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ON THE 28th JANUARY 1933


& Motorman Hart (depot unknown)

extracted and adapted from the report 

E. P. ANDERSON, Lieut.-Colonel 

On the London-Brighton main (electrified) line of the Southern Railway, at Three Bridges Station, a collision which occurred at about 12.38a.m., on the 28th January, 1933.

The 11.30 p.m. (steam) freight train, Norwood to West Worthing, had been brought to a stand at the down slow home signals of Three Bridges signal box, and was waiting to cross over from the down local to the down through line after the passage of an express on the lattr line, Just as it was starting ahead after the signal had been cleared for this movement, it was run into from the rear by the 11.46 pm. electric passenger train from Victoria to Three Bridges, which was following it on the same (down slow) line.

The guard of the freight train and the motorman of the electric train were seriously injured; but none of the five passengers in the electric train complained of injury. Assistance reached the site of the accident from Three Bridges station about 12 minutes after it occurred, and a doctor was on the spot within about half an hour. But, owing to the difficulty of extricating them from the wreckage of the motor coach and brake van, which had to be cut apart with oxy-acetylene torches to release them, the injured guard was not released till about 2.0 a,.m., and the Motorman not till about 3.30 am., though everything possible was done for them. There was fortunately no fire.

The freight train was drawn by N class engine No. 1812. It consisted of 51 wagons and a brake van, the total weight including engine being about 900 tuns and the overall length about 383 yards.

The electric passenger train consisted of the following vehicles, marshalled in the order stated: one motor third brake (8 wheeled bogie), two 8-wheeled bogie composites, one motor third brake (8-wheeled bogie), Its total weight was about 139 tons and overall length about 257ft. This train was fitted with the Westinghouse brake acting on all wheels.

As a result of the collision the leading motor end of the electric train was very badly smashed, and its bogie driven back about six feet though not derailed. The main frame of this coach was bent, and was forced into and over the frame of the brakevan of the goods train. The remainder of the electric train was not derailed, and the damage to it was slight .

The electric train was fitted with intermediate central buffers on the headstocks of the main frames; the couplings were  below the buffers and had been tightened sufficiently to compress them. .

The ends of the electric train and all the vehicles of the goods train were fitted with standard side buffers.

The brake van of the electric train was fitted with a periscope, through which the guard can look ahead over the top of his train.

The rear brake van of the goods train was derailed and almost completely wrecked. Two coal wagons on this train were derailed and badly smashed; nine other wagons were less seriously damaged.

The goods brake van was running with its platform in rear. In accordance with this Company's standard practice it had two lamps, one on either side, showing a white light in the forward direction and a red light in rear, fixed about 6 ft. 2 ins. above rail level.

The damage to permanent way was very small.

The weather was fine, clear and frosty, with good visibility.


Near the scene of the accident the line from Coulsdon (North) to Brighton (South) is straight for several miles, and on a gradient of about 1in 260 rising in the down (South) direction at the site of the collision. There are four roads arranged as follows from east to west down through, up through, down local, 

page 2

up local. There is a double crossover junction between the local and through lines, with facing points in the down local, north of Three Bridges station, and other connections further south which are not relevant to this Inquiry

The line is completely track circuited, and the signalling is on the colour light multi-aspect system, controlled by the track circuits. Trains are signalled by bell and train describers from box to box. The occupation of all the track circuits relevant to this Inquiry is indicated on an illuminated diagram in Three Bridges signal box, which is situated south of the station. The points of the crossover are electrically worked from the box, from which the signals governing movements over.them are also worked. The “outer home” signal (C.A. 28) applicable to the trains in question is fully automatic; the junction home signal is automatically replaced to danger as soon as the front of a train, for which it has been cleared, has passed about 100 ft. beyond it. Both these signals are of the multi-lens colour light type. The height of the red light of C.A.28 above rail is about 11 ft. and of the red li hts of the 8own home signal about 16 ft.; the lateral spacing of the latter signal is about 2 ft.

Report and evidence.

The short circuit caused by the collision was recorded in the Three Bridges electric supply control room as having occurred at 12.38 am. The automatic circuit breakers opened, and were replaced three times in accordance with the Company’s regulations, but no fire occurred. 

Porter signalman H. E. Curtis said that, immediately after coming on duty at Horley North signal box, he received from Earlswoods Junction, at 12.13 a.m ., the description of the 11.30 p.m. goods train, Norwood Junction to Hove. train passed on the down local line’ at 12.24 a..m., when he described it to Three Bridges. He said that it was carrying two tail lamps,and that he was sure they were burning properly; he added that he could have seen them as far as Horley signal box (about 700 yards away). The 11.46p.m. passenger train was described to him from Earlswood Junction at 12.25am., and passed at 12.29 a.m., on the down local line.

Signalman G. Burdfield, who was on duty at Three Bridges box, said that he received the description for the 11.30p.m. goods train from Horley Sorth on the down local line at 12.25a.m., and that for the 11.46 p.m. passenger train on the same line at 12.29 am. The 12.0 midnight passenger train,Victoria to Brighton, was running to time and he expected it to pass at 12.37 a.m. on the down through line. As the 11.30 p.m. goods train was running three minutes late,  he thought it best to hold it on the down local line until he could divert it to the down through line after tbe passage of the midnight train from Victoria. It had been found preferable to do this rather than to admit the goods train to the down local platform, in order to avoid delay in dealing with mails, etc., which had to be transferred from the 11.46 .m. passenger train to the 12.40 a.m.,Three Bridges to Horsham train. 

Burdfield said that the 11.46 p m . passenger train must be held back if it is to be put on to the through line behind the 12 midnight, as the latter is not due to pass till 12.37 a.m., whereas the 11.30p.m. goods train was due at 12,32 a.m. On the night in question the midnight train passed on the through line at 12.36 am., and he immediately replaced and set the road for the goods train to cross from the down 1ocal to the down through. He said that he did not know when the goods train reached his home signal and that he did n o t hear a whistle. But as he had received no telephone message from the driver, and as the track circuit immediately ahead of the home signal was occupied just after be lowered it, he thought that the train must have been standing at that signal for a little less than three minutes, and probably since about 12.35a.m. Burdfield notice flashes caused by the collision at 12.38 a.m. 

Signalman W. Towers, who was on duty with Burdfieid in the Three box, confirmed the evidence given by him.

Driver A. C. Batchelder who was in charge of the goods train, said that he was two or three minutes late when he reached Three Bridges down local home signals. Gatwick starting signal was at green, the next signal, automatic No. C.A. 28, was at yellow, and the down local home signals at Three Bridges were both at red when he stopped with his engine about 10 yards short of them. He said that when he looked back at Horley, he could see the side lamps of his train showing a good light. Batchelder thought that he had stood at the home signal for about two minutes, when it cleared to yellow for him to cross over to the down through line. He started the train, but when he had gone 12 to 15 truck lengths he felt the collision and stopped it; he thought his speed was hardly 5 m.p.h. at the time.

The fireman of the goods train, C. Small, confirmed driver Batchelder's evidence. He said that, just before stopping at the home signal, he looked back and saw the12.0 midnight express electric train approach in on the down through line, and also the tail light on the left side of his train. He exchanged signals with the guard when the train was re-started, but could not then see the side light as it would be obscured by the guard’s body.

The guard of the passenger train, H. R. Todman, said that he had been working with Motorman Hart all the week and that he seemed in usual health when they changed ends before leaving Victoria. The train was checked at Gatwick down starter, and arrived at the automatic signal C.A. 28 at 12.33 a.m.; he looked at his watch and entered this in his notebook. He again looked at his watch as his train was re-started and found it was barely 12.37 a.m. Todman said that Three Bridges down home signal was at red when they started from signal C.A. 28, but added that about a minute after they began to move the yellow aspect appeared. He saw it through the periscope in a straight line with his train, but he could not say if it was the signal for the down local line or for the down local to down through crossover. He could not see through the periscope the tail lamps of a train ahead of him on the same track; if it was on a straight line, as in this case. Todman estimated the speed at the time of the collision as 10,miles an hour,and said that he did not notice any application of the brake after stopping at signal C.A. 28.

Motorman T. E. Hart, who was in charge of the electric passenger train, said that he left Horley to time, and was practically brought to a stand at Gatwick starting signal. The next signal, C.A.28, was at danger and he brought his train to a stand. Hart said that, as this signal was showing an illuminated “A", he looked at his watch then and found it 12.31a.m.; he thought his watch was a little fast, but was sure that he stood there till it showed 12.34 a.m. He said that he saw the 12.0 midnight Victoria to Brighton pass just as he began to move forward, having put the controller to “ shunt," which Mr. A.E. Roberts, Electrical Rolling Stock Engineer, explained was the first driving position and would give a speed up to 12-15m.p.h.m a level line. Hart said that he proceeded at 5 m.p.h., keeping a good look-out, and that the Junction home signals, which were both at red when he stopped, changed to yellow for the local to through crossover when he was about half-way between C.A.28 and Thee Bridges Station. He said that, as he saw no brake-van lights or other obstruction, he assumed that the junction signal had been cleared for his train, and added that the first indication which he received of the presence of the brake-van was when he saw it by the light of his electric head light. He attributed his failure to the fact that the light of the tail lamps was "absorbed" by the powerful lights of the signals.

Goods guard G. A. Gosden, who was in the rear brake-van of the goods train, said that his train, which was running on the down local line, came to a stand at Three Bridges down home signal. After it had stood there for about a minute, the 12.0 midnight down electric train passed,and about a minute later the home signal was cleared for his train to cross on to the through line. He had just exchanged signals with the fireman when he saw the passenger train approaching. Gasden said that his tail lamps were fixed one on each side at the rear end of the van, and showed a red light backwards and a white light forward. He said he had had no trouble with them during the trip, and that they were giving ‘a good light. Asked for an estimate of the speed at which the passenger train struck hiss van,Gosden replied that preferred not to express an opinion, but would rather leave this to be judged by the effects of the collision .

The Company's rules regarding passing automatic signals, such as C.A . 28, at danger, which are relevant to this case, read as follows :-

2B. . . . (b) “ A driver on stopping at a signal in obedience to the danger aspect must, if the aspect of the signal does not change in the interval and provided the signal exhibits an illuminated letter ‘ A ',, wait thereat three minutes, give one long whistle, and then proceed cautiously at a speed not exceeding 5m.p.h. as far as the line is clear,or as far as the next signal, being prepared to stop clear of any obstruction.

“ In the event of a signal (which is exhibiting an illuminated letter ‘A’) being passed at danger and if the next signal when appearing in sight, is found to be showing a green, two-yellow or one-yellow aspect, the driver must not assumed that it has been lowered for his train to proceed but must satisfy himself by personal observation that the whole of the section up to that signal and to a point about ta quarter of a mile ahead of such signal is clear of obstruction, and he must continue to proceed cautiously as far as the line is clear or to the next signal signal.” 


The time of the collision is definitely established by the independent evidence from the Three Bridges electric supply control room that a short circuit occurred on the down slow line at 12.38 a.m., which confirms signalman Burdfield's evidence. In view of this fact, and consider in the distances to be traversed by each of the trains in question, it is only possible to conclude that motorman Hart was wrong in stating that he arrived at signal C.A. 28 as early as 12.31 a.m. The other evidence, particularly that of his guard, Todman, indicates that he did not do so till between 12.33 and 12.34 a.m.; this discrepancy may of course be due to his, watch being slow, though he did not admit this when questioned. If Hart’s statement that the down express passed, just as he was restarting is correct, as I believe to believe to be the case, he must have moved forward from signal C.A. 28. about 12.36 or at latest a little before 12.37 a.m: His evidence that he stood at that signal for three minutes is confirmed by his guard, and may also I think be accepted; but I cannot accept his evidence as to his subsequent movement. The distance from signal C.A. 28 to the point of collision is1,469 yards, and it follows that he must have moved forward at a speed nearer 30 than 5m.p.h. That his speed was as high as 30 m.p.h. is quite consistent with the results of the collision, which were such as might be expected with a relative speed of 25 ,m.p.h, at the moment of impact, between the two moving trains.

In his evidence Hart stated that he could not see the ‘brake-van lights on the train ahead of him because they wee “absorbed” or overpowered by the brilliant lights of the down home: signal.

On the night of 10th April I therefore inspected these signals by travelling in the motorman’s compartment of an empty electric train from Redhill to Three Bridges.The Company’s officers had arranged for an engine and brake-van with side tail lights, similar to those in use on the train involved in this accident, to be standing at the down local home signal of Three Bridges, and the train, in which.1travelled, followed it on the same down local line.  

The night was dear,with a full moon recently risen, and therefore perhaps little lighter than would have been the case when the accident occurred, when there was no moon. But, as far as I could judge, the difference in conditions would not have been appreciable as the line runs nearly due south.

On reaching automatic signal C.A.28 I was able to distinguish the existence of a small red light (which subsequently proved to be one of the tail lights) below the brilliant yellow light of the home signal. The latter was off for the same movement through the crossover, which was to be made at the time of the accident. The red light about 2 fet to the right of it (for the down local line) could not be distinguished when the train in which I was travelling had reached a point roughly 600 yards from the brake van, the two red brake van lights appeared quite unmistakable to a man who knows the road.

I conclude, therefore, that the collision was entirely due to the failure of motorman Hart to keep a proper look-out and to obey the speed restriction of five miles an hour, after passing the automatic signal C.A.28 at danger, in accordance with the " stop and proceed" rule. I think that in all probability he did assume, as he suggested, that the clearing of the home signal, which he saw, applied to his own train, and that he therefore may have relaxed his lookout. But, even so, be had no excuse for disobeying the regulation as to speed in such circumstances, and he should have had no difficulty in stopping clear of the guards brake if his speed had been kept down to 5 m.p.h. He is a man with a good record, 49 years of age, with 31 years service, including about 14 years driving experience and about seven months experience on electric trains.

No blame attaches to the trainmen of the goods train, or to guard Todman of the passenger train; the position of the side tail lights of the goods train was such that he could not have seen them through the periscope provided in his van.


In view of this accident it is desirable to consider the use of the “ top and proceed” rule under conditions such as those described. I was informed that, before the new system of signalling was brought into use on ‘ he line in question, every opportunity was given to the drivers concerned to discuss it, but no adverse criticism was received by the Company's officers. Since this accident, however, representations reflecting on its safety have been received.

Automatic signals, of the semaphore type, with the "stop and proceed"rule, have been in use for about 30 years on the Woking-Basingstoke section of the Company’s main line to Southampton. During that period, I understand, there have only been two accidents; neither of them could in any way be attributed to this method of working. In that installation most of the signals are fixed on gantries over the main lines, and all their oil lights are well over 20 ft.. above rail level. This compares with about 11ft. in the use of the electric colour light signal C.A.28 and about 18 ft. in the case of the electric colour light down local home signals at Three Bridges. Apart, therefore, from their greater  brilliance the chance of the colour light signals being missed by a driver should be considerable less on the electrified lines, as they are close to the level of his eye. But on the other hand dim brake van lights are more likely to be merged in such powerful signal lights and so overlooked by a driver. 

On any line equipped with automatic signals it is necessary to provide against the contingency of trains being wrongly detained merely because a signal has failed, and therefore continues to show a danger indication, thus holding up traffic for an indefinite period. This is frequently done by providing a telephone at each of the signals concerned, and instructing drivers that, if they are detained for more than a specified period (usually three, but sometimes as little as one minute), they,are to ask for permission from the nearest signalman by telephone before passing the stop signal concerned at danger. If the state of the track circuits is indicated in his box, the signalman is able, under such circumstances, to instruct a driver as to his movements and as to the position of any obstruction, which of course may all the time have been the cause of the danger indication. This arrangement has th important advantage that it ensures the co-operation of two men in regard to the movement of the train past the stop signal concerned; but; even when so authorised ,a driver must still observe the rule as to proceeding at 5 m.p.h.

This “stop, wait, and telephone" rule, which is common on other railways, may be in effect the in cases where the open signal boxes are so widely speed that the track circuits controlling the automatic signals, are not repeated in the box, and the signalman is thus not in possession of the information on which to base his orders. In such cases it is necessary to have recourse to the “ stop and proceed”  rule, under which responsibility for movement past a danger signal rests solely on the driver. Such  a movement is in effect a gradual reduction of the space interval between trains  which is fundamental to the block system. The length of this interval was fixed many yeas ago in relation to the maximum speed, weight, and brake power of trains: reduction of it can only be made safely if as is the case in all station working, speed is so reduced that a driver can stop clear of any obstruction seen ahead of him. Observance by a driver of the rule as to proceeding at not more than 5 m.p.h. after passing an automatic signal at danger is, in fact , just as important as observance of the rule that he must stop at any signal showing a danger indication.

The evidence in this case suggested that the working at Three Bridges, about the time when this collision occurred, cannot always be carried out strictly to schedule owing to unforeseen delays, which are of course difficult to avoid where a steam goods train is involved. I think that the Company might perhaps find it possible,,to improve this by some small alteration to the timetable.

It appears from the evidence that automatic signal C.A.28 which is in effect the outer home of this fairly busy junction, is a place at which delays are likely to occur. If, therefore, a telephone were installed here, and the use of the ''stop and proceed " rule thereby removed, I think that such delays would possibly be reduced., and,the safety of working at this point would perhaps be enhanced. I noted that all the track circuits concerned are already indicated in Three Bridges signal box, which is always open.  While I recognise that there may be objections to this proposal, I think that in view of all the conditions, particularly the nature and density of the traffic, and of this accident, the Company should be asked to consider this means of avoiding the use of the “ stop and proceed-“, rule at  this particular place.

I was informed that it has been for time the standard practice of this Company to use only two side tail lamps on goods brake vans, instead of the arrangement of three lights, placed at the points of a “V "  which is generally used elsewhere. Their light is comparable, in brilliancy with that of the ordinary oil signal lamps, but is very poor when judged by the standard of modern electric signal lamps. In view of the importance of brake van lights of sufficient-power, where the “stop and proceed”, rule is in force, I was glad to learn that the Company had been experimenting with some of greater power, before this accident occurred. I hoped that these experiments will continued to a satisfactory conclusion, as the use of more powerful tails might at least have had some effect in reducing the violence of this collision and would remove any doubt as to the need for a return to the practice, formerly in force on parts of the Company’s system, of displaying a third tail light.

In view of  the evidence and of my own observation, I have formed the opinion that on a clear night the signal lights on this section are unnecessarily brilliant. I think, therefore, that the Company should be asked to consider whether this involves risk of dazzling or causing eye strain to drivers, and if so, whether in such atmospheric conditions some dimming arrangement would be practicable without introducing undue complication. At the same time I recognise that in fog, and still more in sunshine their present brilliance is of the greatest value. 

If such dimming were carried out it, would, I think, greatly reduce the present lack of distinctiveness, under clear night condiations, of signals such as the down local home at Three Bridges. I noticed thatfrom a distance the yellow light,when shown, completely obliterates the adjoining red-light, spaced at about 2 ft. centres from it, thereby destroying the important directional indication. This is .not a desirable feature and, alternatively, improvement in this respect might by increasing this spacing. I suggest that this point might, be considered in future installations. The lights are so brilliant that the slight raising of them, necessary to clear the structure gauge, would, I think, have little practical disadvantage.


This accident was due to the failure of motorman Hart, after being brought t0 a stand at the down, automatic colour light signal, to observe the rule restricting his speed to 5 m.p.h. hen he passed it at danger after waiting three minutes in accordance with the “stop and proceed" rule.

Operation has been safely carried on under this rule on the automatically semaphore-signalled section between Woking and Basingstoke for nearly 30 years. But it can only be considered safe, if the regulation as to speed is observed just as careful1 as the universal rule that a driver must stop at a signal showing a danger indication.

Where telephones are provided at such automatic signals, an alternative method of working is not to allow a driver to pass them at danger, until he has received by it instructions from the signalman to proceed. The provision of a telephone and the adoption of this procedure is suggested for consideration in this case.

The use of more powerful tail lamps on brake vans is desirable, as it might in this case have at any rate reduced the violence of the collision. The Company have experiments in hand in this direction, and it is hoped that they will result in improvement.

The dimming, or alternatively, an increase in the spacing of adjacent electric colour light signal lamps is suggested for consideration, in order to avoid their dazzling effect and the merging of the red and yellow lights, which is noticeable in clear weather at night. Lights of the present brilliance are, however, most valuable in sunshine or in fog.



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Click on the icon above for

the Sussex Motive Power Depots & ASLEF Branches

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