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4th NOVEMBER 1943




extracted and adapt from the report by


An accident occurred at about 6.31 a.m. on the 4th November at Waddon station, on the West Croydon - Sutton line of the Southern Railway. The 6.15 a.m. electric train, West Croydon to Holborn viaduct via Wimbledon, referred to below as the Wimbledon train,  entering the down platform line at 10 - 15 m.p.h. in thick fog, collied with the trailing end of the 5.34 a.m. electric train, London Bridge to Epsom, referred to below as the Epsom train, which was standing at the platform awaiting the starting signal. I regret to state that the motorman of the former train was killed, and two passengers were injured.

Both trains consisted of 8 bogie coaches and were similar in composition, viz: a three car motor unit at each end with two trailer coaches in the middle; the total weight of each was approximately 260 tons and they were fitted with the Westinghouse brake on all wheels, the percentage of brake power being 80%. The coaches were of timber construction on steel under frames, with steel panelling on the motorman’s cab and adjacent brake compartments.

As a result of the collision the rear driving compartment, guards compartment and two adjoining passenger compartment of the standing train, and the front driving compartment and guards compartments of the oncoming train were crushed by telescoping, which extended over an aggregate distance of some 30ft., both bogies concerned being derailed, and the standing train, the brakes of which were off, being pushed forward about a coach length.

There was thick fog at the time, visibility of lights being estimated at about 25 yards, and it was still dark.

The accident is to be attributed, in my opinion, to the failure of a signalman.


The line from West Croydon through Waddon to Wellington and Sutton runs in a westerly direction, in shallow cutting, and on the down track entering Waddon station there is a right handed curvature of 58 chains radius. Gradients are negligible.

Waddon signal box is located on the down side of the line at the West Croydon end of the down platform. It has a frame of 21 levers, of which 6 are spare, and the instruments are Sykes Lock and Block. It is lit by a partially obscured gas lamp, giving somewhat scanty illumination of the Sykes instruments at the end of the frame; the door is in the platform end of the box, with a low flight of steps outside. No booking of trains is done.

Distance from the centre of Waddon box

West Croydon station 1892 yards east.

West Croydon down advance starter & Waddon down distance (on same post) 1258 yards east.

Waddon down home (No.20) 134 yards east.

Point collision 30 yards west.

Waddon down starter (No.19) at end of platform 204 yards west.

The relevant down line signals are No.20 down home, No.19 down starter and No.18 down advance starter; the Sykes instrument giving the release from the box ahead, Wellington, is on No.18.

During fog it is not permissible to send a train forward to wait at No.18, so that pending acceptance from Wellington the had wait in the station, at No.19 starting signal. The Sykes instrument with plunger for a down train acceptance from West Croydon is on No.20 and this is mechanically linked with the lever of No.20. Starter so that it indicates Locked until No.19 has been pulled and replaced. There is similar rotation locking between No.19 and starter and No.18 advance starter, and there are treadles ahead of No.19 and No.18, but these do not enter into this case as it is clear that No.19 was not pulled.

There are two keyholes for the release key in the down plunger instrument; one enables the signalman to change the indicator from train on to blank, the other enables him to change the locked indication to free, thus enabling him to plunge a second time without pulling and replacing No.19. It is the latter of these releases which is referred to latter in this report.

It is mechanically impossible to plunge unless the train on indicator is showing blank (as was the case at the moment in question and unless the locked and free indicator is showing free.


Waddon signal box was opened at 4.40 a.m. and signalman Steer called out fog signalman at 5.20 p.m.; pending their arrival double block working was maintained.

The train preceding those concerned, 5.36 a.m. Victoria to Sutton, booked to arrive at Waddon at 6.3. a.m. actually arrived at 6,15 a. m. and proceeded to Wallington where it arrived at 6.18 a.m. Owing to fog it was decided to terminate this service at Wallington and reverse the train there, and in consequence of the time take-in reversing the train into a siding and clearing the running line, train out of section was not signalled to Waddon until 6.25 a.m.

Motorman Cripps of the Epsom train stated that he found the Waddon distant signal at caution and came almost to a stand at the home signal, before could see that it was off and ran forward to the platform, coming to a stand at the 8 car mark about 8 yards from the starting signal which was at danger, This signal has diamond sign, indicating that it is exempt from Rule 55, nd Cripps did not therefore take any steps to remind the signalman of the presence of his train by whistling, knowing moreover that his guard would be on the platform at the end of the train and close to the signal box. He stated that he could see the starting signal all the time, but sometimes could only just see it. He was quite certain that is was not pulled off and replaced while he was wanting, and said that not from seeing it he would have certainly heard such a movement.

Guard Maynard then heard the telephone bell in the signal box and the signalman speaking on the telephone, so he went to the boxing ask whether there was a block on the line to Sutton. Steer evidently did not then realise that Maynard was the guard of a train standing in the station, to whom he had spoken only a few minutes earlier, and said he a down train coming soon. Maynard said what about my train on the station. and Steer said who are you, Maynard told him, and both men realising the situation, Maynard took a lamp and dashed down the stair to try and stop the train, while Steer then put the home signal to danger, but the Wimbledon train passed the box. Maynard went down the steps. He could see the tail lamp of his train from the foot of the signal box, but did not look for it from the box itself.

Guard Gammon of the Wimbledon train said that after waiting at West Croydon about 2 minutes the starter was pulled off and his train started at 6.29 a.m.; when he passed the Waddon distant it was at caution. His motorman slowed down to 10 - 15 m.p.h. about the home signal and then released his brake and ran forward into the station; he felt no brake application before the collision, but he did not think that his motorman had applied any power again after the check at the home signal.

Signalman Ashbee at Wallington had a to clear the 5.36 a.m. Victoria to Sutton from his down platform into the middle siding before he could give out of section at 6.25 a.m. Thereafter he waited a minute or so, and the as he had to get another train out of his down siding and away to Sutton, rang up Steer to ask if he had anything coming. Steer maintains that Ashbee asked Where is the Wimbledon, but Ashbee is positive that he did not refer to any particular train, pointing out that trains often run out of course in fog. Steer replied that he had nothing about, and Ashbee then brought the train out of the down siding to his down platform. At 6.28 a.m., while this train was standing at the platform, he was offered the Wimbledon train (bell code 3-3-1, the Epsom bell code being 3-1) but could not accept it until his down train had left at 6.29 a.m., after which he accepted at 6.30 a.m. He had not been offered the Epsom train at all. He received obstruction danger at 6.32 a.m. at which time his Sykes instrument showed train on the upper tablet being free as he was not yet in a position to pull off his home signal.

Signalman Henson, at West Croydon, stated that the Epsom train was offered to and accepted by Waddon at 6.15 a.m. and passed him at 6.17. a.m. The Wimbledon train came out of the yard at West Croydon North at 6.22 a.m. and stood at the platform for some minutes waiting for starting signal. About 6.20 a.m. Henson, not having had out of section for the preceding (Epsom) train, tang up Steer at Waddon and asked what he was doing with this train, to which Steer replied that it had gone, and that he had given Henson out of section. Henson replied that he had not had out of section and that the miniature semaphore of his Sykes instrument was still up.

Steer replied that his instrument was showing clear and Henson repeated that his semaphore was probably sticking in the up position and that if Henson tapped the instrument it would fall. Henson tried this without result and informs Steer, again saying that he had not had out of section.

Steer repeated that the train had not gone and that his instrument was clear, and Henson then said that if that was so he would offer the Wimbledon train, which he did and Steer accepted on the bell signals. Immediately after Henson’s semaphore flickered down and up again, and he pulled off the starting signal at 6.29 a.m.

Signalman Steer’s statements were generally in accordance with the foregoing except, as noted, about the actual terms of the enquiry from signal Ashbee. He started that when signalman Henson asked him where the Epsom train was, he looked out and could not see it, so he though it must have gone and that the out of section he had received a few minutes earlier from Wallington was for that train.

He stated that when the Epsom train had arrived and he had replaced his home signal, his Sykes instrument thereon was showing locked, indicating that his home signal was locked until his starting signal was pulled and replaced, but when Henson telephoned from West Croydon he looked at the instrument and it was showing free, though he had not meanwhile touch either instruments or signal levers. It was in view of this that he was so certain that Henson’s semaphore ought to be in the down position and suggested that it was sticking.

Steer admitted that he had not used the switch hook, as he might have done in accordance with the Company’s regulations, and that used should have reminded him that he must not plunge again until the train had gone forward. The use of a lever collar should have afforded a similar of the standing train.

He was emphatic that which he accepted the Wimbledon train had not used the release key, although it was pointed out that the pulled down and up again of the semaphore at West Croydon was precisely the result which would have occurred if he had used the release and had plunged immediately thereafter.


 There is no doubt that this collision is to be attributed primarily to the fact that signalman Steer overlooked the Epson train standing at the platform, in fact he frankly admitted that he had forgotten it; I think it is quite possible that he is correct in saying that he looked out and could not see its tail lamp.

But the Sykes lock and block system id designed expressly to guard against a contingency such as this, and the evidence given by Steer implied that it had failed to do so. Careful examination however, failed to reveal any defect which could have led to such failure. It is not unknown for an electrical circuit, especially on apparatus such as a track treadle, to develop an intermittent failure which cannot be located by test, but in this case the matter portion of the apparatus was the mechanical connection between the lever of No.19 starter and the Sykes instrument on No.20 home signal;. I cannot think that this should develop a failure of which in subsequent examination and operation there is no sign whatever.

In my opinion the explanation is that Steer must have used the release key and then plunged to accept the second train, and this accords with the movement of the miniature semaphore which occurred at West Croydon. It is proper to and that I think Steer’s denial of having used the release key were based on his honest opinion, that he had done this more or less automatically and had forgotten about it, in the same way indeed as he had forgotten about the presence of the Epsom train only a few minutes after he had warned the guard that he would have to wait in the station.

Steer admitted also that in accordance with regulation he ought to have his switch hook but had not done so; he said that he usually use it.

Steer is 66 years of age and has been with the Company for 50 ??, 48 years of which as a signalman. He has been at Waddon for 6 years. In accordance with the Company’s usual practise with a man of this age, he has been medically examined every 6 month for fitness for duty, the last report being on April 29th. He was due to attend again on the day after the accident and he was actually examined on the 11th November 11th when he was reported as fir medically, but his vision slightly worse than a year ago with no effective vision in the left eye. 

I do not think any share of blame should be attributed to Motorman Mason of the Wimbledon train as in conditions of visibility prevalent he would have not had a chance to see the tail lamp of the Epsom train in time to make a useful brake application.

I think also that signalman Henson took all reasonable measure to ascertain that Steer was certain of th position, and that he (Henson) should not be blamed.


It is generally recognised that the provision of a release key is a regrettable necessity with the Sykes Lock and Block system, and the improper of failure use of the release may introduce the possibility of failure of the elaborate safeguards provided by the normal operation of the system. In some cases. the use of the release is safeguarded by the need for co-operation of two men and it is for consideration whether an extension of such co-operative releases is not justified. In this particular case of a platform section, if one of the station staff had had to work a release on the platform before the signalman’s key release was effective the accident would not have occurred; arrangements of this nature are understood to be in use in certain places abroad.

Signalman Steer admitted that he had not used his switch hook, as was prescribed by the company’s regulations issued as a result of the Battersea accident in 1937. The proper use of the switch hook should have been a reminder that he must not plunge for a new acceptance, and the accident emphasises the importance of compliance with the regulations in this respect.

In the course of my inquiry it was alleged that certain failures of the Sykes apparatus had occurred recently, but as they were connected with treadle release and were not relevant in this case, I did not pursue them. There was, however, no written record of their having ben reported or of the steps taken to detect or rectify them. I suggest that the attention of both signalmen and linemen, should be drawn to the importance, in their own interests apart from other considerations, of strict compliance with the regulations on this matter.

I do not think that blackout conditions had any bearing on this accident. Steer would have had no difficulty in seeing the tail lamp of the train from the door of his box if it had not been for the fog. The lighting in the box was dim at one end and Steer might have been mistaken about the Locked and Free aspect of his instrument from a hasty glance, but such mistake should have not have persisted when Henson challenged the aspect of his instruments, in which case it is reasonable to assume that Steer would have looked more closely at his instrument. 


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