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ON THE 25th AUGUST 1861

involving drivers Scott, Gregory

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

The incident passed into railway history as Britain’s worst ever railway accident, 

until the Irish Mail disaster some six years later.



A collision occurred on the 25th August, 1861, in the the Clayon Tunnel, of the L.B.&S.C.R. 

The Clayton Tunnel is situated at five miles from Brighton, on the main line to London. It is approached from the Lovers’ Walk Junction, at the end of what may be called the Brighton Station yard, on a rising gradient of 1 in 264, four miles and 5 furlongs in length; and this gradient is acceded by a falling gradient, also of 1 in 264, extending from the south end of the tunnel for three miles and four chains towards London. The tunnel islet is a mile, two furlong and two chains long, and is quite straight; and the line to the south it is straight for about half a mile; but the view of an engine driver running from Brighton to the tunnel is much obstructed by a series of curves, cuttings, and over bridges, and also by the Patcham tunnel, which is nearly 500 yards long, and 2 1/4 miles distant from Brighton.

The Clayton tunnel is provided with a telegraph for its protection, worked by two signalmen, one at each end of it; and each signalman is furnished with a single needle instrument, a clock, and a telegraph bell in his hut. The signalman at the north end has a semaphore signal at his hut, and a distant signal towards Hassock’s Gate and London. The signalman at the south end has a distant signal only, which is 300 yards from his hut, and is visible for a thousand yards further, to a driver approaching it from the direction of Brighton. It cannot be seen from a greater distance in consequence of the line being curved, and of its running through a deep cutting.

The distant signals in both case are of the description known as Whitworth’s signals. They are only partially employed on other railways; but, with some modifications (which have been adopted since these particular signals were first supplied,) they are in extensive use on the Brighton Railway. They may be turned to “danger” or to “all right,” by the signalman from his hut, by means of a wheel acting on a wire; and they are provided with an apparatus which causes them to be turned to “danger,” or to “all right,” by the signalman from his hut, by means of a wheel acting on a wire; and they are provided with an apparatus which causes them to be turned to “danger” also, when they are working properly, by the flange of every engine wheel that passes over them. To effect this, a treadle is placed inside the near rail, nearly opposite the signal, which is pressed down by the flanges of the wheels. When the treadle is thus pressed down, a vertical arm is lifted in a box at the side of the line; a horizontal side bar is released (which is caught by a notch in its upper surface, behind this vertical arm, when the signal is set at “all right”); and the signal is turn to “danger” by the action of weights attached to the further end of the wire which is employed in working it.

The line is, as I have already observed, much obstructed between Brighton and the Clayton tunnel; and, in places, a driver can hardly see a quarter of a mile before him, independently of the Patcham tunnel. Extra care and predation ought, therefore, to be taken in working it, to provide for the safety of trains following each other at short intervals in both directions; but there has been no other protection hitherto for the traffic passing over it, than that afforded in the usual rule contained in the printed regulations, pre scribing an interval of five minutes between trains following one another upon the same line of rails; and even this interval has not been rigidly observed.

Such being the condition of the line, the situation, of the tunnel, and the means employed for the protection of the traffic passing through, I will next proceed to describe the way in which the collision occurred.      


On the morning in question, (Sunday, the 25th ultimo,) three passenger trains started from Brighton for London under the direction of the station master. That officer states the times at which he despatched them to have been 8.22, 8.27, and 8.36, by his watch;but the evidence of the guards, drivers, signalmen, and others, to which I shall refer hereafter, leaves no doubt that they actually left the Brighton station at 8.28, 8.30 or 8.31 and 8.35; instead of  8.5, 8.15, and 8.30, the times at which they were advertised to start, respectively.

The first of these trains was an excursion train from Portsmouth to London, once a fortnight; and notified by a special time table; which had been issued to those concerned, to leave Portsmouth at 6 a.m., to pass  Brighton at 8.5, and to reach Norwood Junction at 9.20, London Bridge at 9.40, and the Victoria Station at 9.45 a.m. It consisted of an engine (No.48) and tender, and 16 carriages, including two break carriages, one behind the tender and the other at the tail of the train. It was 23 minutes late in leaving Brighton, in consequence of its having lost time by degrees in stopping at sixteen stains between Portsmouth and Brighton, and of its not having arrived  at the latter place until 8.16. The self acting distant signal south south of Clayton Tunnel failed to act, and did not turn to danger, as it ought to have done, when this train passed it. The train, however, proceeded through the tunnel at a speed of 25 or 30 miles an hour, and went forward towards London without stopping, until it reached the Norwood Junction, which is eight and a half miles from London.     


The seconded train was a regular excursion train due to leave Brighton every Sunday morning at 8.15. It consisted of  Wilson-patern Single’ No. 126, engine and tender, driven by driver Scott, and 17 carriages, including two breaks, and was delayed in starting in consequence of the lateness of the first train. I started, however at 8.31 according to the evidence of the driver, who took his time from his watch, which was right by the clock in the yard; at something after the half hour, according to the fireman, who noticed the same clock as he passed it; and at 8.30 according to the under guard, by the clock at the station, which is stated to have been two minutes slower than that in the yard. it approached the south end of the Clayton Tunnel before the first train had been telegraphed out of the north end, and the signalman at the south end had not turned his distant signs; to danger after the passage of the first train, so that the driver found that signal at “all right,” and passed it with his steam on.      


The excuse made by Killick, the signalman at the south end of the the tunnel, for not having turned his distant signal to danger after the first train passing had failed to work it, is simply the he was unsuccessful in an attempt to do so and that the second train came up before he had time to get it on. There appears to have been nothing to prevent his turning it to danger at once after the first train passed it, if he had noticed that it did not act, and that his bell did not ring when the train went by it; but, in any case, he did not do so; and, as it was not at danger for the second train, he came out of his box any case, he did not do so; and as it was not at danger for the second train, he came out of his box with his red flag in his hand, and waved that flag violently when the second train approached him. He states, himself, that he waved his flag when the train was half way between his distant signal and his box, or about 150 yards from him; but the Company’s servants with the train say that he did not come out of his box until they were within a few yards of him; and the driver only shut off his steam as he was entering the tunnel, to stop the train in obedience to the red flag.    


Driver Scott of the second train says that he then brought his train to a stand about 250 yards inside the tunnel, which he certainly could not under the circumstances have effected; and that he did not afterwards back his train, though he believes that the engine and carriages might have moved back about 30 or 40 yards from the rebound of the buffers. This was impossible, at all events as far as the engine was concerned; and it is clearly proved by the other evidence, that, after bringing his train to a stand in the tunnel, he backed it for a considerable distance, and was still pushing it backwards when it was run into from behind by a third train, to which it will next be my duty to refer.


The third train was the ordinary passenger train from Brighton to London, and it consisted of  ‘Wilson-patern Single’  No. 122, loco and tender, was driven by driver Gregory, and 12 carriages, of which two were breaks, one behind the tender and the other sixth from the tail of the train. It was due to start at 8.30, but started at 8.34 1/4. 8.35, 8.36, or 8.37, according to different credible witnesses taking their time from different clocks. It may be said to have started four minutes after the second train, and that train to have started about three minutes after the first train. Those are the intervals given by the signalman of  the Company stationed at the Hastings Junction, in the Brighton Station Yard, who noticed the times at which the three trains passed him to have been 8.29, 8.32, and 8.36, by disown clock. There is evidence of their having been even nearer together, one gentleman stating that the first train had not passed the ticket platform before the second train started, and another observed that the second and third trains started, respectively, at 8.31 and 8.34 1/2 by his watch. One passenger only gives the time of the starting of the third train as 8.37 by the clock on the stores in the station yard as he passed; but this clock was, as I have already stated, two minutes faster than that on the platform.

Driver Gregory of this train proceeded in due course to the Clayton Tunnel. Driver Gregory found the distant signal from the south end of it at “all right,” and saw the signalman  when he was 150 yards from him, holding out a white flag to invite him to proceed; and he passed into the tunnel at a speed of about 25 miles an hour, according to his own estimate, which is probably under the mark. He soon after saw two red lights from a train in front, and had not much more than time to shut off his steam and reverse his engine, while his fireman applied the tender break, before he came into collision with it.

The engine of the third train mounted the framing of the break carriage at the tail of the second train, and knocked the body of that carriage in front of it, and, after pushing it forward for some distance, was at length brought to a stand, resting upon it in a nearly upright posit. The funnel of the engine  struck against the roof of the tunnel, which is 24 feet high, and was knocked off; so that the engine must have been thrown up on these carriages to a height of 10 feet. The mark left by it on the roof of the tunnel was 220 yards from the south end; and it stood finally, in the position referred to, at 255 yards from that end. As the collision must have occurred at some little distance from the pout where the funnel struck the roof, it would appear that the second train must have been pushed forward at least 50 yards by the force of the collision.

The guard who was riding in the break carriage behind the second train, jumped out of that carriage just before the collision occurred, and thus escaped unhurt; but the passengers in the second carriage, upon which the engine mounted, met with an awful fate. Twenty one dead were taken out from under the engine, and three person extricated alive. Altogether, out of 589 passenger who were travelling in the two trains, 23 have lost their lives by the collision, and 176 have been more or less injured, some of them slightly, but other in most serious manner. The guard even, in the front break carriage of the second train, riding next behind the tender, was nearly killed, and now lies in a precarious condition.


 Images owned by S.W.Stevens-Stratten/D.Cullum

Clayton Tunnel South signal cabin at the Southern Portal of Clayton Tunnel


But I need not dwell upon the horrors of the scene, or of the scene, or of the events that succeeded it. I will proceed to describe the evidence of signalman Killick, and the way in which the two trains came to be in the tunnel at the same tine on the same line of rails.

The signalman stationed at the south end of the tunnel was named Killick, and the signalman at the north end, Brown. They were each provided, as I have stated, with a bell and as ingle needle telegraph instrument of the ordinary description. When a train entered at the south end of the tunnel, a beat of the needle to the left rang the bell and announced it to the north end; and this was acknowledge by a similar beat from the north end. As it went out again, a beat to the left and one to right (also dining the telegraph bell) was passed from the north end, and was acknowledged by a beat to the right from the mouth end. Two beats to the left and right from either end announced that the tunnel was blocked altogether, and the needles remained in a vertical position when they were not in use.

Killick and Brown agree, in effect, in stating that the usual telegraph signals were exchanged with regard to the first train; that “train in” was sent from the south end for it as it entered the tunnel, and duly acknowledged; and that “train out” was sent from the north end after it went out of the tunnel; but after this latter signal their statements disagree to an extent which renders it impossible that they can both give a true version of what occurred.

Killick alleges, on the one hand, that when he received “train out” from Brown for the first train (after he had shown his red flag to the driver of the second train,) he gave “train in” to Brown “as quick as lightning” for the second train; and that he then, without waiting to whether it was acknowledged, left his box to show a white flag to the guard of the second train, to intimate to him that his train might pass through the tunnel. Brown asserts, on the other hand, that received “train in” for the second train about a minute after he gave “train out” for the first train, and that he acknowledged that signal half a minute after he received it. 

Killick says that he afterwards asked Brown whether the second train was “out” on the approach of the third train, and that he only lowered the signal for that train to proceed because Brown answered this question in the affirmative; while Brown declares that no signal passed between Killick and himself after he received “train in” for the second train, until Killick sent him a message, in the latter portion of which he reported the collision to have occurred. 

The first part of that message, according to Brown, was “the train was not out;” and Brown understood this to be a question asking him whether the first train was out, and answered “yes,” in spite of his having received notice, by his own admission, of the second train having entered the tunnel some minutes before. The second part of it, continued at once by Killick, was, Brown says, “no, they are run into each other.”

It will thus be observed, that Brown admits having made the mistake which Killick imputes to him, of reporting the second train to be “out” whilst it was still in the tunnel, and of believing, what he understood to be a question put to him by Killick to apply to the first train instead of the second train; and that he materially differs from Killick only when he asserts that this question was addressed to him at a time whom his reply must have been too late to have caused the accident, instead at a time when it would directly have led to it.

The evidence of Killick is confirmed in two important respects by the statements of others. A passenger of the name of Lower saw him waving his white flag at the mouth of the tunnel from a carriage in the second train while that train was in the tunnel; and the under guard of the second train saw his distant signal turn to “danger” as he passed it in travelling towards the tunnel. It is not at all likely, either that he should have waited for a minute before giving “train in” for the second train, after receiving “train out” for the first train, as stated by Brown; or that he should have taken off his distant signal again for the third train, if he had not received from Brown the mistaken answer to his question in regard to the second train, which Brown amts having given to hi, before he turned that signal to “all right.”

At the same time, from the confusion and agitation which Killick admits himself to have felt, and which in not otherwise satisfactorily to be accounted for, even at the short intervals at which the trains were running, and from the period, according to the evidence of driver Scott and his fireman and guards of the second train, at which he came out of his hut with his red flag, or attracted their attention with it - it would seem that Killick can hardly observed that the first train had failed to turn his distant signal to danger until after the second train had passed it and was approaching him. He says, himself, that he only began to wave his flag to the second train when it was 150 yards from him, and the evidence of the other servants of the company to whom I have referred, tends to show that the train was even nearer to him.

At the same time I must here observe, that he ought to have been supplied with a semaphore signal at his hut, and a distant signal further away from him, - with signals, that is to say, similar to those supplied to the signals, that is to say, similar to those supplied to the signalman at the north end of the tunnel, but adapted to the particular spot at which he was posted; - and that possession of a semaphore signal, which it would have been his duty to place at “danger” when the first train entered the tunnel, would have enabled him, and would probably have caused him, to exhibit a fixed danger signal to the driver Scott of the second train from the moment at which he came in sight of it, instead of coming out of his hut at the last moment with his red flag, to give a signal of a less satisfactory character.

I had the advantage in this case of being present at the able and careful investigation which was conducted by Mr. Black, the coroner for the borough of Brighton, on the view of the bodies of the sufferers; and, after hearing the evidence, and giving my best  consideration to the whole of the circumstances, I  have come to the conclusion that thus very serious collision was brought about in the following manner:

The three trains were started from the Brighton station within an interval about seven minutes, - sy three minutes between the first two, and four  minutes between the last two, by the station master; and nearly the same intervals remained between them as successively approached the south end of the Clayton tunnel.

The signalman at the end of the tunnel, Killick did not, perhaps, observe that the first train failed to turn his distant signal to danger in passing it, or until it was too late to employ it for stopping the second train, travelling, as it was, so quickly after the first train. He then very properly waved his flag towards the second train, because he had not been informed of the first one haven got through the tunnel.

Either the second train, however, or Killick, turned the distant signal to danger about the time that train passed it; and that train was subsequently stopped in the tunnel under its protection.

So far, there was nothing that need have occasioned a collision. The first train had proceeded forward on its way to London. The second train drew up in the tunnel, in obedience to Killick’s red flag, and was adequately protected by his distant signal. The third train was approaching that signal, and would have had the means of stopping short of the tunnel if it had been kept at danger.

But Killick next enquired too impatiently of Brown whether the second train had passed out of the tunnel, little thinking, that, after coming to a stand in it, it was being backed towards him. Brown believing the necessary the enquiry ti refer to the first train, answered “yes;” and Killick took off his signal, exhibited his white flag, and allowed the third train to proceed forward with undiminished speed to the tunnel mouth.

Nothing remained then to prevent the crash that followed. Driver Gregory and his fireman of the third train suddenly saw two red tail lamps in from of them; they had not time to do much towards slackening their speed; and the two trains met, the one proceeding forward, perhaps, at a speed of from 20 to 25 miles an hour, the other backward, at a speed of 5 miles an hour, about 200 yards within the tunnel.

It would appear from the evidence of the signalman at the Hastings Junction, who did not look upon the intervals between any of these trains as very unusual, and who had ceased in practice to require an interval of more than three minutes between the trains, that the station master who started these three trains from Brighton only did on this occasion what he had not infrequently done before, in reducing the intervals between two trains to less than five minutes, though he did not act in accordance with printed regulations of the Company. He occasioned, by this course, greater risk to the trains before they entered the tunnel than afterwards; if one of them had slackened speed materially, and had broken down, and been brought to a stand on its way to the tunnel, on a part of the line on which the view was such obstructed, the following train would have been in danger of running into it before it could be properly protected by its guard running back with his hand signal; and he could not have expected this particular  accident to occur.

The signalman Killick,  if he overlooked, in the first instance, the non working of the distant signal, had it “at danger” at all events after the second train passed it; and, looking to the system under which he worked, he cannot be said to have done wrong in allowing the third train to pass him after he received intelligence of the second train having left the tunnel. At the same time, a more prudent man, with a moment for consideration, would not have enquired whether the second train was out of the tunnel as soon after waving a red flag to it, but would have kept up his signal against the third train, and wanted to ascertain whether the second train had proceeded through, or whether the driver in obedience to his red flag had brought that train to a stand in the tunnel.

The signalman Brown appears to made a simple, high momentous mistake, in supposing that the question addressed to by Killick, as to whether the train was “out,” applied to the first train instead of to the second train.

The driver of the second train committed a grievous error, as it turned out, in backing his train after ringing it to stand in the tunnel; but it was evidently an error on the side of over caution. If  he had acted accordingly to his regulations, he would have remained where he was, and sent his guard back t0 ascertain the cause of the stoppage; but this would have subjected the passengers to a very disagreeable detention in the tunnel. If he had been a less cautious man he would proceeded slowly to the north end of the tunnel; but he would have disobeyed his regulations in doing so, and would have been liable to severe punishment if he had met with any accident. His position was no doubt a difficult one; and he acted for the best according to his judgement, under the belief, no doubt, that he was protected by the telegraph, and that the signalman would except him to pull up as soon at he could after seeing his red flag.

it was somewhat surprised to find that no record books were kept, either by the station masters at Brighton or Hassock’s Gate, or by the signalmen at the Clayton Tunnel. books of this description, in which the times of starting or passing of all trains, or of the despatch or receipt of telegraph messages, are entered in ruled columns, are commonly employed on many lines of railway; are more particularly required where men, working a tunnel with one telegraph needle for two lines of rails are obliged to trust to their memory; and are useful in tending to ensure, on the part of station masters and signalmen, greater attention to their signals and telegraph needles, and a stricter performance of their duties. A man is obviously less likely to commit an irregularity of any sort in duties of this description, when he is himself compelled to make a permanent record of it, liable at any time to be brought against him, open to observation on periodical or irregular inspections, and checked by other records made by responsible officers, within a short distance, and perhaps on nth sides of him.

If the Brighton stain manager had been compelled to keep such a book, either he would have been more particular about the times at which he started the trains and would not have got into the habit of starting them at intervals of less than the five minutes prescribed by the regulations, or else such irregularities would have been brought to the knowledge of the traffic manager; and if the question had thus come before the traffic manager; and if the question had thus come before the traffic manager; - if he had found that it was inconvenient to preserve even five minutes of interval between the trains upon this obstructed  portion of line, it cannot be doubted that in authorising any reduction in that interval, he would have adopted some means at the same time for securing the safety of the traffic. As it happened, that officer was unaware, as appeared from his evidence, that a less interval than five minutes was allowed, and he considered that it was the positive duty of the station master to have preserved that interval between all trains starting from the Brighton station.

If, again, the signalman Brown, at the north of the tunnel, had been provided with a record book, and had, in addition to receiving the message “train in” for the second train, written it down in his book, with the time at which it came to him, - he would certainly have been less likely to report that train “out,” when he was asked afterwards whether it was out or, to misunderstood the question addressed to him, and apply it to the first train, which he had previously reported “out.”

This keeping of record books, as well as the mode of working telegraph instruments, with the number of telegraph needles employed, and, generally, the proper intervals to be maintained between the trains, and the best mode of preserving those intervals, are often regarding as more matters of detail in railway traffic, and do not receive the consideration that they deserve. Instead of being, as many supposed, of minor importance, they are, in fact, just the points upon which the safety of the traffic mainly depends, from collision between trains following one another upon the same line of rails; and I consider it only right to make a few general observations in this place in regard to them, as they have been been brought prominently forward in connection with the present accident.

The rules most commonly laid down upon the different railways, for the purpose of preventing trains following each other upon the same line of rails from coming into collision with one another are, that there shall be five minutes between them, or, which answers this purpose, that after any one train has passed any station, junction, level crossing, or siding, at which a signalman is stationed, the danger signal shall be exhibited for five minutes and the caution signal for five minutes more; and the platelayes are also expected, when they are at work to asset in preventing the trains from running too closely upon one another. In this manner an interval of imd is preserved between the trains which answers the propose tolerably well when they run pretty much at the same speed, when the line is not crowded with traffic, when the drivers can see for a considerable distance before them, when the points at which warning is afforded are sufficiently near together, and when the prescribed intervals are in practice strictly preserved. It does not always prove to be sufficient, however, even in these cases. One of the most fatal of the accidents that ever happened in the United Kingdom, for instance, that at Straffan in Ireland, in which 15 people lost their lives, arose from the breaking down of a passenger train, and the collision with it of a following goods train, running half an hour behind it, upon a straight line three miles long, on a misty evening, after these  precautions had been attended to; the driver alleging that the guard had not gone back sufficiently far to protect it, and the guard that the driver had paid no attention to his signal.      

But in many cases, and on many lines of railway, the above conditions do not exist. The exigencies of the traffic prevent the intervals from being strictly kept, and they become habitually disregarded. The trains run at various rates of speed, from 10 miles an hour or less, in the case of a heavy mineral train, to 60 miles an hour or more, in that of an express passenger train; and such intervals become useless, while much longer intervals are in themselves insufficient. Obstructions to view occur, which prevent a driver, from seeing perhaps more than a couple of hundred yards before him, and thus increase the risk of his catching up another train, or of running into collision with one that has become wholly or partially disabled; and these obstructions to view may arise either from the condition of the line or from the state of the atmosphere.           


Between London and Reigate, on which line the trains of the Brighton Company and the South Eastern Company run in common, the block system of telegraph is still carried out over a distance of about 20 miles, and it is only remaining 33 miles to Brighton that is devoid of this sort of protection; whereas, if one portion of the line requires it more than another, it is that part between Brighton and thee Clayton Tunnel, over which, as I have already stated, the view is very much obstructed, and on which the trains follow each in rapid succession.

It may be said, truly, that the present lamentable accident did not occur on the portion of line referred to, which was unprotected by telegraph, but on that portion (inside the tunnel) which might have been considered the least liable to an accident of this description, because the telegraph had been supplied, and had been used for eight or nine years for its protection; and further, that when the station master started the three trains from Brighton, whatever apprehension he might, or ought to have entrained in regard to their safety between Brighton and the Clayton Tunnel, he would not, at all events, have had misgiving as to any risk that they would encounter in the tunnel. When once they passed the signalman at the south end of the tunnel, they got under the protection of the telegraph, and any danger incurred on the previous part of their journey ought then to have been averted, if the telegraph was to be relied upon.

But the failure of the telegraph to preserve safety on this occasion, was caused, as I have show, by a mistake of the signalman at the north end in wrongly replying to a question from the south end of the tunnel which ought not to have been addressed to him so hurriedly, this happened whilst the two men were working the telegraph under a most unsatisfactory system. it is just, as I have also pointed out, this want of a proper system of working and using the telegraph, combined with the employment of unreliable servants, or of servants with to much of other work to attend to, that has in like manner led to accidents in other cases, - that has induced mistakes on the part of the men which would not otherwise have been made, - that has afforded an excuse for not employing it, - and that has prejudiced railway manager against it, in a way materially to hinder its adoption and retard its progress; while the want of a really efficient code of regulations, ready to be applied, and in which confidence can be placed, has also partly contributed to the same result.

I would, therefore, in describing the defect of system under which as to the system which ought to be adopted, and the experience of other cases.

The greatest amount of security is obtained on a double line of railway, in working a tunnel or a section of railway by telegraph, when a separate telegraph needle is used for each line of rails, and when each signalman (A) blocks over the needles of the signalman (B) next to him, by means of a pin fitting into his instrument handle, as soon as he (A) is informed that a train has passed that signalman (B), and is travelling towards him, and when he (A) keeps that needle (of B) blocked over until such trains has passed him. The telegraph needle in this case acts simply as a signal, by means of which A indicates “danger” or “all right” to B, A blocking B’s needle (which B cannot alter) over either to the “all right” or to the “danger” side of the instrument, as may be necessary, and always keeping it so blocked over, to indicate the actual condition of the line.

In the Clayton tunnel only one telegraph needle was employed, as I have stated at the commencement of this report, for two line of rails; while two trains might be passing through the tunnel, one on each line, at the same time. this one needle could not, of course be blocked over to and kept at any particular indication, but was obliged to remain in a vertical or neutral position, and the necessary signals were made with it when a train passed into or out of the tunnel in either direction. Under this arrangement, the signalmen, being unable to make a fixed indication, trusted to their memories during the passage of the trains; the signalman A being required to remember that he had telegraphed “train in” to the signalman B, and had not received “train out” from signalman B during the time that the one line was occupied; and being required, perhaps, to exchange signals in the meantime with signalman B in regard to a train entering, or passing out, upon the other line.

This defect, in the employment of one instead of two needles, rendered the mistake made by Brown the more liable to occur. He would readily - he could hardly have fallen into it if he had previously pinned over his own and Killick’s up line needle to “train on line” for the second train. He would thus have had before his eyes a fixed indication to remind him that the second train was in the tunnel. Killick could not have moved the needle to address any question to him upon it. If the question had been sent to him in any other way, - say upon a third needle, he could hardly, with that fixed indication before him, have made the mistake he did in answering it; and even if he had made a mistake in his reply upon the third needle, he would not even then have compromised the safety of the trains, because his proper  needle would still have indicated “line blocked,” and he would not have taken that off, and turned it to “line clear,” until the second train passed out, or, at least, he would have had no excuse whatever for doing so.

Having regard to these considerations, it is quite clear that main cause of this accident has been not the mistake of the signalman, but the defects of the system under which he worked, which rendered that mistake liable. Even this defective system worked safely for eight or nine years, and under a good system, such as I have described, properly carried out, the chance of such an accident from any misunderstanding between the signalmen would have been very remote indeed.

In order that it may be properly carried out, however, a third needle should be supplied, in addition to the two above mentioned, for the use each signalman in each direction. This needle being used for denoting the description of trains that is to be expected, for conveying information in regard to any unusual circumstance, or for any communication that the men may have to make to one another, all excuse is taken away from them for employing the train needles for other than the simples “line blocked,” or “lone clear,” which they ought alone to convey. The men will talk to each other, or make private signals to each other, on their train needles, if they are not provided with a recognised means of communication; and they cannot do so without risk. It is better, if for this reason only, to provided them with a separate single needle instrument for the purpose; and it is the more necessary to do so when the tunnel or section of railway protected has, perhaps, a junction at one end of it,and sidings at the other end; and when one signalman is dependant upon the other for informing him of the siding into which a train is to be turned when it arrives, or of the line on which it is about to proceed.        


But it is unnecessary to multiply instances, because it is obvious, that on a crowded line of railway, when an accident suddenly happens to a train travelling upon one line of rails, by which the second line of rails is also obstructed, there is risk, in a tunnel or out of a tunnel, of a train coming up from the opposite direction before a guard or other person can run forward to a sufficient distance to warn its engine driver, and that the risk is much increased in a tunnel, in which it is often impossible for a driver to see many yards before him.

There are several modes by which this risk might be diminished or avoided. The most simple and the most effectual means of avoiding it would be by allowing only one engine or train to pass through a tunnel at a time in either direction; but this would occasion in many cases objectionable delay to the traffic, and might increase the risk of accident in other ways by causing trains to be stopped short of the tunnel.

As has been suggested to me in connection with this inquiry, by a sign painter, who was formerly employed as a signalman in the Clayton Tunnel, a vll at each end of the tunnel might be connected with a wire passing through it; and this wire might be pulled by any passenger or servant of the Company if a train came to a stand in the tunnel, so as to ring the bells at either end, and warn the signalmen to stop all approaching trains. The only objection to this very simple plan is that the bells and wires employed for this purpose, being only used in rare instances, might be found to be out of order when they were wanted. A better arrangement, as it appears to me, would be to place the two train telegraph wire within reach along the side of the tunnel, and to supply the means of breaking the circuit at once upon any obstruction taking place. In ordinary cases, the needles of the telegraph instruments should show, as I have stated, “line blocked” or “line clear,” by the needles being blocked over to one or other of these indications, according to the state of the line; and if the needles fell to the vertical position, and the instruments would not work, it would at once become evident that the circuit had been broken, and that an obstruction had probably taken place. One or more fragile connections in the train wires, easily fractured by a pull, would be alone required to complete such an arrangement, and the advantage of it would be that being part and parcel of the machinery in daily use, it would not be liable to get out of order, and  to be found useless when on some one occasion it was urgently required.

Of course, neither this nor any other such method would be any avail if one train broke down subsequently to another entering the tunnel from the opposite direction. The only possible mode to avoiding an accident of that description would be by restricting more than one engine or train from being in the tunnel at one time.

Upon the whole, I conceive, that for safe working of any double line tunnel or section of railway, six telegraph needles are required for the use of each signalman if he signals to other men on both sides of him, and three if he exchanges signals with a colleague on one side only. Of these needles, one should be employed for each line of rails solely as a signal, and one, with a telegraph bell attached, to describe a train as it approaches, to ask leave for it to receive the reply, and to communicate in other ways. 

It is of importance also, though these may at first sight seem to be trivial matters, that the instruments should be so placed in the signalman’s hut, as face the directions in which they are intended to communicate, three side on one side and three in the another, if the signalman has a telegraph station on each side of him:- that the up line needle also should be placed on the upside, and the down line on the the down side:- that the train instruments could be marked only “line clear” and “line blocked,” and the former on the left, the latter on the right, or vice versa, but all in the same manner: and that the talking instruments should be marked with letters and figures in the usual way, as well as with any private signals which the signalmen are intended to employ. Any signalman entering any hut then sees at once what work every instrument and every needle has to do; and he is quite ready to take any other signalman’s place at any moment. Further, the signalmen should have clocks and record books, for entering the time each train, as it is signalled, to them, past them, and from them; and they should be stationed in convenient huts, with cottages near them, that each man may have the means of calling up the man with whom he takes alternate duty, if it should become necessary for hime to do so.

Minor details of this description, though they are of great importance to the public safety, receive but little attention, and there is great need of improvement in these respects in all parts of the country. The present accident would never have happened if that had properly carried out at the Clayton Tunnel, as it would not have been possible for the men to make the mistake which led to it, if they had been working according to the method I have indicated.

As it happened, they had only just come on duty previous to the accident; but they had come for a period of 24 hours, which is twice as long as a man ought to be permitted to remain on duty at any post at which the public safety depends upon his vigilance. it appears that they were intend by the traffic manager to remain on duty for 18 hours, on alternate Sundays, that they might thus change duties, the one for day the other for night, for the ensuing week; but that they had agreed amongst themselves to remain on for 24 hours on alternate Sundays, in order that they might thus get a whole day off duty to be with their families. Common humanity, as well as common prudence, would give these men a holiday, at least on every alternate Sunday, without obliging them to remain on duty for 24 hours in this manner in order to obtain it. There is no difficulty in doing this, by the employment of relief men to take the duty; and it is always necessary to have more men qualified for duties of this description than those actually employed at all times in the performance of them.

In thus condemning, for several reasons, the arrangements of the Brighton Company that have led to this accident, I am happy to be able to add, and it is only right that I should do so, that I have from time to time met with much approve on that line, and particularly in regard to the arrangements that have been made at the junctions. I have frequently had occasion to hold forth the convenient huts and stages that they have erected for the accommodation of their men, and the precautions in connecting the points and signals together, according to their foreman’s (Saxby’s) patent, that they have adopted for the safety of the public as an example to other companies. Judging from what I had seen in these respects, I should certainly have expected to find a better system in operation for the protection of the Clayton Tunnel. It was established, no doubt, when such matters were less attended to; it worked on without accident from year to year; and as often happens in like cases, it remained unimproved as long as nothing occurred particularly to direct attention to it.

The self acting distant signals, such as were employed at that tunnel, have been used by the Company for many years as an extra precaution. They were originally because it was found that the men did not always turn their distant signals to danger immediately after the trains passed them, and because it appeared, therefore, that signal which should have be turned to danger by every engine passing it, and which should remain at danger until it was afterwards turned off by the signalman, would be more efficient and safe. They have worked without accident hitherto on this line, except in one previous case, in which an engine backed to a water crane at Croydon, and was standing at the passenger platform there, when a South Eastern excursion train came up and ran into it, some few years since. There were other signals at danger for the protection of the ballast engine; but a self acting signal, in the south of the station, which remained at “all right,” because the engine had not passed over it, may have had something to do in misleading the driver of the excursion train and leading to the accident.

These signals would no doubt be most advantageous if they always worked unfailingly, and if no engine or train require to be protected by them that had not previously passed them; but there is, the fear that the men, expecting them to be self acting, and finding them to be so almost invariably, may not always be sufficiently alive to their duties when it becomes necessary for them to work them themselves; and this fear has always prevented mer from recommending them for general adoption. It is desirable that certain parts of them should be oiled occasionally, and that they should be kept in thoroughly good order; and there does not appear, from the evidence in this case, to have been sufficient attention paid to them in this respect.

The only other point in reference to this accident that calls for remark, is the absence of a break van from the tail of the third, or Brighton ordinary train. There were five passenger carriages behind the break van, so placed, according to custom with that train, for convenience in leaving them at different stations on the road. The break power employed was not on as great a proportion in any of the three trains as, in my opinion, it ought to have been; and the running of this train without a break of any sort behind it was most objectionable, especially as it had to ascend  a gradient of 1 in 264 all the way to the Clayton Tunnel.

I need not, however, dwell upon this circumstance, as it had no effect in producing the accident; but I will now proceed to sum up the different causes that led to it, in order of their relative importance.

The principal cause of it was, evidently, the inefficiency of the system under which the traffic was worked between Brighton and Hassock’s Gate; and the following were the defects of that system:- 

1, Inly one telegraph needle was used for signalling the trains on both lines of rails through the Clayton Tunnel; and this rendered it, for the reasons previously stated, more easy for the signalmen to misunderstanding each other, or make a mistake.

2, The signalmen were unprovided with record books, which would have rendered to mistakes less likely.

3, The trains were run at intervals of time between Brighton and the Clayton Tunnel, instead of intervals of space, which the nature of the line, and its obstructed condition, rendered most desirable. If intervals of space had been preserved between the trains by means of the electric telegraph, then no train would have approached Killick’s box without his having been previously warned of its approach, and he would have been prepared to receive it, and have had signals ready for it. If no train had been permitted to leave Brighton until the preceding train had either been telegraphed into the Clayton Tunnel, or passed some intermediate telegraph station between Brighton and Hassock’s Gate, then the Brighton station master would not have been able to despatch these trains within intervals which were insufficient for safety. The station master, also would no doubt have been more particular in this respect, if he had been obliged to register the times of departure of the trains as he started them.

Inefficiency in the system of working having thus been the principal cause of the accident, I consider that the mistake which was made by the signalman Brown, in reporting the second train to be out, and the imprudence which was manifested by Killick, in so hurriedly asking whether it was out, and admitting the third train after he had shown a red flag to the second train, though they directly contributed to produce the accident, were yet only secondary causes, because they were the result of this defective system; and it is plain that the non acting of Killick’s distant signal, and the mistaken caution of the driver of the second train, in setting back after he had come to a stand in the tunnel, though they had their effect in leading to the accident, would not only not have produced it, but would never have been heard of, if Brown had not reported the second train “out” to Killick, and if Killick haas kept up his signal, as he would no doubt in that case have done, against the third train.

With regard to the future, I may observe, that it is desirable that the line should be worked by telegraph under a good system, between Brighton and Hassock’s Gate. One intermediate telegraph station only would be necessary, probably, between the two stations; and if so, no more signalmen would be required than at present; the signalman from the north end of the Clayton Tunnel being transferred to Hassock’s Gate, and the signalman from the south end to some point a little nearer to Brighton. It is better, indeed, in some respects, that there men should not be stationed so near the ends of the tunnel. A tunnel included in a section of line, between two telegraph stations, may be more satisfactorily worked, and the trains may be more conveniently kept waiting, when they happen to be delayed, on account of obstructions, or of trains being in front of them on the same line of rails in the following length.

I have no doubt that the Brigton Company will be induced to adopt some measure of this description after the frightful lesson which they have experienced, and I trust that this lesson will not be without its effects upon the system of working adopted on other lines of railway, on many of which very great improvement is required, on many of which very great improvement is requires, in preserving intervals of space between trains, and in adopting modes of working by telegraph which afford a maximum of convenience and simplicity with a minimum chance of misunderstanding and risk.

In order to show the full importance of the subject, I subjoin a table containing the number of collision from different causes that occurred between the years 1855 and 1860 inclusive, as compared with the total number of railway accidents on which reports have been made to their Lordships during those years.                   


  This horrific accident that occurred on 25 August 1861 would be said to have been "an accident waiting to happen". It was certainly a profound shock to the L.B.&S.C.R., as well as to railways in general, and what was further shocking in the Victorian mindset was the fact that the collision occurred on a Sunday. Two excursion trains were due to set out from Brighton station ahead of a timetabled 8:30a.m departure These two were a late-running 6 a.m Portsmouth to London via Brighton train hauled by  loco No. 48, that had been due to depart Brighton at 8:05 a.m. and another excursion train from Brighton to London hauled by a 'Wilson-patern Single' loco No. 126, which was due to depart at 8:15 a.m. In those days the L.B.&S.C.R. was not known for its punctuality and the erosion of the time intervals between the trains was nothing uncommon. The line was worked on the time interval basis which was quite safe providing the Rules were strictly obeyed and the interval between trains sufficient for a Guard to protect his train in the event of any incident. Assistant Stationmaster Legg, realising it was some six minutes after the due departure time of the 8:30 ordinary Parliamentary train hauled by a ‘Wilson-patern Single'  loco No. 122, sensibly began dispatching them in their rightful sequence as the two excursion trains had a faster schedule than the ordinary train.   

Although time interval was used on the open part of the route, the line within Clayton Tunnel was controlled by a block section, worked by a single needle telegraph and protected by a Whitworth automatic revolving banner signal. The automatic part of the title refers to the signal being replaced mechanically when a train ran over a treadle, requiring the Signalman to pull off the signal once more for the following train. In this location there was a Signalman at either end of the tunnel, each working a 12 hour shift, although in order to alternate between day and night shifts it was the practice to work 24 hour shifts on Sundays! On the day in question the south side of the tunnel was signalled by Signalman Killick, whilst at the north end was Signalman Brown.

The first train to pass Signalman Killick was the Portsmouth excursion which passed over the treadle and continued on to enter the tunnel. The "automatic" signal, however, failed to return to danger. Killick noticed this but was immediately confronted by the Brighton excursion train, hard on the tail of the Portsmouth train. This second train passed the signal, which was incorrectly showing a proceed aspect and which once again failed to return to danger. Killick immediately displayed a red flag but, as the train charged into the tunnel, did not know whether or not Driver Scott on Nº126 had seen it. Driver Scott had seen the flag, and realizing that the flag signal contradicted the Whitworth signal knew that something was wrong and stopped the train in the tunnel. So far, so good, but now things started to go horribly wrong. Instead of staying put, with the Guard protecting the rear of the train, Driver Scott decided to set back and propelled his train back towards the south end of the tunnel in order to speak to Killick.   Killick, though, was in a bit of a panic. Had the Portsmouth train stopped, or had it cleared the tunnel section? Had Scott, on the Brighton train, seen the red flag and stopped? Killick had no idea so telegraphed Signalman Brown who responded that the train (meaning the Portsmouth one) was out of the tunnel. For some reason Killick took this to mean the Brighton one so made the fatal error of withdrawing the red flag and replacing it with a white one, the proceed signal of those times. Driver Gregory of the ordinary passenger train, on locomotive Nº122, saw the white flag and accelerated his train into the tunnel. A few moments later he saw lights ahead, immediately put his engine into reverse gear and screwed down the tender handbrake in an effort to stop his train, but all in vain as his engine demolished the last two coaches of the excursion train, killing 22 passengers (including three children) outright and injuring 177, one of whom later died from the injuries sustained in the crash. The coaches of the excursion train were flimsy, open-sided vehicles which, it was said, actually saved lives as passengers were thrown out into the tunnel rather than being killed in their seats as the engine crushed the coaches.


Above is a memorial/funeral card that was produced for a funeral/memorial event held after the accident.


If the accident weren't bad enough, the subsequent inquiry descended almost into farce. Craven, who had a very bad reputation in the way he treated his men, would defend his department fiercly and on this occasion got away with protesting that Driver Scott's action in setting back his train was quite in order! The Board of Trade Inspector, one Captain Tyler, concentrated his attention on the time interval method of working, the Railway put up the case that better mechanical safeguards would be self defeating as they would lead to the men being less alert and emphasized that this accident was caused by the failure of a mechanical safeguard. The south end signalman, Killick, was not held responsible so wasn’t charged but Assistant Stationmaster Legg was judged to have acted recklessly in dispatching the trains too close together and was charged with manslaughter.

When he appeared at Lewes Assizes though, the jury threw out the indictment. The ultimate blame for the accident was placed on 'Traffic' with Captain Tyler recommending the adoption of absolute block working, and continuous brakes. The Railway did nothing about the recommendation at this time.

The crew of the second engine were lucky in that Driver Gregory sustained minor injuries whilst his fireman escaped injury altogether, and Driver Gregory was commended for his prompt action which no doubt prevented a far higher death toll. The incident then passed into railway history as Britain's worst ever railway accident, until the Irish Mail disaster some six years later.

When he appeared at Lewes Assizes though, the jury threw out the indictment. The ultimate blame for the accident was placed on 'Traffic' with Captain Tyler recommending the adoption of absolute block working, and continuous brakes. The Railway did nothing about the recommendation at this time.

The crew of the second engine were lucky in that Driver Gregory sustained minor injuries whilst his fireman escaped injury altogether, and Driver Gregory was commended for his prompt action which no doubt prevented a far higher death toll. The incident then passed into railway history as Britain's worst ever railway accident, until the Irish Mail disaster some six years later.



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