IGNITING THE FLAME OF UNITY

 

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  BRIGHTON BRANCH OF A.S.L.E.F.

 

  

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WEST BRIGHTON

26th MARCH 1884 


INVOLVING DRIVER WILLIAM VERRALL & HIS FIREMAN ALFRED JENNINGS

DDRIVER ROBERT BOND & HIS FIREMAN THOMAS KNIGHT

extracted &adapted from the report by

C.S. HUTCHINSON MAJOR-GENERAL 

A collision which occurred on the 26th March last, at West Brighton station, on the London, Brighton, and South Coast 

Railway. I have been unable to make this report previously in consequence of the driver of one of the trains which came into 

collision having been seriously injured, and it has only been within the last few days that he has been sufficiently recovered to 

undergo examination.

In this case the 3.55 a.m. goods train from Brighton to Portsmouth was turned into the wrong or up line on leaving Preston 

Park station, and proceeded on that line as far as West Brighton station, where it was turned into a siding joining the up line, 

and came into collision with the 4 a.m. goods train from West Brighton to New Cross, which latter train was on the point of 

starting from this siding.

The collision occurred at about 5 a.m., just before daybreak.

The driver of the Portsmouth train jumped off his engine immediately before the collision, and broke his left leg in doing so.

The driver of the New Cross train was knocked off his engine just as he was going to jump off, and was injured in the side and 

legs.

Both engines were damaged, principally in their buffer Learns, buffers, and framing ; and two waggons (out of 34 waggons 

and two break vans in the Portsmouth train, and 25 waggons and two break va.us in the New Cross train) were also damaged.

No wheels left. the rails in either train.

Description.

At Preston Park station there are two signal-cabins, one at the north and the other at the south end of the station. In the latter, 

where the mistake was made in turning the Portsmouth train on to the wrong line, there are 70 levers, of which 57 only are in 

use. Between the north and south cabins there are three passenger lines, viz., the up and down main lines, and a third line at 

the back of the island platform used for trains proceeding to and from the West Brighton direction. Close to the south signal 

cabin this third line divides into up and down lines from and to West Brighton The points of the cross-over road which forms 

the connection between the third line and the West Brighton up line are worked by No. 49 lever, and the facing- point lock by 

No. 48 lever. For a train standing at the platform, and proceeding from the third line to West Brighton, No. 48 lever requires 

pulling (but nut No. 49, as the points are right in their normal position), also a locking-bar close to the end of the platform 

(about 150 yards from the cabin), the starting-signal (No. 15 lever), and the advanced starting-signal (No. 22 lever) about 300 

yards from the cabin. "As, however, in the present case, the engine of the goods train was standing in .advance of the starting-

signal and on the locking-bar near it, it was not possible to lower this signal; and the only levers to be pulled to allow the train 

to start were No. 48 (the .locking-bar lever for the cross-over road points worked by No. 49 lever), and No. 22, the advanced 

starting signal lever; and the mistake the signalman unfortunately made was to pull No. 49 lever instead of No. 48.

At West Brighton there are also two signal-cabins, east and west, the eaBt one being the one connected with the collision. The 

New Cross goods train was in the sidings adjoining the up line, and to let it start the signalman had to use the points worked 

by No. 9 lever, a disc signal worked by No. 10 lever, and an advanced starting-signal worked by No. 26 lever. On hearing by 

telegraph from Preston Park that the Portsmouth goods train was approaching on the wrong line, the signalman put to danger 

the signals worked by Nos. 22 and 10 levers, but says he had not time to set the points worked by No. 9 lever right for the 

main line before the Portsmouth train was on them, and was consequently turned into the siding, and came into collision with 

the New Cross train about 100 yards from the siding points joining the main up line. the home and distant signals were off for 

the Portsmouth train, and were not put to danger before the collision.

The distance between Preston Park.and West-Brighton is about 1 3/8 miles, and about half a mile from Preston Park there is a 

tunnel 536 yards long, terminating about 1,000 yards from West Brighton. There is a falling gradient of 1 in 97, commencing 

about 3/8 of a mile from Preston Park, and extending for about 3/4 of a mile to within a short distance of West Brighton, when 

it  changes to 1 in 264, still falling.

The line is worked on the absolute block system, and there are speaking instruments in the signal-cabins.


Evidence.

1. Albert Collier, 11 years in the service, signalman nearly all the time, 11 months in Preston Park south cabin, where I came 

on duty at p.m. on the 28th March to remain till 6 a.m.-The 3.55 a.m. goods train passed my cabin about 4.45 a.m. on its 

way to the north cabin, and in about five minutes the engine came back to get to the other end of its train. To allow it to do so, 

I pulled levers No. 11. 47, 49, and 50, and disc No. 59. I could not have got No. 59, had locking-bar lever No. 28 been pulled; 

but No. 59, when pulled, locks No. 28 in position. The engine then went back on to its train, and I restored all the levers to 

their normal position. As soon as the engine had been coupled on to the train it whistled for the signals, but I could not pull off 

the starting-signal, as the train was standing on bar No. 28, and the engine was close up to the cabin, only just clear of bar No. 

48. Then, by mistake, I pulled over No. 49 lever, which opens the points of the crossing from the up to the third road, instead 

of, as I had intended, No. 48 locking bar lever, and I also lowered the advanced starting-signal, No. 22. I had asked for line 

clear from West Brighton east cabin before pulling No. 49. I gave the driver no hand signal to start, and be went away; and 

it was not until I had booked the train and turned round again that I saw that I had, by mistake, pulled No. 49 instead of No. 

48 ; the tail of the train was by this time passing out of slight by the advanced signal. I immediately blocked the road to 

West Brighton by five beats on the bell, and I also called attention on speaking instrument, to which I at once got attention, 

and informed the signalman, Portsmouth goods coming down on up main line, stop New Cross goods.” I do not remember 

whether the five beats were acknowledged. The train started at about 4.50 a.m., and it was two or three minutes after this I 

gave the block signal. I have a signal two pause, eight for running away on the wrong line. I had received the leaving signal 

for the New Cross train at about 4.55 a.m., but I had not received the starting signal for it before giving the block signal. 

Nothing more passed between me and West Brighton before the collision. I was alone in the cabin at the time.

I had my hand on No. 48 when I rang the train out to West Brighton, and I think my hand must then have passed from No. 48 

to No. 49 without my observing it. The gas was alight in my cabin, one burner not far from No. 48 lever. Dawn was just 

breaking. It was the lights I saw on the tail of the train, and not the van itself.

2. James Soper, five years in the service, three years signalman.-I have been 1 3/8 years in West Brighton east cabin, where I 

came on duty on 25th March at 6 p.m., to remain till 7 a.m. I took the Portsmouth goods train on line at 4.52 a.m., and at 4.53 

a.m. I asked for" line clear" for the New Cross goods train. At 4.54 Preston Park informed me on the speaking instrument,  

Portsmouth goods on wrong road stop main line goods ;" and then at 4.56 am. (after this message) he put the block needle up 

for the New Cross goods train with one ring of the bell. At the time of receiving the menage I had No 6. 9, 10, and 26 levers 

pulled over for the New Cross goods to start, and Nos. 11, 12, 14, 20, 3, and 4 levers off for the Portsmouth goods train. After 

receiving the message, I put my hand-lamp out on the steps to show red to the New Cross goods driver ; and then I came in 

and put up No. 9 signal, and I was then going to close No. 10 points; but before I could do so the Portsmouth goods train was 

on the East end of them, and I was unable to move them. The Portsmouth train then came through the crossing at a speed of 

16 to 20 miles an hour, and the collision took place nearly opposite the end of the platform, the New Cross train being, I 

believe, at rest. The collision occurred at about 4.56. It was just getting light. I did not see the driver jump from the 

Portsmouth train. Had I not shown the hand-light to tho New Cross train, I might have been able to turn No. 10 points, but I 

thought the hand-light would stop the driver quicker than the disc. The train was moving at a good pace when I gave the hand-

signal. Down goods trains take three or four minutes between Preston Park and West Brighton. I have had no instructions to 

make the night duty 13 hours. It did not strike me to put up the down-signals against the

Portsmouth train, my attention being directed to pulling No. 10 points. I put the advanced-signal up before the disc signal.

3. William Verrall, ten years in the service, three years driver.-I was driver of the 4 a.m. goods train from West Brighton to 

New Cross on the 26th March. I had brought in a train from New Cross which was late in arriving, and I was consequently 

late in starting back, and I was not ready till about 4.45 a.m. As soon as I whistled for starting the road was made and the 

signals lowered. and I was coming on at a speed of about 5 or 6 miles an hour, and was getting near No. 9 disc when I saw 

the advanced-signal put to danger, and then a hand-light shown from the cabin, and the disc turned to red. I at once shut off 

steam, applied the steam break, which applies to all six wheels of the tank engine, which was running chimney first, and 

stopped a short distance from the disc. As soon as I saw the other engine coming through the crossing I reversed and got 

steam on, and the train was just getting into backward motion when the collision occurred. I had just shut the regulator, 

intending to jump off, but was knocked off before doing so, and was hurt in the side and legs, but have now resumed duty. I 

have no idea of the speed of the other engine. When I saw the starting signal put to danger 1 think the Portsmouth train was 

not much more than through the tunnel. We had stopped about a minute before I saw the hand-lights of the engine near the 

bridge. No wheels left the rails in either train.

4. Alfred Jennings, eight years in the service, four years fireman.-1 agree with the driver’s evidence, except that I saw the disc 

turned to danger before I noticed the hand-lamp. I jumped off just before the collision. The other engine did not go far after 

the collision, not more than a yard. My train went back about 30 yards. The train consisted of 25 wagons and two breaks at 

the end of the train.

5. William Brown, 16 years in the service, 12 years goods guard.--The New Cross train consisted of 26 waggons and 2 breaks. 

As soon as we had stopped after starting I saw the Portsmouth train coming. We were just on the move back when the 

collision occurred. There was sufficient daylight at the time to see about half-way along the train.

6. Thomas James Knight, seven years in the service, three years fireman.-We started from the Brighton yard between 4 and 5 

a.m. on the 26th, with a· train of about· 34 waggons and· 2 breaks for Preston Park and Portsmouth. We went along the

up road, and backed the train on to the third line at Preston Park platform ; and I think the engine, which was then tender first, 

was just under the shed roof; We then ran round the train, and when we had joined it at the Portsmouth end the engine was 

three or four breaks lengths from No. 49 points. As soon as the train was ready to start we got the advanced-signal lowered, 

and we started. I was on the off side of the engine, and the driver on the near side. There was no one else on the engine. We 

went on through the crossing and through the tunnel without either the driver or me noticing that we were on the wrong road ; 

and the engine had got a short distance outside the tunnel, when something, I cannot say what, made me see that we were on 

the wrong road. I at once put on my break, and the driver came towards me, and said " We are on the wrong road," the speed 

at this time being between 10 and 15 miles an hour. Steam had been shut off before entering the tunnel. The driver reversed, I 

think, after he had spoken to me, and gave the engine steam the reverse way, and he whistled two or three times for the breaks, 

and we were then turned through the crossing at West Brighton, and struck the New Cross goods train at a speed of about 10 

miles an hour. The driver jumped off on my side near the end of the platform. I stuck to the engine, and I was shaken, but 

have not had to cease work. I do not think the other train was in motion backward. My engine ran 20 or 30 yards after striking. 

The daylight was just beginning. It was a wet greasy morning. There was no steam break on my engine. The tender will weigh 

about 20 tons. The driver left the steam on when he jumped off. I shut it off myself.

7. .Edward H. Colwell, 15 years in the service, goods guard 11 years-We left the Brighton goods yard for Preston Park and 

Portsmouth at 4.35 a.m. on the 26th, the train from Portsmouth having been late in arriving. The train consisted of 34 

waggons and a break van front and rear, with a guard in each. We proceeded to Preston Park, and bucked into the loop line. 

The under guard uncoupled the engine, which then run round its train, und I coupled it on at the Portsmouth end, it being 

about eight or nine waggons length from the signal cabin. The train was ready to start at 4.50 a.m., and we started with the 

advanced- signal lowered, but not the starting-signal, as we were in front of it. The morning was very dark, darker than usual. 

I was in the front van alone, and I was looking through the top glass, but I was not aware we were running on the wrong road 

till we reached the over-bridge close to West Brighton cast cabin. At this point the driver first gave the break whistle, and 

shortly after leapt off his engine on the right side. It was light enough for me to see this. I had felt no check to the speed before 

this, which was from 12 to 14 miles an hour. Steam hnd been shut off on entering tho tunnel. After this the train began to pull 

up sharp, and on collision was a good deal slower. I applied my break as soon as I heard the whistle. My van weighs about 

seven tons. I observed that the signnals were off for my train. I was not hurt by the collision, which occurred about five 

minutes after we had left Preston Park. We ran six or seven waggons lengths after the driver jumped. We had not to stop at 

West Brighton. Had the signals been at danger we could have stopped at West Brighton.

8. Henry Emery, five years in the service, three years goods guard.-1 was assistant guard of the 3.55 a.m. train on the 26th. I 

was in the front van to Preston Park, and as soon as the train had been backed on to the. loop, I uncoupled the engine from the 

front of the train, which was not much more than clear of the points. We started as soon as the engine had been run round, 

when I was in the rear van, and I did not know till after the collision that we had been running on the wrong road. The 

collision took me quite unwares, and I was slightly bruised in the left arm. Seeing the signals off I at first wondered why the 

driver had stopped suddenly. After giving my mate a signal at Preston Park, I had not looked out at the side again. It was dark 

and raining at the time of the collision. I heard no whistle before the collision.

Robert Bond, 37 years in the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company's service, 13 years driver.- I started from the 

Brighton goods yard on the 26th March, between 4 and 5 a.m. We had arrived in late from Portsmouth, and should have 

started at 3.55 a.m.I ran up to Preston with the engine tender first, and train consisting of 34 waggons and two vans. The full 

load is generally about 40 for my engine, which was a six coupled goods engine and six-wheeled tender, cylinders 17 ins. by 

22 ins. There was no steam-break on the engine, but a screw-break only for the tender wheels. On reaching Preston Park we

pushed the train into the loop line at the back of the platform, a little clear of the points. One of the guards then uncoupled the 

engine, and I ran round the train by the siding at the back of the waggons, passed the south signal-cabin, and then set back on 

to the train, to which I was coupled by one of the guards, my position being then in advance of the starting signal. As soon as 

the guard had coupled me on, he gave me the right away signal; and on looking forward and seeing the advance starting signal 

lowered, I started, not getting any hand signal from the signalman, whom I noticed in the cabin as I passed. I felt no twist as 

we went through the cross-over road by which we were turned on to the wrong line. I was at this time looking at my watch, 

which, I think, showed 4.-10 a.m. I then went on without noticing anything wrong till I was entering the tunnel, when I saw 

the West Brighton down distant signal at danger at the other end of the tunnel; but just as I entered the tunnel and before I had 

time to whistle, it was taken off. The altered position of the signal as seen from the up instead of the down line did not attract 

my notice. My speed at this time was about three or four miles an hour; but it increased, and had reached 17 or 18 miles when 

at about half way between the West Brighton distant and home signals,  just at a point between the two over bridges. On 

passing from one side of the footplate to the other, I found we were on the wrong line. A chalk bank was on the side which I 

noticed, viz., the down side. I said to the fireman. “We are on the wrong line;” and immediately reversed (steam having been 

shut off just on entering the tunnel), and put on steam, whistled the break whistles three or four times, and applied sand to both 

sides of the leading wheels. The fireman’s quick with his break, and also with the tender sand box. The speed was then 

reduced to about seven or eight miles an hour on collision with the other train, which I think, may have been in backward 

motion. I jumped off on the right side a few yards before the collision, fell down, and found I had broke my left leg; the train 

was opposite to me when it sopped. I had been travelling on the left side, my proper side, all the way till I changed over, 

before finding I was on the wrong line. Had the distant signal been thrown up against me before I had passed it. I am sure I 

could have stopped before reaching the home signals. The morning was very dark, hardly dawn. The rails were very greasy. 

The home signal remained off after I passed it. I saw no hand light from the signalman. The fire door was shut on passing 

through the tunnel.

Conclusion.

This collision between two goods trains was caused 

(1) by the signalman in Preston Park south cabin having, by pulling a 

wrong lever, turned the Portsmouth down goods train on to the up line; 

(2) by none of the servants in charge of the Portsmouth down goods train having, until too late, observed that the train was 

running on the wrong line; and 

(3) by the signalman in the West. Brighton east cabin not having promptly used the means at his command fm· averting the 

collision after having been informed by the signalman at Preston Park that the down train was proceeding on the wrong line.

As regards the first cause viz., the signalman in Preston Park south cabin having turned the train on to the wrong line, it 

appears to have been a pure mistake. He is an experienced signalman of 11 years' service, and had been employed at Preston 

Park (where he had come on duty on the 25th March at 6 p.m. to remain til1 6 a.m.) for about 11 months. He had fully 

intended to pull No. 48 lever (which works a locking- bar) before allowing the goods train to start, and had had his hand on 

this lever when he turned round to signal the train to West Brighton, and he thinks his hand must have unconsciously passed 

from No. 48 to No. 49 lever, which latter he then pulled, and so turned the train through the crossing, worked by No. 49 lever, 

on to the up line. He found out his mistake after he had booked the train, by which time the tail of the train was passing out of 

sight by the advaneed-signal, having still more than a mile to run. This was at 4.55 p.m. He then at once blocked the up line 

against the New Cross goods train, for which he had just before received the warning signal from the West Brighton east cabin 

signalman, and told him on the speaking instrument ''Portsmouth goods coming down on up main line,-stop New Cross 

goods." He had a bell code for a train running away on the wrong line, and he could not explain why he had preferred using 

the speaking instrument to this code, which latter would certainly have saved a little time, though the speaking instrument 

message appears to have been despatched and received promptly.

The second cause of the collision was the non-observance on the part of any of the servants in charge of the Portsmouth train 

that it was running on the wrong line, till the driver, on passing across the foot-plate of his engine when about 600 yards from 

West Brighton station, first noticed it. The train was then on a descending gradient of 1 in 97, and running, the driver says, at a 

speed of 17 or 18 miles an hour; the fireman says 10 to 15 miles an hour, but it was probably running at a greater speed, as the 

signals were off, and the train had not to stop at West Brighton. Steam had been shut off some half mile further back, and 

every means was at once used on the engine to reduce speed, which it is said was still from 7 t.o 10 miles an hour when the 

collision took place, a short distance inside the safety-points of the siding from which the New Cross goods train had been 

coming out, it having been stopped and got nearly into back- ward motion before the engines met. The driver of the 

Portsmouth train jumped off just before the collision, and broke his leg in doing so. He is of opinion that had the West 

Brighton down-signals been turned against him before he reached the down distant-signal, he would have been able to stop 

his train short of the siding points.

The frout guard of the Portsmouth goods train was unaware the train was on the wrong line till he heard the break whistle 

when only a short distance from the West Brighton east cabin, and he then applied his break.

The collision took the rear guard quite unawares.

It seems extraordinary that the driver and fireman should have run about a mile on the wrong road (of which the greater 

distance was in cutting or tunnel) without observing it; and in a less degree the same remark applies to the guards.


The third cause of the collision was want of promptitude on the part of the signal-man on duty in West Brighton east cabin. 

This man had been three years a signal-man, and 20 months in his present post, where he had come on duty at 6 p.m. on the 

25th March, to remain (by a private and objectionable arrangement between the signal-men) till 7 a.m. His clock seems to 

have been two minutes slower than the one at Preston Park. At 4.52 a.m. by his clock, he took the Portsmouth goods train on 

line, and at 4.54 a.m. he received the message on the speaking instrument that the train was coming on the wrong line. At 4.55 

a.m., he says, the up line was blocked against the New Cross train: for which he had given the warning-signal at 4.53 a.m. On 

receiving (the message, his first act was to put his hand-lamp out on the cabin steps, to show a. red light to the New Cross 

goods driver ; he next put to  danger the up advanced-signal and the siding-signal, and was then going to make the siding 

points (through which the New Cross goods train was to have passed) right for the main line, when the engine of the 

Portsmouth goods train, he says, got on to them, and he was unable to move them ; the collision occurring at 4.56 a.m., or 

only four minutes after he had taken the  Portsmouth goods train on line. If this signalman, instead of manoeuvring with his 

hand-lamp, had been smart in closing the up siding- points through which the New Cross goods train was to come out,.and in 

throwing to danger the down home and distant signals, which he had taken off for the Portsmouth train (for doing both of 

which operations there was sufficient time, as the driver of the New Cross train says he had been at rest in the siding for nearly 

a minute, before he saw the head lights of the other engine still from 150 to 200 yards off), the collision would certainly have 

been prevented.

It is probable that this signalman had lost his presence of mind under the unusual circumstances.

As it is by no means an uncommon thing for Portsmouth goods trains to start from the same position at. Preston Park as in 

the present instance, and as, from this position, which is in advance of the proper starting-signal, the latter cannot (when it is 

dark) be seen by the driver, it seems very necessary that, to avoid a recurrence of a similar mistake to the present, a down 

home-signal should be provided at No. 49 facing-points.


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