1905 01 06

1905 January 6th        Downton

The Collision at the Station

The Board of Trade has issued the report of Major Pringle on the collision which occurred on November 2nd, between a passenger train and some goods wagons near the station. By the breaking of a coupling a portion of the 4.50pm up goods train from Wimborne was left behind at the southern end of the station, and the 7.38pm down passenger train from Salisbury came into collision with the goods wagons. Two passengers complained of injury from shock. The passenger train kept the line but four of the goods wagons were derailed. The injury to the permanent way was slight, but the passenger engine was considerably damaged as were some of the trucks.

Evidence was given by Alfred Sammers, the signalman, with 31½ years on the service of the company, who said that he was prepared to acknowledge that he made a mistake in not satisfying himself that the whole of the goods train had not passed through the “up loop” before allowing the passenger train to go away. He did not look in the direction of Wimborne after he returned to the signal cabin. If he had he could have seen the side lights of the brake van that was left standing on the single line. He also pointed out the difficulties under which he worked, and said that other cases of break-aways had occurred to goods trains on the single line at the same place.

Jon T Dart, the driver of the goods train, said he thought all the trucks were following, until the guard of his train showed him a red light.

Edward King, the fireman, said he thought something was wrong when they reached the end of the platform as the train ran a bit light.

John Wisdom, the guard, said he found something was wrong because the guard in the rear van failed to respond to his signal, as customary, and he noticed also that the speed in the loop was faster than it was when the full train was running. This made him suspicious.

Tom Ingram, the brakeman on the rear van, said he never saw a light from the front van, as usual, and soon after the engine started his part of the train commenced to run back instead of going forward. He stopped it in seven or eight wagon lengths, got out of the van, then heard the collision.

Alfred Allen, the driver of the passenger train, said that when he saw the first engine of the goods train pass he started his engine, and could not see the remainder of the goods had been left standing in his track. Then the fireman put more coal to the fire, and the sudden glare from the fire-box preventing him from seeing anything of the standing wagons until he struck them. About one or one-and-a-half minutes elapsed between his leaving the platform and the collision, and his speed was about twenty miles an hour.

Harry Bullard, the fireman, gave similar evidence. He saw nothing wrong until they smashed into the trucks.

Frederick Charles Foster, the passenger guard, spoke to similar effect.

Dart, the goods driver, recalled, said he did not think the fireman exchanged signals with Wisdom, the guard, as soon as practicable.

The guard said he did not like to stop the train sooner for fear of causing unnecessary delay to the passenger train.

Mr Lever, the ex-stationmaster at Downton, said there had been cases of wagons running back, but not within the last twelvemonths. The goods train had been running for some years with the same load.

Major Pringle in summing up the evidence says, – “The collision was caused in the first instance by the breaking of the coupling between the sixteenth and seventeenth vehicles of the goods train. The sixteenth vehicle was a cattle truck, and the coupling chain of that vehicle had been used. Two links of this coupling were found on the hook after the collision, so that it was the third link of this coupling chain which parted. Two broken links were subsequently found : both were broken at one end, and in one instance the breakage shows a bad flaw in the metal. It is probable that it was this link which parted when the train was starting.

The collision would not have occurred if signalman Summers, as was his duty, had taken the proper steps to assure himself that the whole of the goods train had passed him before allowing the passenger train to proceed. He did not wait to see the tail lights of the train and could not have paid much attention to its passage, or he must have noticed that the train was only half its proper length. He must bear the responsibility for allowing the passenger train to proceed, when he ought to have known that the line was blocked. I find it difficult to excuse guard Wisdom and driver Dart for not discovering at an earlier moment that they had left half the train behind them. Under Rule 171 (f) the driver must, “when the train has started, see that his fireman exchanges hand-signals with the guard in the rear, so as to be sure that the whole of the train is with them.” Where there is a front and rear guard, as in the case of this goods train, it was manifestly the duty of the front guard to exchange signals with the rear guard, and, in the case of a non-receipt of an “all-right” signal, it should have occurred to both front guard and engine driver that something was wrong long before the train had traveled as far as it did. It appears to me that neither Dart nor Wisdom acted in accordance with the above quoted rule, and that it was not the non-receipt of the hand signal which caused Wisdom to show a red light but the speed attained after getting into the loop, which drew attention to the lightness of the train.

The night was dark, but quite clear. It was therefore possible for driver Allen to have seen the side light of the rear portion of the goods train on the single line before the collision occurred. But I do not think that under the circumstances responsibility for non-avoidance of the collision can be thrown on him. I have pointed out that the length of the loop at Downton Station is only 130 yards. There is, moreover, no siding in the yard capable of holding more than about 16 vehicles. In the circumstances there was no alternative for the signalman to adopt but the clumsy method of working which has been described. But in view of the steep gradients at either end of the yard the method of working involves, as this case proves, danger from couplings breaking. To obviate this danger some action is desirable, such as the lengthening of the loop, so that it shall be capable of containing full length goods trains, or the construction of a refuge siding into which such trains can be shunted when required. I trust that the company will be able to see their way to carrying out the necessary works.

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