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30th APRIL 1866

Involving Brighton Driver Unknown 

and his Fireman Charles Henry Beckwith

extracted and adapted from the report by
W. Yolland Colonel R.E.

A collision occurred on the 30th April 1866 between a passenger and a ballast train at the Caterham Junction station of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, when two passengers 

(Mr and Mrs. Drew) and the head guard (William Webb) of the passenger train were killed, and the fireman Charles Henry Beckwith was so much injured that he has subsequently died of the injuries he received, and about 86 passengers and the under guard of the passenger train were injured, some of the number very seriously.

Caterham Junction station is about 18 3/8 miles south of London Bridge Station, on the main line or the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, where a branch line belonging to the South-eastern Railway Company leaves for Caterham. 

The London, Brighton, and South Coast, and the South-eastern Railway Companies are owners of the line between New Cross and Red Hill stations. The northern portion of it, to a little south of Stoat's Nest, 14 1/2 miles from London Bridge, belongs to the London, and South Coast Railway Company, and the southern portion from near Stoat’s Nest to Redhill belong to the South-eastern Railway Company, but the trains of the two companies run over the whole of this line as a road in common to both.

Caterham Junction station is situated rather more than a mile north of Stoat’s Nest, and three miles South of Croydon, so that the collision occurred on a portion of the line entirely under the control of  and management of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company. The station is protected by station signals, and distant signals north and south of the station on the main line, as well as by the proper signals on the Caterham branch line; and the traffic on the main line is worked with the assistance of the electric telegraph, on the block system, under which no two trains are to be allowed on the same line between two telegraph stations at one and the same time.

There is, however, a ballast siding, which runs out of what is known as the long siding, lying north of the station, and east of the down main line, but close to it, from which a contractor has been engaged for some time past in taking away chalk for ballasting the company's South London lines, now fast approach ing towards completion. The long siding is connected with the up main line by a through road, passing across the down main line, and by a pair of falling points placed about 495 yards north of the station signals, and signalman’s hox. The south end of the long siding is connected with the down main line by a pair of falling points placed opposite to the north end of the down platform.

On the evening of 30th ulto. a train of 18 empty ballast wagons with two guards vans reached Caterham Junction station from London somewhere about 8.30 p.m., and it was at once shunted into the long siding, through the faIling points just referred to, opposite the down platform. The engine was then uncoupled, ran ahead out on to the down main line at the station platform, and the head guard went to the Signalman, and obtained the key of the pair of facing points which led by the through road from the long siding to the up main line, to enable the engine to get across to the ballast siding, and the wagons to be taken from it, &e. Particular instructions had been issued with respect to these points which I shall specially refer to; but as soon as the key had been procured,  the engine crossed over to the up main line, ran north to the falling points of the through road, Ilnd then crossed over the down main line into the long siding, having obtained the permission of the signalman previous to doing so. The engine then took out 18 loaded wagons from the ballast siding, and left the 18 empty wagons which had been brought from London, in the ballast siding, to be loaded up with chalk; and the ballast train was then placed in the long siding, and made ready to leave for London. These operations occupied about 25 minutes, and the train is said to have been ready to proceed by a little after 9 oclock. 

The written instructions placed in the signalman's box dated the 28th June 1864 are as follows:

Notice to the Signalman at Caterham Junction. 

"The chalk siding north of Caterham Junction Station has been connected with the up main line by means of a through crossing over the down main line.

The crossing being beyond the protection of the semaphore signals, the points have been locked, and the key placed in charge of the signalman at Caterham Junction, who must never on any account permit the crossing to be used without having first given the Stop all or block signal by telegraph to  Selsdon signalling station, and had it acknowledged in the usual way. The Signalman on duty will be held responsible to see that the key is duly brought back to him after each time it is used.

Signed M. G. DENVlL, for Traffic Manager 

I am informed that it was intended when this order was issued that every time that an engine or train went into or came out of these sidings from or on to the up main line, the key was at once to be brought back to the signalman; but I find that in practice, when fetched at the same time as on this occasion, it has not been brought back to the signalman after each entry or each departure, but has been retained till the night’s work has been done, which sometimes is as late as 7 o’clock the next morning.

It also appeared that this particular up trip of the ballast train had always been made after the 6h. 50m. p.m. south eastern up passenger train from Dover, due to pass Caterham Junction station at 9h. 36 m. had gone by, and also generally after the 8h 50m. p.m. South-eastern down goods train had passed, which is due there at 9h. 32m. p.m. The South-eastern 8h. 50m. p.m. up passenger train usually follows the Brighton 8h. p.m. up passenger train, which is appointed to Caterham Junction station at 9h. 20m. p.m.; but on this night it so happened that the 8h. p.m. train was not running to its proper time, and the South-eastern up train preceded it, and passed Caterham Junction station at 9h. 39m. p.m. only three minutes late.

I must not omit to mention that as soon as the ballast train had been got ready for starting about 9 o'clock, the engine-driver, firemen, and two guards belonging to it, left the station, and went to a beer shop not far from the station to get some refreshments; and they say they returned to the station somewhere about 9h. 20m., the time when the 8h. up Brighton train is due to pass. Apparently while they were away, the ganger of the platelayers and the contractor went to the signalman, one after the other, and asked him when the ballast train would be enabled to get away, and was told by the signalman, “When these two trains have passed, or about 9h. 35m. p.m.” The signalman explains that by these two trains he meant the 6h. 50m. p.m. South eastern, and the 8h. p.m. Brighton trains.

The men belonging to the ballast train went down the steps at the side of the signalman’s box on their way to the beer shop, but returned by another route across the fields, and they got on to the platform near its north end, having being absent, they state, about 20 minutes. The engine driver say, that they all then went to the ballast train, the fireman got on the engine, and he (the driver) walked back to the signalman’s box, opened the door, and spoke to the signalments follows: “The Dover (South eastern) train is late tonight.” The signalman answered “ that it was:” and then added, “As soon as it is gone you will have a clear road to yourselves.” The driver says that it was about 9h. 36m. when he spoke to the signalman; at which time, however, it must be remarked, the South eastern train was not late. He then walked along the up platform towards his own train, and the South eastern up train passed him just as he got back to his engine. On another occasion he stated that this train passed him at the further end of the platform, that he then walked on, and had just got on to the engine when the South-eastern down goods train went by, and when it was clear of the station he whistled, and he saw the signalman or a man come out of the signal-box, and wave his hand-lamp, showing a white light, two or three times; and the head guard of the ballast train answered the signalman, by waving his hand-lamp in return; that the head guard was leaning out of the van at the time, and he called out “All right, mate;” and then moved his train ahead out on to the up main line, the ganger of the plate layers holding the points for the train to pass out. The two guards of the ballast train say that the driver left them on the platform, walking south wards to the signalman’s box, while they went north wards to the ballast train, after they had got back from the beer shop through the fields. But the fireman supports the driver’s statement that he did not go back to the signalman until they had reached the ballast train. At all events, the engine driver’s statement, if  it ill to be depended on, would go far to show that, instead of being away 15 or 18 minutes, as he states, at the beer shop, it must have been much nearer to half an hour.

But the whole statement is distinctly denied by the signalman, who says that the engine driver never came back to his box at all, nor asked him any question about the Dover train, and that he never told the engine driver anything about having a clear road, and in fact he never spoke to him. The signalman is equally clear that he heard no whistle from the ballast engine, and gave no hand signal to the driver of the ballast train to proceed.

He states that the South-eastern up passenger train due to pass his box at 9h. 36m. was telegraphed forward from Stoat's Nest at 9h. 37m., passed his box at 9h. 39m., was given on to the Selsdon telegraph station, north of Caterham Junction station, at 9h. 39m., and that directly this train passed he telegraphed its arrival back to Stoat's Nest; it was telegraphed back from Selsdon as having passed at 9 h. 41 m.; and he then pulled off his self-acting up distant signal, and lowered the up semaphore signal to "Caution;” that at 9h. 45m. Stoat's Nest gave three rings on the telegraph bell, which is the signal for an up Brighton train; and he then lowered his up semaphore signal to "All right," and the 8h. p.m. up train passed his box at 9h. 47m.; that he then heard the wire of the down distant signal break, but did not know there had been any accident. He adds that he had a South-eastern down goods train telegraphed forward to him from Selsdon at 9h. 37m. at the same time that the South-eastern up passenger train was telegraphed from Stoat's Nest; until the down goods train passed at 9h. 45m. at the time when the Brighton 8h. p.m. up passenger train was telegraphed forward from Stoat’s Nest, and a Brighton down goods train was telegraphed forward from Selsdon at 8h. 47m., just after the 8h. p.m. up passenger train had passed his box. There is no direct testimony corroborative of many parts of this man's statement; but the telegraph books kept by himself at Caterham Junction station, and those at Stoat's Nest and Selsdon, support it; and the evidence of the company's servants with the Brighton 8h. p.m. up passenger train confirm it in the most important points as regards the Caterham Junction up station and up distant signals being all right for that train to pass.

The 8h. p.m. Brighton up passenger train, consisting of engine and tender and 18 vehicles, including 4 guards break vans with 4 guards, had “All right” signals to it at Stoat’s Nest Station; and the driver states that the signals at Caterham Junotion were” All right” signals; that they travelled at the rate of 30 miles an hour, after leaving Redhill and seeing the signals all right he passed through Caterham Junction station at the usual speed, and just after he had passed the station signal he noticed a train in the siding on the right hand side of the line; he could see it by the red light at the tail of the train, and it appeared to be in the siding, and not on the up main line. He says that while his train was proceeding onwards, he saw at about 40 yards distance in his front a part of the ballast train on his own line, and he had only time to see that it was across his line, and then the collision took place. The engine he was driving was thrown of the rails, and went some distance down the embankment at that part about 30 feet in height on the left hand side, breaking away from the carriages; and all he could do before the collision took place was to shut off the steam, which he did the moment before, and he and the fireman both went down the embankment with the engine. He was somewhat shaken, and the first thing he did was to get out his mate, whom he found underneath the tender, very much injured. He then got the fire out of the engine as quickly as he could, and went up on to the line, and found many  of the carriages of his train thrown over, and the leading break van smashed to pieces; and the head guard who had charge of it, William Webb, was partly beneath it on the line, and partly under a carriage. He saw him taken out, and he was then dead. The driver appears to have behaved very well. The lady and gentleman who were killed were in a first- class carriage, the second vehicle from the tender, which was destroyed, and it is understood that most of the persons who were injured were in the front part of the train. Another first-class and one second- class carriage, and another guard’s break-van, were also greatly damaged, and several of the trucks in the ballast train were broken up entirely while others were more or less damaged and the engine and tender of the passenger train were also a good deal knocked about. The collision must have been a tremendous one, and have taken place, in all probability, at much greater speed than that named by the engine driver. About 15 wagons of the ballast train had got across to the crossing of the up line when the collision took place. I do not think any blame is attributable to any of the company's servants belonging to the up passenger train.

With respect to the causes which led to this lamentable collision, it would appear to be according to the evidence of the servants of the company with the ballast train, to the signalman having improperly given a Signal for that train to come out of the ballast siding, at the time when he had altered the up distant and up station signals to " All right" for the 8h. p.m. up Brighton passenger train to pass the station; or to their having mistaken some other light for the signalman's hand lamp; or, in opposition to their evidence as to their usual practice, of their having started without any signal at all after the South-eastern up passenger and down goods train had passed. 

I do not think the blame rest with the signalman, although his acts are only vouched for by himself; and I consider it to be more likely that the ballast train started without any signal at all, than that it received a signal from the signalman, as there are various contradictions involved in their separate statements, and it is quite certain that the ballast train was most improperly left by both the driver and fireman at the same time; and they admit that they did not know whether the 8h. p.m. train had passed or not. Still it is possible that they fancied they had received a signal to start, as one of the porters who had been engaged in taking out the light from the branch semaphore signal, and afterwards in putting out the lights on the down platform, brought this light across to the up platform, and afterwards carried it along the platform to the lamp room about this time. This light might possibly have been mistaken for the signalman’s hand lamp, as it was carried to the lamp room; and if it were so, it only proves the extreme risk to which the public are sometimes exposed from the practice which so generally prevails of starting trains from sidings by means of hand signals.

The London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company have now places a disc signal opposite the facing points, which is worked from the signal box, to prevent a train from coming out of the ballast sidings with out the signalman’s permission; and this disc signal locks the facing points and another down semaphore signal recently placed north of this crossing. The disc signal should, however, be made to lock with the up station signal. I have also much pleasure in stating that I understand the company have given instructions to have the whole of their stations thoroughly overhauled, and similar signals to be put up, so as to do away with the use of hand-signals for starting trains from sidings situate beyond the station signals. 

One other point requires to be mentioned. It is very probable that if the 8h. p.m. up passenger had been running to its proper time, no collision at all would have occurred; and it thus appeared desirable to ascertain what had caused it to be 27 minutes late in passing Caterham Junction station.

The 8h. p.m. up train from Brighton is joined . at Hayward’s Heath station by another train from Hastings Both u"ains consist of two portions, one for London Bridge, placed at the front of the train, and the other for Victoria station, at tbe rear of the train; and the two portions for London Bridge and for Victoria station have to be put together on their arrival at Hayward's Heath.

Hayward's Heath station is very well laid out for conducting a large traffic with despatch, and it is provided with a large and sufficient amount ot' siding accommodation; but on the day in question, the goods yard was encumbered and blocked up with a quantity of railway plant belonging to the contractor for constructing the Ouse Valley Railway, which had arrived there on the previous night and early morning; so that about 1 o'clock the station master telegraphed to the traffic manager at Brighton for an engine to shunt the wagons, &c.; and this message was handed to one of the assistants in the locomotive department, who had it copied, and sent to the locomotive department, and a message was transmitted back by the traffic manager to Hayward's Heath about 3 o'clock that an engine should be sent. It was a very busy day in the locomotive department at Brighton, and the message was handed to the locomotive foreman (the locomotive superintendent and his first assistant being absent), and the foreman told the lad that brought the telegraphic message about 1 p.m. that he had no engine to send; and none was sent, and no message was forwarded to the traffic department that no engine was to be sent

The locomotive foreman did not consider it necessary to have the steam got up in one of the spare engines in his charge, and the assistant did not appear to think that he had power to order one to be got ready and sent. This will be remedied in future.

In the meantime and during the day several of the engines that brought trains to Hayards Heath assisted in doing some of the shunting required, but the station master continued to expect that an engine would arrive from Brighton as promised. The Hastings and Brighton portions of the Bh. p.m. train reached Hayward’s Heath about 5 minutes late, the Hastings portion first getting there, as it should do ; and when it arrived the up siding south of the station was occupied by goods trucks; and after allowing the passengers to get out, the train was moved ahead, and shunted some vehicles into the up siding north of and adjacent to the up platform; and it was then shunted across to the down main line to the south end of the station, and the engine was detached, ran across to the up road, and hauled back along the up road the Victoria portion of the Brighton train, which had by that time got alongside of the up platform, and the Brighton train was shunted back to the down line, was attached to the Hastings train, returned to the up platform, and then the Victoria portion of the Brighton train was pushed forward and was attached, and the train was ready to proceed. The Brighton train was delayed altogether about 13 minutes; much more than would have been necessary if the up siding south of the station had not been occupied by goods trucks, or if the Hastings trail} had been shunted, as soon as it arrived, into the up siding north of the station platform, instead, of being shunted across to the down line, and the south of the station; but the station-master, who superintended the operation himself, was mistaken as to the capacity of the siding, and thought that as there were some trucks in it, there was not room for the Hastings train as well.

The extra delay at Hayward's Heath caused the 8h. p.m. up train to be preceded by the Southeastern. train, which was running nearly to its proper time, in entering Reigate station, and thus it was further delayed.

Such delays will always occur in conducting traffic, but they are fortunately very seldom followed by collisions.

As the result of my investigation, I sbould state that the collision was evidently the result of the system of starting trains by hand signals; and it is satisfactory that that this system is to be given up on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway.  

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