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The UK’s Worst Train Crashes

Although train travel is generally thought of being one of the safest ways to travel in Britain, accidents do sometimes happen. These accidents should be considered carefully, so that similar events can be prevented from happening in the future. Here is some information about the worst train crashes in UK history.

Quintinshill Rail Disaster – 1915

Quintinshill in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, was the scene of the worst rail disasters in the history of trains in the UK, which resulted in the deaths of 226 people, and injuries to 246 more.

The cause of the crash was human error on the parts of two signalmen and the fireman on one of the trains involved, who all failed to follow proper procedures. Their failures meant that a troop train carrying soldiers to Liverpool was able to crash into a stationary passenger train. Just minutes later, a train on a nearby line crashed into the wreckage and caught fire, also setting two other nearby trains alight. Many who survived the crash were trapped in the trains as they were consumed by fire. There were reports that some soldiers begged to be shot, rather than face being burned alive.

Harrow and Wealdstone Rail Crash – 1952

This was another disaster which was caused by human error. The driver of an express train from Perth allowed his train to pass a caution signal and two danger signals before it crashed into a local train which was waiting at the station platform. A northbound train on an adjacent line then crashed into the wreckage, and piled up under the station footbridge.

There were 102 fatalities, including passengers on all three trains, and bystanders on the station platform. The event led to improvements in the Advanced Warning Systems in the train cab, to alert drivers if they pass danger signals.

Lewisham Rail Crash – 1957

Dense fog in the Lewisham area of London had caused train disruption on the evening of 4th December 1957, and therefore many trains were running out of their normal order. One of these trains was being held at a signal close to Parks Bridge, when another train ran into the back of it. The collision affected the structure of the bridge, causing part of it to fall onto the train wreckage below, crushing two coaches. There were 109 fatalities.

The driver of the second train claimed that the caution signals had not been clearly visible, and therefore he had not slowed his train down. He was acquitted of manslaughter and recommendations were made to the rail network that more should be done to improve signal visibility.

Armagh Rail Disaster – 1889

The Armagh Sunday School decided to arrange a special day out for Sunday school participants, and requested that a special train be put on for the journey. However, an administrative error meant that 15 carriages were booked for the journey, whilst the driver was advised that only 13 would be used. This meant that the locomotive chosen was not powerful enough to haul all the carriages up an incline on the route. In an attempt to get all of the carriages up the hill, the train was divided, and brakes applied to the rear section. However, the brakes did not hold, and the rear portion of the train rolled back down the hill, and collided with a following train. This resulted in 80 deaths.

Tay Bridge Disaster – 1879

Shortly after Christmas in 1879, a violent storm hit the East coast of Scotland. As a train was crossing the Tay Bridge, a section of the bridge suddenly collapsed, and the train fell into the river below. It is estimated that there were 75 people on board at the time. There were no survivors.