 miles (2,144 km) of line.[13]

Legacy

The accident accelerated the introduction of the British Rail Automatic Warning System (AWS),[16] although some in the industry thought more lives would be saved by spending the money on installing more track circuits and colour light signals.[17] By 1977 a third of British Rail track had been fitted with AWS.[18]

After the accident there was criticism that the layout of the track at Harrow and Wealdstone was arranged with the junction between slow and fast lines to the north of the station so the Tring train had to wait on the fast line. This was to keep the length of the rods between the points and the signal-box to a minimum. The junction was changed in 1962.[19]

A memorial plaque for the disaster was unveiled in 2002 to mark the 50th anniversary.[20] A mural was painted along the bordering road featuring scenes from Wealdstone's history by children from local schools and dedicated to the victims' memory.[citation needed]

Locomotives

The locomotives hauling the Liverpool train were No. 45637 Jubilee Class 4-6-0 "Windward Islands" and No. 46202 Princess Royal Class 4-6-2 "Princess Anne", both scrapped after the collison. The latter was a rebuild in conventional form from the experimental steam turbine "Turbomotive" and had been in service as "Princess Anne" for only a few months.[21] The Perth train had been hauled by No. 46242 Coronation Class 4-6-2 "City of Glasgow", and was repaired.[22] The Tring train had been hauled by No. 42389 2-6-4 tank engine running bunker first.[23]

References

Notes

Biblography

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 51°35′32″N 0°20′06″W / 51.59222°N 0.335°W / 51.59222; -0.335