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A collision at Brighton Station 

involving Brighton 

Enginemen Driver George Cornwell and his Fireman John Pearce.

 Extracted and adapted from the Ministry of Transport report by Major G.L. Hall

On Sunday 7th March 1926, as the 3 p.m. train from Lewes to Brighton, consisting of an engine and four coaches, was 

entering No.10 terminal road, it came into collision with five vehicles which were standing against the buffer stops.

As a result of the collision three passengers in the train and the guard complained of shock or slight injury. 

The five standing vehicles were driven forward by the impact about 10 feet, and one of the coaches rode over the buffer 

stop and mounted the platform, with the result that the fencing protecting the circulating area was demolished.

In regard to the stock, four of the five standing vehicles next to the buffer stops were damaged, the breakage being 

somewhat extensive in the case of that nearest to the terminus which mounted the platform. 

The damage to the coaching stock forming the Lewes train was comparatively slight, and was confined to broken buffer 

casting on three of the four coaches. The engine was practically undamaged, and continued in service.

The buffer stop at this platform, as in the ease of the others at Brighton, is of the solid bent rail type. Two of the centre 

back strut rails of this stop were broken and also a fishplate in the running rail immediately behind the forward tie.  The 

timber cross beam was destroyed.

The Lewes train consisted of four vehicles, all of the 8-wheeled bogie type. They were drawn by engine No. 329, 4-6-4 

type tank, weighing in working order about 98 tons, running chimney first. The train and engine were fitted throughout 

with the Westinghouse brake operating blocks upon all the wheels of the coaching stock and upon the six coupled wheels 

of the engine.

The weather at the time was fine and dry.


The railway approaching the terminus at Brighton Station runs in a general Southerly direction. No 10 road, which 

serves No. 2 platform, is on the east side of the station, the only other road east, of  it  being a short bay road serving No. 

1 platform. The railway on No. 10 road alongside No. 2 platform is on a 14 chain curve right-handed to train:, entering 

the terminus. The total length of the platform, from the buffer stop to the head the platform rump, is 493 feet, the length of 

the ramp being 33 feet. The final signals governing the entrance to the terminus are erected at the foot of the platform 

ramp. There are two of these signals for each road, the upper one being of the stop signal type and the lower one of the 

distant signal type. The arrangement of this signalling is that when the whole of the platform road is clear both stop and 

"distant” arms are lowered. When, however, the latter half of the road at the terminal end is occupied, the lever 

operating the distant type signal is locked, and when the train is signalled in therefore under the stop arm only. This 

locking is effected by the means of electric treadles, of which there, are two adjacent to one another near the terminus, 

one 9 feet from the buffer stops 17 feet long, the other, 3 feet away from the first, being 35 feet long. At a distance of 257 

feet from the buffer stops there is another treadle 35 feet long, the occupation of which locks both the stop and the distant 

type signal arms.

The effect of this arrangement therefore, is that when any portion of the platform road up to a maximum of 257 feet is 

occupied, the incoming train is warned by the holding of the distant type signal in the danger position. When more than 

257 feet of the platform road is occupied, both running type signal arms are locked and movements are allowed in under 

a shunt signal. The signals governing movements on this particular platform road, among others, are worked from the 

South box. The total length of the five coaches standing against the buffer stops was 255 feet 6 inches, and the last wheel 

of these coaches was therefore within a few feet of the centre platform treadle.

The evidence shows that there was nothing in the condition either of the brakes of the train or of the signalling 

arrangements which in any way contributed to this collision. The driver of the train was George Cornwell, a man of 33 

years' service, for 22 of which he has been a driver. He said that the engine generally and its hakes were in good 

condition; in fact, from his own statement and that of the guard, it appears that if anything the condition of the brakes 

was above the average, and he was able to make intermediate stops on this run with absolute accuracy. In running into 

Brighton Station driver Cornwell duly observed the warning position of the distant type signal at the end of No. 10 road 

and was fully aware from this indication that the terminal end was occupied. He was on the left of the footplate, the 

engine running chimney first, and owing to the alignment of the road it was necessary for him, a, is always the case, to 

rely upon the observation of his fireman to tell him how far down the platform his road was clear. Just as he entered he 

asked his fireman if he could see anything, but for the moment had no reply until they had run about another coach 

length, when his fireman called out to him to stop. Immediately after this they struck the standing coaches.

John Pearce, his fireman, said that as their train entered the station another train, due out at 3.25 p.m., was standing on 

No. 9 road, that is the road immediately west of  No. 10, the engine of which was emitting a considerable amount of 

steam from the chimney, due to the fact that the Westinghouse brake pump was at the time working fairly hard. He said 

that this steam blowing across completely obscured the view of the platform road, and it was not until the footplate was 

within about the length of a vehicle and a half from the standing coaches that he caught sight of them. He then called out 

to his driver, who made an emergency brake application, too late, however. to avoid the collision.

Pearce added that when the train came to a stand after the collision the footplate of his engine was opposite to the rear 

end of the second coach of the train on No. 9 road. As a fact, this train consisted of three bogie coaches and seven vans, 

and occupied a, pace of about 365 feet; that is about 110 feet longer than the space occupied by the five empty coaches in 

No. 10.

The fact that this engine was emitting a good deal of steam was confirmed not only by driver Cornwell but also by 

Foreman Roberts, who was standing on the platform dealing with the 3.55 p.m. train out from Brighton m hen the Lewes 

train arrived.


There is no suggestion in this case that the train was entering the station at an excessive speed. On the contrary, both the 

guard of the train and the signalman on duty at South box thought that it was running in more slowly than is usual. Nor is 

there any question of misunderstanding on the part of either the driver nor the fireman as to the meaning of the signal 

indication. Both men knew what the locking was, how it operated, and also the whereabouts of the centre treadle, which, 

as a matter of fact, is indicated h) a disc suspended from the station roof. They knew therefore, that with the signals 

displayed as they entered the station any length of the platform road between the buffer stops and about the centre of the 

platform might be occupied.

But in the case of this particular platform, it appears from the evidence of Mr. Roach, the station master, that, except in 

the case of this train on Sunday afternoons (and not by any means invariably even so ), it is unusual for a train, itself  

long enough to half the platform to run into No. 10 road already half occupied at the buffer stop end. It so happens that 

driver Cornwell, who is usually employed on express work with long trains, had only driven this particular train once or 

twice previously, and on these occasions he ran into No. 4 platform. It is therefore probable that he has never before met 

with a precisely similar state of affairs on No.10 road. I think there call he no doubt that this fact, combined with the 

obscuration caused by the steam from the other engine, was the underlying cause of the accident 30 doubt driver 

Cornwell knew quite well that half the road might be but it is very doubtful whether he expected this to be the case. At 

any rate, the conditions were not sufficiently familiar to him to ensure his making the stop at the correct place without 

having a clear view of the standing vehicles. This he himself admittedly could not obtain, apart from any question of 

accidental obscuration view, owing to his position on the engine and the curvature of the road. It was therefore necessary 

for him to rely upon his fireman for exact information as to the extent of the occupation of the road. In this case the 

information was evidently not forthcoming in time owing to the steam blowing across from the other engine. It is clear 

from fireman Pearce's evidence that the standing coaches did not come into view until they were between 25 and 30 yards 

ahead of the cab, and therefore only some I5 yards in front of the engine buffers. When allowance is made for the 

inevitable lapse of time between the fireman's first sight of the coaches, his message to the driver, the latter's action, and 

finally, its effect on the train, it is not surprising that the collision occurred in spite of the comparatively slow speed at 

which the train was travelling when the final brake application was made. I see no reason to question this evidence, and I 

think that neither driver Cornwell nor his fireman Pearce, can be accused of inattention to the road ahead. But while it 

would be unfair to attach too much blame to the men for the accident, it cannot he denied that it was their duty, having 

regard to, the warning given by the signal and the apparently complete absence of view as they approached the centre of 

the platform, to have assumed that the road was only clear as far as the signal indication guaranteed, that is to the centre 

treadle. I think, therefore, that some degree of responsibility f or the accident must attach both to driver Cornwell and 

fireman Pearce, who in effect, misled his driver by not warning him earlier when he realised that the possible danger 

point was being 'approached under such bad conditions of visibility. Pearce has been a fireman for ten out of a total of 

twelve years' service with the Company. Both men gave their evidence in a clear and straight forward manner.


There is little to criticise in the working a t this terminal station. The use of a distinctive signal to indicate any occupation 

of the road up to about half the platform length is a common one though the actual form of the signals used for the 

purpose at this and some other terminal stations on the Brighton section is unusual and enginemen are commonly 

required to ascertain by their own observation, after receiving this warning by signal, how much of the latter half of the 

road is in fact occupied The working at Brighton in this respect is similar to that at other terminal stations. No 10 road is 

certainly a good deal shorter than most of the others-it is, in fact, the shortest road by over 100 feet of all those signalled 

for double occupation but it is largely used 'for short motor trains, and the dual occupation indication is of value for 

normal working.







Click on the icon above for

the Brighton Motive Power Depots

Click on the icon above for

the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches


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