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16 October 1860

London Victoria

Involving driver 

extracted and adapted from the report by
H.W. Tyler
Captain Royal Engineers

A collision, occurred on the 16th October, between two trains belonging to the London, Brighton, and South Coast, Railway Company, near the new Metropolitan Terminus known as the Victoria Station. 

At half a mile from the Victoria Station there is an incline of 1 in 64, rather more than a quarter of a mile in length, leading up to a bridge over the River Thames. The line from the station to the bridge is much curved; and in travelling between the station and the bottom of the above incline, the engine-drivers can only see for a short distance in front of them, in consequence of its being for the most part shut in by side-walls and over-bridges.

The Victoria Junction is a junction at the entrance to the terminus, from which communications have been made, or are in progress, to the different sections in which the traffic from the East Kent, Brighton, and Crystal Palace, Railways is to be accommodated; and a signalman and telegraph-clerk. are stationed on the stage at this junction, with a carefully arranged set of signal-levers and switch handles, and with telegraph-instruments, communicating with certain switchmen’s boxes in the station yard, and with the new Battersea Station on the south of the Thames. The instruments which are connected with the South of the river are employed for controlling the traffic between Battersea and the terminus; and those connected with the station yard are principally intended for the guidance of the junction signalman, and for affording him such information as it is requisite that he should receive previous to the arrival and departure of any of the trains.

The system is not yet, however, in full operation. All trains and engines run at present to and from the Brighton section of the terminus; and they will continue to do so until the Crystal Palace section of it can be completed, or prepared for traffic.

I enclose a copy of the printed instructions which were issued by Mr. Hawkins, the traffic manager of the Company, previously to the opening of this section of railway on the 1st October.

As will be seen, one of the regulations contained in these instructions provides, that no second train or engine shall be allowed to follow on the same line of rails, between the Victoria Bridge (over the Thames) and the Terminus, until the preceding train or engine has been signalled "in" by telegraph. I need not here refer to the working of the incoming trains, in regard to which, owing to the nature of the line, there is a little peculiarity ; but I may add, in further explanation, with regard to the out-going traffic, that it is the duty, and the practice, of the signalmen at the Victoria Junction, to prevent any train from starting from the Terminus, by means of their until they receive notice on the proper telegraph-instrument, of the preceding train having started from, or passed, the signalman's box at the new Battersea Station on the south of the Thames.

Such being the nature of the line, and the precau- tions adopted for the safe working of the traffic, as far as they directly refer to the present case, I may now proceed to describe briefly the way in which this collision was brought about.

At 9.30, on the evening of the 16th October, a tank· engine started from the Victoria Terminus for the old Battersea Station, (which is now used as a carriage- shed,) with an empty carriage train, consisting of eight vehicles, under the charge of a porter. The engine, No. 127, had been at work all day, shunting and piloting at the station and this was to have been its last journey. The driver had allowed his fire to get rather low, but he believed that he had enough steam for the work required of him; and he states that his gauge indicated a pressure of 100 lbs. on the square inch when he left the station.

He had, however, miscalculated in this respect. As he neared the Thames Bridge his steam failed, and his engine and carriages came to a stand on the incline of 1 in 64, on which, as I have already explained, it is approached from the direction of the terminus. He states, himself, that he then sent back his acting fireman to the porter who was doing duty as breaksman with the train, to tell him to put on his break, and go back to protect it; and that he three times sent a message to him to that effect; but this statement is contradicted both by his acting-fireman and by the porter; and it does not appear to be true. It is evident, on the contrary, that he wished the break of the van to be applied-not in order that the guard might leave his van and go back along the line. but in order that he himself might, by backing his engine, close up the buffers of the different and avail himself of the spring afforded by their rebound to get a fresh start, as his best chance of surmounting the incline. He admits that this was what he was endeavouring to do, and he could not possibly have accomplished it if the guard had gone to any distance from his van, because in that case he would not have been in his place to release his van-break at the moment when he was required to do so, to admit of the train obtaining a fresh start in a forward direction. 

The driver made several attempts to get over the incline in this manner; and he only lost ground on each occasion; and he at length proceeded to back his train towards the station, either, as it may be supposed for he does not admit it himself or the purpose of returning for assistance, or else to take a run at the incline from a more favorable gradient. Whilst be was thus backing to· wards the terminus, a passenger train which had started from it at 9.42, two minutes after its proper time, for the London Bridge Station, came into collision with his empty-carriage train with considerable violence. The passenger train is stated to have been travelling forward at a speed of 10 or 12, the other train backward at a speed of about 5 miles an hour when this happened; and, unfortunately, 5 of the passengers, besides the superintendent of the terminus, and a carriage examiner in the service of the company, suffered more or less from the effects of the collision.

The passenger train consisted of a tank-engine, travelling tank first, 8 carriages, and two break- vans. The driver received, the usual signals from the signalman at the Victoria Junction, to authorise him 'to start; and he had every reason, therefore, to believe that the line was clear before him to Battersea. He was travelling at rather less than his ordinary speed, in consequence of the rails having been somewhat slippery; but he was unable to 'see the tail light of the empty-carriage train for many yards he struck it; and he had only just time to shut off his steam, and to put it on again after reversing his engine, before the collision occurred.

When the empty carriage train came to a stand on the incline, the porter who was acting as brakesman with it, ought, if he had done his duty (and more particularly as the passenger train was so nearly due to start), to have applied his break, and to have gone back towards the Terminus, to report what had occurred, and to ask for assistance, instead of waiting to assist the driver in endeavouring to proceed forwards. He no doubt believed that he was acting for the best in adopting the latter course; and he had some warrant for this belief in consequence of the system under which the traffic was worked on that part of the line; as no train ought to have been allowed to start from the terminus, according to the regulations to which I have before referred, until after the train which he accompanied had been reported by telegraph to have passed the Battersea Station, on the further side of the river.

The statements of the parties implicated, as to how it happened that this regulation was infringed on this occasion, and that two trains were allowed to be upon this portion of line at the same time, are of a contradictory character, and I must next proceed to refer to them.

The signalman at the Victoria Junction, James Bicknell, was an experienced man; and he had been at that post since the opening of the extension line on the 1st October. 

He beckoned the empty-carriage train out of the arrival line at the terminus with his hand-lamp on the evening in question, and that train passed his box at 9.31. The driver of it said as he went by, "right away," meaning that he was going past the Battersea Station, and that he was not going to shunt back into the terminus; and Bicknell waved his hand- lamp to him as a signal that he might “ go away." Henry Agent, the telegraph clerk, upon this rang the telegraph bell once, to intimate to the Battersea signalman that the train had gone towards him, and turned the proper needle over, in doing so, to" train out." 

These signal, by bell and needle, were duly received by Henry Coleman, the signalman at Battersea, and “one” ring of the bell was repeated by him, by way of acknowledgement, according to custom; and thus far the two signalmen agree in their testimony; but Bicknell states that he received a further signal from Coleman’s instrument at 9.34, by the bell ringing, and the needle falling over to “line clear,” which indicated to him that the empty-carriage train had passed Battersea; whilst Coleman states that he made no such signal, and that his needle remained unaltered, from the time that it was turned by Bicknell to “train out” for the empty-carriage train until the line had been cleared after the collision.

There is, also, corroborating evidence on both sides to these statements. On the one hand, Bicknell and Agent assert that they were both in a position to see the needle fall over to "clear"" at 9.34 and to hear the bell ring, though they neither of them say positively that the bell rang three times, which is the number of rings employed to indicate a clear road ; and, on the other hand, a porter, who happened to be in Coleman’s box, declares that the needle referred to in that box, remained at "train out,"-that he noticed, after the collision occurred, that it was still in the same place, and that he was told by Coleman to stop and see whether it moved, while the latter went out of his box to look after the train which he was expecting, and which ought to have arrived.

There is a record-book kept at the Victoria Junction, in which it is the duty of Agent (during his hours of attendance) to enter the time at which a train is signalled to Battersea, and also the time at which it is signalled to pass the Battersea box  and I find recorded in this book, under the proper for the train in question, the times of 9.31 and 9.34. These entries would. if they were to be relied upOlI, confinn in a satisfactory manner the evidence of Bicknell and Agent, as to the times at which the empty carriage train was signalled by them to Battersea, and to them from Battersea. Too first of these figures have evidently all been written by the same hand and the same pen, and apparently at the same time. The last figure, the "4," is very different from the remainder, ad is remarkable for being thick and dark. In explanation of this difference, Agent, whose business it was, as I have said, to make entries in the book, states that he bad. two inkstands near him at the time-a leaden one which contained thick ink, and a glass one which b; had procured on that morning; and that he dipped his pen in the leaden one after making the “3,” and thus made a “4” which was very different from it.

The next entries which appear in the book relate to the passenger train which followed the empty car- riage train; and these were made by Bicknell in the absence of Agent, who had. gone away with the passenger train, and was in it when the collision occurred.

Agent neglected his duty in leaving his post, as he had still some hours of duty to perform at it, and Bicknell was in fault in permitting him to do so but it appears that they had arranged previously that Agent should, if possible, get away by that train for the night, in consequence of his having been deprived of the lodging which he had occupied in the neighbourhood up to that time, and that Bicknell take charge of the instruments, as well as the points and signals, during his absence. Agent states that, under these circumstances, he left the Junction box about 9.38, three or four minutes after he wrote the "9.34" in his box, on the receipt of the "clear" signal from Battersea for the empty carriage train, and that he afterwards waited for three minutes in the passenger train before it started from the station. Reverting now to the proceedings at Battersea, it appears that when Coleman found that the train did not arrive which had been signalled to him, he went out of his box to look after it, and he then saw by its lights, that the engine of that train was approaching the river bridge. He afterwards lost sight of it again, and he remarked to the porter who was with him that it had “stuck on the bank.” He also went to the station master at Battersea and reported to him, in his office, about 9.42 or 9.43, that Bicknell had given notice of two “trains out,” one after another, without his having himself given a clear signal for the first one, and that he had seen an engine light, which had afterwards disappeared, at the end of the bridge. For these reasons he requested the station master to telegraph to the junction box on the speaking instrument, which was in his office, to ask whether anything was the matter. The station-master did' as he was requested, and received an immediate reply, " There has been a run in here."

Looking to all the circumstances of the case, as far .as I have been able to ascertain them by the evidence of the parties concerned, and to the way in which that evidence was given, I have no doubt in my own mind that the fault on this occasion was not at Battersea, and I am unable to believe the statements of Bicknell and Agent, the signalman and clerk who were at the Junction-box. These men now make complaints in reglU·d to the uncertain working of the instruments, the weakness of the bells, and the tendency of the needles, when the currents are strong, to rebound back again, which are well worthy of notice; and I may add that these defects require to be remedied; but these circumstances cannot in any way have led to the mistake which seems to have open made on this occasion at the Junction-box. It will have been observed, that a signal is stated in this instance to have been transmitted, according to code, by the turning of the proper needle to" clear," and by the ringing of a bell, apparently to intimate that a train had passed Battersea at the time at which it would have passed it if the train had proceeded forward in regular course. There is no question in this case of any irregularity in the working of the instrument or of the needle having been pushed over accidentally at the Victoria Junction, (which might possibly have happened under other circumstances in consequence of the instruments being as yet unprovided with glass covers,) because the statements of Bicknell and Agent are to the effect that they both saw the needle, go over and both heard the bell ring at the same time, though they could not be sure as to whether it rang three times or not.

It seems most probable that Bicknell’s attention was taken off from his duty in consequence of Agent’s irregular departure, and that ten or eleven minutes having elapsed after the starting of the empty-carriage train, it did not occur to him, when the passenger train was ready to follow it, that the former train had not been returned “clear” from Battersea. In any case, the fault appears to have been committed by him, and I see no excuse to be made for him, though it rose solely, perhaps, froths mistimed good nature, in allowing Agent to go away before his term of duty had expired.

The telegraph instruments are of a nature to require glass covers, because they are constructed with heavy needles, which may be moved by the finger, or by an accidental touch in passing; and they will remain, when thus moved, to the side to which they are pushed over. It appears that the covers had been sent away to be exchangfld for others of a more suitable description. The bells certainly require to be stronger, and it is a question whether it would not be better to employ instruments of a different cha- racter. It is desirable that all risk should be avoided of a rebound of the needles from the side to which they are turned over by the action of the voltaic current; and it is also desirable that neither of the signalmen shall have it in his power to alter the needles on which indications are made to them- an arrangement which is only partially carried out at present. I would suggest, as an improved mode of working, that, when a train is about to start from the Victoria Station, a louder bell should be rung from the Junction-box to Battersea, to ask permission for it to start; that, after according this permission, the Battersea signalman should turn over the proper needle in the Junction-box to” line blocked;”- that he should be able to retain it in that position, by the force of the current, until the train passed his box ;-and that he then turn it back again to " line clear."

If it had been the practice for the men at the Junction-box to ask permission from Battersea before starting a train, Bicknell would not have been so likely to make the mistake which he appears to have committed on this occasion, of forgetting, before he started a second train, that he had not received the " clear" signal for the previous one•.

I am disposed to recommend that arrangements of this description should now be put into practice ; and I consider that a record-book should be kept in the signal-box at Battersea, such as is already in use at the Victoria Junction.

I may add, in conclusion, that another irregularity was brought to light in the course of my inquiry into this accident. The regular fireman with the shunting engine was proceeding home as well as the telegraph clerk, by the 9.40 train; and he had induced a “cleaner,” (whom I have before alluded to as an “acting fireman,”) to take his place on the engine for this, its last journey, with the empty carriages.

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