1903 05 08

1903 May 8th          Railwaymen’s Risks

A Years Casualties : Killed 447, Injured 3823

It used to be a favourite saying of that veteran railway chairman, the late Sir Edward Watkin, that one of the safest places in the wide world was a railway carriage on any of the British lines. That is a comforting thought for people in general, and is borne out by the figures contained in an interesting return issued on Monday as a Blue Book, and giving particulars of accidents and casualties reported to the Board of Trade by the railway companies of the United Kingdom during last year.

From accidents to trains, rolling stock, etc., six passengers were killed and 732 injured. This does not compare favourably with the previous years record when none were killed and only 476 injured, but regarded in the light of the enormous number of persons traveling, the death roll does not materially affect the dictum quoted above. From other causes 123 were killed, as against 135 in 1901.

It is when one comes to the workers that the death roll and casualty list assume their more serious character, and one realises that the peaceful avocation of a railway servant is hedged about with more risk to life and limb than is the calling of the British soldier. To put it in another way, the rate of mortality among shunters in their normal employment is higher than that of the British officer during such an abnormal period as the recent South African war. It may be said that the railway-men are not officers, but form the rank and file of the service. But that only makes the comparison more remarkable, for everyone knows that in the war the percentage of killed and wounded among the officers was greater than that among the men.

The following table will show at a glance the number of persons of all sorts and conditions killed and injured on railways in the United Kingdom during 1902, and the comparison with the previous years totals.


                                                                1902                                                    1901

                                                                 Killed             Injured                  Killed            Injured


By accidents to trains, rolling stock etc.     6                     732                      0                   476

Other causes                                              123                1814                     135               1669

Railway Servants

By accidents to trains, rolling stock etc      4                     110                       8                   156

other causes                                              443                 3713                     503                4087

Other Persons

By accidents to trains, rolling stock etc      2                     12                         3                     5

Persons passing at level crossings             57                    22                         55                  26

Trespassers, inc suicides                           421                  133                       426                171

Persons at stations, not in above classes    40                   125                        41                 150

                               Totals                                     1096 6661                                     1171 6740

It should be said that the reference to “railway servants” in the above return includes the men employed by contractors. Of the 447 employees killed 12 were contractors men. Analysing the return Mr Hopwood (who submits the years figures to the President of the Board of Trade with a lucidly arranged introduction) shows that of the railway men : Fifteen were killed and 501 injured whilst coupling or uncoupling vehicles. One was killed, and fifteen injured by coming in contact, whilst riding on vehicles during shunting, with other vehicles, etc., standing on adjacent lines. Two were killed and 19 injured whilst passing over or standing on buffers during shunting. 8 were killed and 181 injured in getting on or off, or by falling off, engines, waggons, etc., during shunting. 8 were killed and 362 injured whilst braking, spragging or chocking wheels. 1 was killed and 94 injured whilst attending to ground points. 10 were killed and 352 injured whilst moving vehicles by capstans, turntables, props, horses, etc., during shunting. And 47 were killed and 489 injured by various other accidents during shunting operations.

Seven were killed and 63 injured by falling off engines etc., during the traveling of trains. 3 were killed and 226 injured whilst getting on or off engines, vans, etc., during the traveling of trains. 8 were killed and 69 injured by coming in contact with over-bridges or erections on the sides of the line during the traveling of trains. 2 were killed and 360 injured whilst attending to the machinery of engines in steam. 84 were killed and 123 injured whilst working on the permanent way, sidings, etc. 4 were killed whilst attending to gates at level crossings.

There were 130 killed and — injured whilst walking, —– or signaling in the line of duty, of whom 96 were killed and 202 injured in and about stations, and 34 were killed and 48 injured at other parts of the line, 30 were killed and 96 injured by being caught between vehicles. 11 were killed and 61 injured by falling or being caught between trains and platforms, walls, etc. 35 were killed and 42 injured whilst walking etc., on the line on the way home or to work. And 37 were killed and 410 injured from various other causes.

Regarding the figures as a whole, and simply with an eye to those of the previous year, they have their hopeful side. Thus there is a net decrease of 64 railway servants killed, and a decrease of 420 among the injured.

Among passengers there has been a decrease of 6 and 401 respectively. Taking the total from all causes, there is a decrease of 75 killed and 79 injured. Still the figures are far too high, and deserve serious attention with a view to bringing about a still further reduction.

Shunting operations naturally form the frontline of danger in railway work. Thus fifteen men were killed whilst coupling or uncoupling vehicles. After this who shall dare to minimise the value of automatic couplings? Injuries in the same work number 501. And what a terrible tale is told in the detailed list giving the nature of the injuries these railway workers suffered: loss of legs : loss of arms : loss of fingers : fractures of all these limbs : dislocations and contusions everywhere : scalds, sprains, and lacerations innumerable. Forty-seven railway servants lost their feet, and twenty-five their arms or hands – the list could be continued much further, but it would only point the same moral, namely, that of increased use of all available methods and appliances whereby the life of the railway worker may be made more secure.


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