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1st MARCH 1850

Extracted and adapt from a report 

by Harness R.E, Capt. Royal Engineers

This accident occurred on Friday 4th March, 1850 at the junction of the Epsom branch at Croydon, beg to take the liberty of drawing your attention to that spot. never scarcely pass by that point without hearing an expression of fear that an accident will happen. At a quarter past o'clock daily the express to Brighton, and the quarter before to Epsom, and the 10 minutes before o'clock from Epsom, are within a very few minutes of meeting at this point. Surely this is dangerous! short time ago, am told, one of these trains was turned on a wrong line in order to avoid collision. Would it not be possible that the Epsom trains should be part only of the Brighton trains as far as the junction of the two lines at Croydon, and then a fresh engine take the Epsom carriages on, so as only to have Dover and Brighton trains on the line, as is now the case alter passing Croydon? Had any train been passing the other day, and a collision ensued, hundreds of lives might have been lost.

March 8th, I proceeded down the Brighton line to the point where the Croydon and Epsom line diverges from the main line, to inquire into an accident which occurred to the 6.15 p.m. down train to Epsom at that place. The 6.15 p.m.train consisted of a luggage-van and nine carriages, besides the engine and No. 36. tender: on arriving at the junction, the driver states, that he passed through the points, which are facing ones, left open for the main-line, without feeling anything; but immediately afterwards he felt a jerk, and looking back, he found the luggage-van was off the line. The junction is such a very oblique one, and it being dark, he was not aware that he had passed down the main line instead of on to the Croydon and Epsom line. He had passed through the points without steam, and the engine brought up about 150 yards from the points. On examining the condition of the train, it was found that the engine and tender were on the line; the luggage-van and three succeeding carriages were about one foot off the rails;' the fourth carriage was lying on its side, extending across to the Croydon down line; and the remaining five carriages were all right on the Croydon down-line: none of the couplings of the train were broken, though some of them were necessarily much strained and twisted; there can be no doubt, from this circumstance, that the train was proceeding at a very moderate speed. 

Four carriages were thus drawn off the rails, and one of them, a second-class, containing five passengers, fell over on its side; the passengers only sustained slight bruises, except in one ease, in which Mr. Nalder, a gentleman residing at Croydon, was somewhat severely shaken, and his forehead cut by some broken glass, but from the latest accounts, no danger was apprehended.

The statement of the points-man is, that when the train was about a quarter of a mile distant, he pulled back the switch-handle to close the points. and turn the train on to the Croydon and Epsom line: it being dark, be could not well see what was going on; but just after the engine passed through, the switch-handle was twitched forward, and he field on to draw it back, which he continued doing until, as he imagined. the train had safely passed through. It appears evident that the switch man could not have pulled the handle back home, but must have left the points sufficiently open to admit the wheel of the engine; the twitch forward that he felt was caused by the wheels opening the points wider; by holding on them he partly closed the points so as to cause the following carriage to come in contact with the point of the switch, and so to mount. the rail and to be thrown off; and he probable did Dot succeed in getting the points closed till the five leading carriages had been drawn off; and having then succeeded in closing the points, the remainder of the train went on to the proper line. Had it been light, no doubt the switch man would have at once perceived what had happened, and let go the handle and allowed the whole train to pass down the main-line.

1examined the points, and found, of course, that then they were in good working order; but I have no reason for supposing that they were not so before; the point of the switch was much battered from the blows of the wheels. Had the points been out of order, I conceive that the rear carriages of the train must equally have gone off the line. I think the accident was altogether caused by the carelessness of the points man.

To obviate the recurrence of a similar accident, Mr. Hood, the Engineer of the Company, intends attaching to the switch-handle a catch similar to that on the reversing handle of an engine; this would secure the handle from flying back after being drawn home; but the switch would, in a measure, cease to be a self-acting one, which in my opinionwould more than counterbalance the proposed advantage. .

I took the opportunity of my meeting the Chairman of the Brighton Railway Company at the junction, to inquire into the circumstances the, passage and meeting of trains at this point, to which Mr. Alcock, in his letter of the 4th inst., has drawn your attention. Mr. Alcock says, "that the quarter past 5 express to Brighton, and the quarter before 5 to Epsom, and the 10 minutes before 5 from Epsom, are within a very few minutes of meeting at this point;” that is, that there are two following down trains and one up. I find that there is an interval of 10 minutes between the passage of the two following trains through the junction, which is sufficient if adhered to, for all purposes of safety. And from theup Epsom train no danger whatsoever is to be apprehended, as the up line from Epsom is a distinct one.

With regard to this line I would mention that, at the signal-post a meeting point has been introduced, which I think should be removed as the same object could be obtained by another arrangement, and the meeting point avoided.

Mr. Alcock also mentions in his letter, "that one of these trains was turned on a wrong line, a short time ago, to avoid collision." The explanation given me of such an occurrence (though the occasion was not recollected) is, that in the event of a Croydon down train approaching (the line having been signalled clear for it), should a Brighton up-train be seen at the same time approaching the distance-signal 600 yards oft', the slow Croydon train would be allowed by the points man to pass down the main-line to avoid the possibility of a collision; and in so doing I consider he would be exercising a sound discretion. 

The accident was clearly caused by the points not having passed the engine on to the Croydon line, though the cause of this is not easily explained, as the points were in perfect order, and the switchman (who is a most steady servant, who has occupied the same post, without any accident, for the last six years) was at his post, and had tried the points, and found them, as he thought, to act properly before he turned on the signal to allow the train to pass and he states that he was quite unconscious at the time that the points had not turned the engine as usual on to the Croydon line.

No blame whatever attaches to the engine driver, who was proceeding with great caution at a rate not exceeding eight miles an hour, and who displayed great presence of mind in bringing his train to a stand gradually when he perceived the accident. .

The road has been restored to perfect order and another most experienced and trustworthy man placed at the points, and the caution already given to the engine-drivers to pass at a moderate rate of speed has been renewed. 

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