Board of Trade Inquiry

Board of Trade Inquiry       1884 June 14th

On Monday, Colonel Rich, RE, of the Board of Trade, visited the scene of the accident. The gallant officer arrived from London at about eleven o’clock, being accompanied by Mr Verrinder, the traffic superintendent, Mr Jacomb the chief engineer, and other prominent officials of the company. Both these two gentlemen accompanied him to Charford, along with Mr Drage, district engineer, Mr Colson, general superintendent of the central district, Mr Adams of the locomotive department, and Mr Higgs, of the same department.

The officer most intently examined the line at the scene of the accident, and before and beyond it, paying particular attention to the condition of the rails, the sleepers and the chairs, and taking measurements and occasionally examining employees. Witt, the gateman, again related his description of the occurrence. Other officials gave ideas of the condition of the line subsequent to and before the disaster. All this latter evidence was re-obtained pro forma at the official inquiry which was held at the Salisbury Station in the afternoon and evening, and which lasted for nearly four hours. Col. Rich at this inquiry was accompanied by the same officials, some of whom at the Col’s request interrogated the witnesses. The following was the evidence taken.

Thomas Butler said : I was the driver of the leading engine. Mr Riddett, the foreman of the locomotive department, instructed me to attach my engine in front of this train. My fireman coupled the tender of my engine in front of the train engine. We left Salisbury about 4.38. Wimborne was the destination of the train, and I had to go to Verwood. We stopped I should think about a minute and a half at Downton. The guard gave me the signal to stop. The gradient after leaving Downton is 1 in 75. We were proceeding when the accident happened from 30 to 33 miles an hour. The first intimation I had of something being wrong was the dust flying.

The Inspector : What occasioned you to look around? It is our duty to look about. I can’t say what particularly caused me to look around. But at every curve it is our duty to see that the train is following. I had a little steam on at the time, never having shut it off since leaving Downton. The moment the dust cleared away I saw a portion of the train in a field. I at once pulled up – or pulled up as quickly as I could with safety; I shut off steam, and put the steam brake on. I cannot say whether the driver of the train engine had shut off steam when I looked around; neither can I say whether it was he or I who first saw something wrong. I did not whistle, and I do not think the train-engine man whistled. My steam brake acted on the whole of the wheels of the tender and engine that I was driving.

I have been nine years a driver, and 23 years in the Company’s service. My engine on the journey in which the accident occurred was a six wheels coupled-goods engine. Previously I had been acting as pilot and had been to Wimborne. My ordinary engine I had been working up to five minutes to four. This engine I then took to proceed to Verwood to bring up a goods train. This being a single line that was the reason I was hitched on to this train. I was ready to start at 4.30. The engine before the accident was proceeding comfortably. There was not that I noticed any oscillation. The engine was in good repair, having just left the shop. When I came to a stand my engine and tender were on the rails, being still hooked to the train engine with the van behind it. The tender of the train engine and the van were off the rails on the left side of the line.

Frank Saunders, the fireman of this pilot engine, gave a general corroboration of Butler’s statement.

Robert Miles stated : I was the driver of the train engine at the time of the accident. We were due to start at 4.33, but did not start till 4.39, as we were waiting for the down express. The train consisted of pilot engine and tender, my engine and tender, two brake vans, the guard being in the one behind, and six coaches. We ran all right to Downton, and for another mile-and-a-half.

Then I found – just before we passed over the little bridge on which the iron girders were damaged – that my engine was increasing in speed; and then on looking round I saw that my van was jumping and off the road, and then on looking over my fireman’s side I saw a cloud of dust behind the van and immediately after – after I had gone further on – observed that we had not the train and that it had gone over the bank. When I saw the van off the road I at once shut off steam, and when I saw that the train had run down the bank I applied the steam brake and stopped my engine, coming to a stand at about 100 yards on the Salisbury side of the level-crossing. The engine remained attached to the tender, which, with the van behind, which remained coupled to it, was off the rails.

I have been a driver about 15 years. Twelve years of that time I have been in the employ of the Company, having previously been in the employ of the Bristol and Exeter Company. My engine was in perfect working order, it was a four-coupled engine. The steam brake acted on the four coupled wheels of the engine and the six wheels of the tender.

By Mr Jacomb : We were running comfortably, with no more oscillation perceptible than in usual running.

By Col. Rich : There is a little more oscillation on that road than on the London and Exeter roads, but there was no more oscillation perceptible at the time of the accident than on the day previous.

Did you have any more oscillation by reason of having the pilot engine attached? No, sir.

Witness, continuing, said : Both the engines had the steam on from the time of leaving Downton till the accident happened.

Col. Rich : Do you consider you were ever going more than 35 miles an hour after leaving Downton? No, sir. I should not think we ever exceeded 35 miles an hour.

Richard Scadding, the fireman of Miles’ engine, said he observed nothing wrong until the engine was crossing the small river bridge before the crossing. His attention was attracted by finding the engine going faster than before, and on looking round he saw the van off the road and a cloud of dust behind it. Immediately after the coaches ran down the bank. He knew the road well. He did not notice anything unusual in the travelling that day. They did not often have a pilot in front, but he did not notice that it was any rougher when they had a pilot. He was not the regular fireman to Miles, his fireman working on the main line on that day. He believed they were going faster when he looked around than when they were going down the bank before reaching the Avon. That caused him to look around.

Col. Rich : I think you must be wrong, remembering the weight of the train. How do you think you were going faster? Because as, I afterwards thought, we had lost the tail of the train.

Col. Rich : It is very unaccountable to me. I should think you should rather look around because of the noise. No, sir. I heard no noise.

Can you assign me any cause for the accident? No, sir.

Do you mean that among you engine men you have not talked this over? No, sir, I haven’t talked it over at all.

Witness, in continuing, said he did not go back after and look at the road; his mate went over the road.

Miles, recalled, said he walked over the road but did not notice the permanent way.

Col. Rich : It’s a very funny thing. I’ll be bound that if you tumbled down in the road you would know what caused it.

Witness : I saw one rail was twisted. But I went quickly to get assistance, and did not stay to notice anything.

Did you see any sleepers drawn away by ballast? Yes, they were shifted two or three inches.

Was that shifting regular as if gradually pulled or irregular? Some were more twisted than others. The sleepers were shifted on the Downton side of the accident, and the place where the rail was twisted was where the carriages went over the embankment.

Have you made complaints of this line? I have made complaints of the chalk between Downton and Alderbury junction, but that was over a twelvemonth ago; but the line where this accident occurred was generally pretty fair.

Were they repairing the road this day? No, but they had been putting down chalk there as well as elsewhere a few days previous.

George Waters, the guard of the train, said the down London train being late caused them to be five minutes late. The order of the train was a van, two thirds, two firsts, one second, one third, and the van in which he rode. They gained two minutes on the road to Downton. After leaving Downton everything went well till they got within 50 yards of where the accident occurred. They had proceeded at the average speed. He first felt a great oscillation, and before he could look around he found that the train had gone down the bank. He was bruised in the accident, but on getting out – he being assisted from the top of his van – he helped to attend to the passengers. He did not take any notice beyond observing that some of the metals were very much bent. He was at the spot till 9.30. He had been a guard 8½ years and had about 28½ years in the company’s service. He had been on this branch about 8 years. He noticed nothing particular in the running of the train that day. He did not remember having complaints as to the line on that day. The couplings, he knew, were all right before starting. The speed at the time of the accident was, he should say, about 35 miles an hour. It did not often happen that they had two engines on the train. He had not noticed that the running was any rougher with two engines than with one.

Albert Nicholas, ganger, said that at the time of the accident he and his men were at Downton. At 2.30 that day he had been with a load of chalk to the place where the accident happened, the chalk being taken there to strengthen the bank with a view to keeping the ballast from spreading out. The road had been ballasted about three weeks before, the work having been finished there about a fortnight since. On the day of the accident they had finished this work to a place at about a quarter of a mile below the spot. On this day at about 2.30 he was looking over the road and did not observe any keys out. There were not, he was sure, three or four out together. It was two months before the accident happened when they lifted the road at that place. Slight adjustments were made, but not above the thickness of a penny, when the ballast was put in. He had been 17 years in the employ of the company, and nine years a ganger on this line. It was not soft at this place. There were, he was certain, no tools left at the spot by the workmen. He saw nothing afterwards to lead him to believe that anything had been wilfully put on the rails.

James Mortimer, inspector of the permanent way of this district, said that he got to the scene of the accident from Ringwood at 7.45 the same evening. Nothing had been disturbed. He went to examine the road, and to see what materials were wanted; and afterwards went to Ringwood to fetch materials. He could not see what was the cause of the accident on examining the road. He noticed that the sleepers were pulled away from their beds, but he could not distinctly say to what distance. He could not at all say how the accident happened. The road having re-ballasted up and new sleepers laid down he could not see how any blame could be attached to the road. All the chalk had been unloaded on the right side of the road.

Col. Rich : One thing is certain, that the running was too hard or the road too weak. The road seems a very good one now. I would not be afraid to day to run one engine down there at the rate of 40 miles an hour. But what I want to know is – is there any cause for this? Were the keys, for instance, loose? Well, there ought not to be with a ganger going continually over the line.

Witness continued that he had been 14 or 15 years in the company’s service, and about ten weeks inspector. On the Thursday previous to the accident and also on the Friday he walked over the line where the accident occurred, and he noticed then that it was in very good order. He had no complaints about the road from the drivers or from anyone else.

By Mr Jacomb : Before being appointed inspector he held the important position of foreman over all the platelayers in Southampton-yard.

Mr Jesse Drage, engineer for a district of about 240 miles, said that he got to the scene of the accident at about 7.40pm. He found the tender of one of the engines off the road; and next he saw that the van which had been off had been lifted on the road. He walked on about 270 yards and he then found the train in the ditch, the whole lying about 20 yards from the centre of the railway. He examined the road. The first evidence of anything having been off the rail was the cut of a flange – inside the upper part – on a sleeper on the line towards Downton. At this point both rails and sleepers appear to have shifted seven inches, having moved inwards towards the centre of the curve. In walking towards Downton he found the rails shifted for a distance of 56 yards, some more and some less, but all inwards towards the centre of the curve, and at the end they had only moved about one-eighth of an inch. The rails were bent, being bulged right and left alternately, along the whole of the distance. The rails, however, remained firmly fixed in the chairs, and the chairs to the sleepers. Walking towards Breamore, from the first mark in the sleepers, he found the principal disturbance was about 30 yards distant. The rails had been separated at this place by the breaking of the inner fish plate, and there was a severe indentation in the head of the rail which had been made by a flange of a wheel. As fas as he could recollect the opening in the rail was about 2ft wide at this point, and the right side of the wheels of the carriages seemed to have crossed the rails at this spot and run down the embankment.

Could you give us any idea of the cause of this disturbance? It was the force of the carriages on the lower rail which knocked it out. The rail was all right until something got off.

Mr Henry Colson, assistant to Mr Drage, generally corroborated his statement, excepting that so far as his recollection served the rails were only about two inches apart at the spot at which the fish plate was broken. The shifting of the sleepers extended for a distance of about 55 yards, running from, he should say, one-eight of an inch to four inches. The line had been lifted, ballasted and re-sleepered about three weeks before the accident. He went over the line four days before, and could not find any fault with it, nor did he find any keys out of the chairs. It was a very good line with a very good top. All the ends of the sleepers were well covered with ballast; and he directed the outside of the formation to be filled up with chalk so as to keep the ballast from spreading. He had been 30 years in the company’s service, and nearly the whole time superintendent.

The broken coupling-chain was produced in the course of the inquiry, and considerable discussion ensued as to whether the breaking of this one and the unfastening of the other was the cause of the accident. But Col. Rich was of opinion that such an occurrence was not sufficient to account for the trains going off the lines.

The Inspector saw the broken carriages in the yard ; and the inquiry then terminated.

The Board of Trade Report 1884 August 16th

The report of Colonel Rich, RE, to the Board of Trade on the fatal accident which occurred on the 3rd of June last between Downton and Breamore railway stations, on the London and South Western Railway, when 5 passengers were killed and 41 injured, was published on Saturday.

After pointing out that the circumstances attending the accident did not bear out the theory held by the officials of the company and by many other persons, that the accident was caused by the breaking of the coupling between the front van and the carriage next to it, Colonel Rich says he has no hesitation in stating that the accident was caused by the train having been run at too great a speed over a weak road. The train having two engines and eight short vehicles, with short wheel bases, was not calculated to run steady at great speed, over a line of such gradients and curves. Having further stated that he has no doubt that it was the force and weight of the engines that first displaced the permanent way and thus led to the accident, Colonel Rich gives the results of trials that he has made with the two engines running at the time of the accident. The pilot engine, although a goods engine, he found to be a steady-running and speedy engine, but the other, the train engine, was unsteady, deficient in steam-power, appeared to be old, and was quite unfit to run a train at the speed at which the 4.33 train from Salisbury was timed to run. He then says,

The London and South Western Railway Company have had three cases of passenger trains leaving the rails since September last. The first, which occurred near Portsmouth, was caused by the great oscillation of the last coach of the train. The oscillation made the springs of the coach turn over, and then it left the rails. The coach was of bad construction. The second, which occurred at Brockhurst in January, was caused, like the present disaster, by a train made up of inferior rolling stock, being run at express speed along a very old and light permanent way.

The numerous complaints which have been made of the violent shaking which passengers experience when travelling on parts of the London and South Western Railway leave no room to doubt that a great deal of reform in the management and improvement in the working of this railway is required.

I believe the complaints are caused in a great measure by bad driving, using inferior stock, and by the coaches in the trains not being properly coupled up. I would strongly urge the company to make a thorough examination of their system and stock, to classify their several lines and parts of the system, and to classify their trains. It cannot be expected that the whole of the company’s stock and railway shall be of the best description, but the public has a right to expect that all old and inferior stock shall not be run over old, weak, and inferior parts of the railway at such speed as to make it unpleasant and dangerous to all who use it.

If the 4.33pm train from Salisbury had been fitted with a good continuous break, the train engine driver might have checked the speed and oscillation by means of the continuous break, without endangering the safety of his train, but in the case of the Portsmouth accident, when the train was fitted with the continuous automatic air-break, the engine driver made no effort to get it to work properly before he left Waterloo. He started from Waterloo and ran to Portsmouth without the break being available if it had been wanted. The Salisbury and Wimborne railway is a single line. The passing places of up and down trains are changed if required by telegraph. This is a dangerous mode of working, and it was the reason why the second engine was attached to the 4.33pm train, instead of the engine being sent forward as a light engine. If the line had been worked by train staff, as it should be, there would have been no difficulty in sending forward the pilot engine instead of attaching it to a passenger train.

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