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Brighton Terminus Fatal Accident 

27th November, 1858 

by George Ross, Captain, R.E.

A fatal accident occurred at Brighton terminus of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. to George Sweetman, a Switchman in the employment of the L.B. & S.C.R.

A Switch-man named Henry Evans has charge of the switches adjacent to the terminus on the London side of it, and the deceased was his assistant.

On the morning of the 20th ultimo, at about 9 a.m., Sweetman held the points of a coke siding, of which the lever is close to the Switchman’s box, for the admission of some coke wagons, and the driver pushed them with his engine into the coke store.

It was the least busy part of the day, and Sweetman crossed the main line to a spot where he had no points to attend to, and there he was seen quietly standing.

Presently, the driver having placed the coke wagons, whistled for leave to quit sidings. Evans, who was not at his box, signalled to him to do so, and the driver was backing his engine tender foremost out of the sidings, when Sweetman suddenly ran from where he was standing on the opposite of the main line towards the Switchman’s box. He was crossing before the engine in motion on the coke siding, when his foot slipped, and he was struck by the tender, and his death was the result of the serious injuries he received.

Evans cannot explain Sweetman’s object in crossing the line at that moment. There was nothing for him to do, and his intervention was not required to pass the engine out of the coke siding. He had been 4 years on duty at that post, and was a steady man; but the stain master says that he had on several occasions reproved him for rashness. In my opinion, his death must be attributed to his own want of caution.    

The urn observed in their verdict (in the extract submitted by the railway to their Lordships) that “two men were not able to attend to fourteen of “more points at a place of so much traffic with “reasonable safety.”

These Switchmen are circumstance as follows: Their hut is about 100 yards of the terminus on the left of the arrival line from London, and is in an angle between the arrival line and the sidings of the station yard. They have two series of switches to attend to, of which the one is in the shops’ and sheds’ yard behind their box, where there are 7 switches of sidings connected with turntables, water cranes, shops, &c., &c. The other series is on the main line side of the box, where switches lead from the main lines to the coke siding in which the accident occurred to the spare carriage sidings in the terminus and into the yard already referred to. They also charge of one switch of a cross-over road, which is in use on the arrival of nearly all passenger trains from London, for passing the engine from the front to the rear of the train.

About half of the total number of switch handles are contiguous to the Switchman’s box; the others at various distance within about 60 or 70 paces of it, and most of them on the box side of the main line.

To enter or quit the yard, the numerous engine which work into Brighton terminus must pass on to a small length of main line, about 100 yards in length, between the Switchman’s box and the terminus, and this, with the number of trains arriving and departing on the London main lines, doubtless makes the Switcman’s position an anxious one.

the company, I understand, would be glad to improve it; but they question the practicability of working the switches by handles collected into a box, where, as in this case, the engines are many, their objects various, and the switches frequent.

Evans, the Switchman, and the station master, with respectively 13 years and 11 years experience at the station, are dubious as to its expediency, and the former says that there would be liability to fouling of the points from engines hanging close to them when shunting after dusk. That inconvenience might perhaps be avoided by means of a lamp or post on the side of the line to indicate to the driver when at a proper distance clear of the points; and my impression is, that it might be an improvement were one or two of the most frequented switches to be worked from the box; that, for instance, leading from the arrival main line into the yard.

The duties were conducted by one Switchman until four years ago, when they were lightened by the appointment of the assistant Switchman; and it is said that no accident had, until now, occurred to any servant of the company on duty at that part of the terminus.

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