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Extracted and adapted from the M.O.T. inquiry by Major P.M. Oliver





On a clear but windy night the 01:00 Victoria to Brighton electric multiple unit passenger train, 2A18, consisting of four 

coaches, driven by Brighton Driver Brian Batchelor, which was travelling in a Down direction over the Up line, passed T335X 

at danger and collided head on with the 01:35 Brighton to Victoria, electric multiple unit train 2A19, which was driven by 

Brighton Driver Paul Edwards. This train was travelling in the Up direction on the Up Main line prior to crossing over to the 

Down Main line in the Up direction and was reversibly signaled. The collision caused considerable damage to both trains  but 

neither train was de-railed. 

The emergency services were summond immediately and, on arrival began to convey the injured to hospital. In all 40 persons 

were injured of whom 39 attended hospital for treatment, but the majority only suffered minor injuries and were released after 

treatment. The guards of the two trains and along with 11 passengers were detained in hospital.

Following removal of the damaged coaches, the Up and Down Main lines were re-opened for traffic at 08:30 and 08:54 the 

same morning following which trains ran under caution whilst the signalling was being fully tested. Normal service resumed at 

15:30 on the same day. 


The Site

Copyhold Junction is approximately 1,600 yards north of Haywards Heath Station and 9,300 yards south of Balcombe Tunnel 

Juncton. The line between the two junctions consists of two tracks, each junction enabling all trains to be routed from Up to 

Down line and vice versa. The south end of Copyhold Junction has additional crossovers to enable trains on the the Up and 

Down Main Lines to be diverted to the Up and Down Loop lines through Haywards Heath station. The north end of Balcombe 

Tunnel Junction has additional switches and crossings to enable trains to be routed between the two lines south of the junction 

and the four lines leading to Three Bridges and the north. All lines lines are electrified on the conductor rail system at 750 volts 

DC. The maximum speed on the Up an Down lines in the Up and Down direction is 90 m.p.h. but the maximum permitted speed 

on the Up and Down direction and vice versa is limited to 75 m.p.h. The maximum permitted speed through the crossover at 

both junction is 20 m.p.h.

The Signalling

The signalling from Brighton to north of East Croydon on the Brighton - Victoria Main Line is controlled from Three Bridges 

Signal Box. All signals in the Haywards Heath, Copyhold Junction and Balcombe Tunnel Junction area are four aspect colour 

light. Signalling in the Haywards Heath and Copyhold Junction area is controlled from the main signal box over a time division 

multiplex system through a relay room at Haywards Heath. Signalling in the Balcombe Tunnel Junction area is controlled 

directly from Three Bridges Signal Box.

An important feature of the signalling over the stretch of line between Balcombe Tunnel Junction and Copyhold Junction is the 

presence of reversible signalling on both lines. Thus at Balcombe Tunnel Junction trains travelling on the Down Main or Down 

Slow can be routed along the Up line provided that the line to Copyhold is clear. Similarly an Up train approaching Copyhold 

Junction on the Up Main or Up Loop line can be routed onto the Down Main line in the Up direction. This facility, which also 

exists from south of Haywards Heath to Preston Park,  is fully signalled to enable scheduled trains to be reversibly signalled if 

this assists in the regulation and control of trains. Its main use, however is during engineering works or following other 

emergencies such as the breakdown of trains. At the time of the accident the only booked trains using the reversible working 

between Balcombe Tunnel Junction and Copyhold Junction were the 01:00 from Victoria to Brighton and the 01:35 from 

Brighton to Victoria, the two trains involved in the head-on collision. The purpose of this working was to keep Victoria and 

Brighton drivers familiar with the reversibly signalled routes and the equipment in working order. 



The Trains

The 01:00 Victoria - Brighton passenger train, 2A18, consisted of one 4-car train electric multiple-unit, No.7390 of Class 421 

(4CIG). The leading coach was a driver trailer composite, followed by a motor brake second, a trailer second and a driver 

trailer composite. The 01:35 Brighton - Victoria passenger train, 2A19, consisted of one 4-car electric multiple-unit, No.7724, 

of Class 423 (4VEP). The leading coach was a driver trailer composite, followed by a trailer second motor brake second and a 

driver trailer composite. Both units were of all steel construction built in 1971 and 1967 respectively. The coaches within each 

unit were permanently coupled with buckeye couplings. Both units were fitted with electro-pneumatic and Westinghouse brakes 

and had B.R. standard A.W.S. the overall lengths of the trains were 264ft 10ins and 265ft 41/2 in respectively and their weighs 

were 145.90 ton and 150.45 ton. The total brake force of each unit was approximately 88% of their tare weight.

Damage to the trains

The damage to the two trains fell into two categories, that to the under frames and that to the interior of the coaches. The 

underframes suffered most damage at the ends of the coaches where the impact had buckled them. There was also much damage 

to the draw gear and the centre casting housings on the motor coaches indication the very heavy impact between the two trains. 

The damage of each coach of the trains ay be summarised as follows:-

01:00 Victoria - Brighton Unit 7390

4th Coach 76811

Moderate bogie, under frame and interior fitting damage

3rd Coach 71058

Moderate body, interior and bogie damage, serious damage 

to under frame 

2nd Coach 62378

Moderate bogie damage, severe under frame damage, serious 

damage to 

body and interior fitting

1st Coach 76740

Severe bogie, under frame, body and interior damage

01:35 Brighton - Victoria Unit 7724

1st Coach 76339

Serious bogie and severe under frame, body and interior 


2nd Coach 70843

The ‘B’ end of this coach took much of the force of the 

impact. The under frame was distorted 24-30in downwards in 

contact with the bogie. The headstock, sole bars and 

longitudinals, were all badly buckled. There was very sever 

body damage at the ‘B’ end of the coach and in ‘K’  

compartment there was  severe interior damage throughout.

3rd Coach 62185

Slight bogie damage, severe under frame damage, serious 

and interior damage. 

4th Coach 76340

Serious under frame damage, moderate body and interior 


Damage to signalling equipment and permanent way

There was no damage to the permanent way, but the ‘A’ end of No.1783 points was damaged by the being run through by the 

Victoria - Brighton train when the points were set ‘reverse’ for the Brighton - Victoria to travel from the Up main line to the 

Down Main line in the Up direction. The closed switchblade was found slightly opened and the clamp lock hook had been 

stretched by about an inch.


Signalma M.F.J. Meade booked on duty at Three Bridges signal box at 21:15 on 5th November, 1985, controlling Panel 5 which 

covers the section of the railway from Balcombe Tunnel to south of Keymer Junction. He had no troubles concerning the 

signalling of any trains on his panel until 01:55 on 6th November. At 01:53 both the Victoria - Brighton, 2A18 and the Brighton 

- Victoria, 2A19, are time-tabled to arrive at Haywards Heath Station, but the former train was running two or three minutes 

late and, in order to avoid delay to the Up train, 2A19, he decided to give this train precedence in crossing at Copyhold 

Junction. Thus route was st for the Down train, 2A18, from Balcombe Tunnel Junction over the Up line in the Down, reversibly 

signalled, direction to Signal T335X at dander. Meade said that he set for 2A19 from Haywards Heath along the Up main to 

Junction T332 and thence over the Up main to the Down Main in the Up direction, reversibly signalled, via crossover No.1783 

when the train had passed Keymer Junction, but was well south of Haywards Heath. He explained that, as there was an 

engineers possession of the Up Main line between Keymer Junction and Haywards Heath, he had routed 2A19 at Keymer on to 

the Down Main line, another reversibly signalled section, and thence into Haywards Heath Station Platform 3.

Meade said that when 2A18 was in the Balcombe area 2A19 had already reached Haywards Heath. He continued to watch the 

progress of both trains on his panel by the means of the track circuit indications. He saw Track Circuit YG show occupied, 

indicating that 2A18 had passed signal T335X at danger and soon after 2A19 passed signal T332. Thus the two trains were less 

than 1,000 yards apart, heading straight for each other. Points 1783 were in the ‘reverse’ position for the route already set for 

2A19 and the next indication of movement of the trains was when the points indicated ‘out of correspondence’, showing that 

they had been run through by 2A18. Finally, the only track circuit displaying ‘occupied’ was YE which indicated that a head on 

collision had occurred or the two trains had come to a halt within the length of the one track circuit.

Meade said at 02:00 he received a telephone call from signal T 331 from the driver of 2a19 reporting that the two trains had 

collied head on and requesting that the emergency services should be summoned immediately. He had already alerted Regulator 

G. de Rosa of the events leading up to the accident and the latter now took immediate action to summon the emergency services. 

The driver also asked for the traction current in the area of the accident to be isolated and Meade said that he immediately 

contacted Three Bridges Electrical Control to arrange the isolation which was granted between Redbridge Sub-Station and 

Folly Hill Sub-Station at 02:06. Meade said that, together with the signal on the adjacent panels, 4 & 6, the necessary action 

was taken to protect the scene of the accident. Emergency replacement switches were operated and reminder appliance were 

placed on panel button where appropriate.

I questioned Meade at length concerning his setting of routes as trains 2A18 & 2A19 approached the reversibly signalled 

section between Balcombe Tunnel Junction and Copyhold Junction to make absolutely sure that, despite all the approach 

locking and time delays built into the signalling, he had not altered the route that he had set in front of either train. This was 

particularly significant as I knew that I was to hear evidence from a leading railman at Haywards Heath that shortly before 

2A19 arrived in the section he had note on his train information VDU from Three Bridges that a Down train routed into 

Platform 2 had been changed to Platform 1. Meade vigorously denied that he had altered t any time the route he had set for 

either train and reiterated that he had set the route from Haywards Heath Platform 3 to Junction signal T332 and thence 

through crossover 1783 to the Down Main line in the Up direction all the way up to Balcombe Tunnel Junction well before 2A19 

arrived at Haywards Heath station. Even if this had not been the case and the route from Platform 3 had not been altered with 

the train in the station, no conflicting route could have been set for at least three minutes without 2A18 on the Up line in the 

Down direction having passed signal T335X RR showing 2 yellows, T335XR showing 1 yellow and T335X at danger.

Regulator G. de Rosa, the regulator in charge of Three Bridges signal Box on the night of the accident, confirmed that 

Signalman Meade had drawn his attention t about 01:55 to the fact that train  2A18 has passed signal T335X at danger and had 

run through points 1783, set ‘reverse’, at the same time as train 2A19 had passed signal T332 in the up direction routed through 

crossover 1783 onto the Down Main line in the Up direction. The first indication of the accident, which he saw for himself was 

Track Circuit YE occupied and the description of 2A19 shown on the Down line north of crossover 1783, Track Circuit YEwas 

the only one occupied, while the description of train 2A18 was still in the berth behind signal T335X, indicating that the train 

had passed the signal at danger. Both trains must have been within the length of Track Circuit YE which could only have 

resulted in a head-on collision or, if the drivers were extremely alert, the trains might have come to a stand short of actually 


At 02:00 the driver of 2A18 telephoned Meade from signal T331, reporting that his train had collided head-on with 2A19 and 

requesting that the emergency services be summoned immediately. De Rosa alerted the emergency services using the special 

number on the Waterloo exchange. He then alerted the various Railway Officers and staff who would be involved in dealing 

with the accident. At 02:15 the Fire Brigade reported that they were on Copyhold Lane Bridge and were unable to sight the 

accident. In order to assist them to the site more accurately De Rosa gave them a grid reference of signal T331 which he knew 

from the initial call from the driver of 2A18 was immediately adjacent to the scene of the accident. At 02:25 the driver reported 

again from the telephone at signal T331 that the train 2A19 had a large number of broken windows, jammed doors and 

suspected buckled under frames. The two front coaches of train 2A18 were badly damaged and the train had split between the 

second and third coaches. There were injured passengers in both trains, including persons with fractured bones.

I asked De Rosa to summarise the Signal Box Instruction applying to signalling a train over the reversibly signalled lines 

controlled from Three Bridges Signal Box. He explained that, except where publish in appropriate Operating Notices, reversible 

working could only be introduced during an emergency on the authority of the Regulator. As far as train 2A18 & 2A19 were 

concerned, both were booked services on the reversible lines between Balcombe Tunnel Junction and Copyhold Junction. As 

there were booked services, no permission had to be given to the signalman to set up these routes.



Driver P.C. Edwards of the Up train said that he booked on duty at 01:05 and was well rested: the 01:35 Brighton to Victoria 

train was his first working that morning. He took over the train in Platform 4 at 01:20, carried out his train preparation, 

including a brake test in conjunction with the guard, and departed at 01:35 on receipt of his guard’s bell signal. He was 

signalled on the Up Main to Keymer, thence over the Down Main line to Haywards Heath due to engineers possession and then 

back to the Up Main line, running into Platform 3.

After station duties at Haywards Heath he left with signal T340 displaying a single yellow aspect. As he proceeded round the 

curve to signal T332, protecting Copyhold Junction, he shut off the master controller and coasted, then switching back into 

series on the sighting signal T332 displaying a double yellow aspect with a position 4 junction indicator, which changed to a 

green aspect as he approached the signal. Mindfull of the speed restriction over No. 1783 crossover, he at no stage took the 

controller beyond notch 2 and estimated that his speed was slightly able 20 m.p.h. Edwards said that he first saw 2A18 

approaching him as he passed T332. At the same time the Up Main line signal T326 changed from red to green, indicating that 

2A18 had cleared the reversibly signalled section from Balcombe Tunnel Junction to signal T335X. A moment latter he saw the 

driver of 2A18 flashing his cab lights. He immediately made an emergency application of the train’s brakes, released the 

driver’s safety device and then dived for cover on the floor of the cross passage between the cab and the passenger part of the 


After the collision, Edwards tried to get out of his cab but the doors were jammed. He eventually got out, however, and made his 

way to signal T331, going between the two trains, which had bounced apart as a result of the collision, and telephoned the 

signalman at Three Bridges to inform him of the collision and to request the emergency services be summoned immediately. 

Edwards also asked for the traction current in the area of the accident be isolated. He then went back to the heads of the two 

trains and talked to the driver of train 2A18 who was still unable to get out of his cab, also to driver Pelling who had been 

travelling as a passenger in 2A18. They took the track circuit operating clips and the short circuit bars from both trains and 

applied them to bothe lines. Edwards also sent his guard back to protect the rear of his train, but the guard had badly shaken up 

by the collision and Edwards was not certain whether he would be able to carry out his protection duties.

Edwards said that he went back into his train, trying to assist the passengers and reassure them that the emergency services 

were on their way. In order to try to find the emergency services one member of the railway staff walked to Wickham Lane 

Bridge. Eventually a police car was locate and the emergency services were directed to the scene of the accident via Wickham 

Lane Bridge. After the emergency services finally arrived, Edwards made his way along the track to Haywards Heath station, 

looking for his guard. Having satisfied himself that his guard had been taken to hospital Edwards then allowed himself to be 

taken there.

Lastly, I questioned Edwards as to what experience he had had with 4 VEP sets skidding when he was braking on the Victoria - 

Brighton line. Having only been a driver from July 1984, he had very little experience, but earlier in the week of the accident, 

when he had applied the brakes at Coulsdon South, the train started skidding and when he applied the power on pulling away 

from Merstham the wheels spun through lack of adhesion. When he found the that the train was skidding he released the brakes 

to release the wheels and then applied the brakes again, this time more effect. The weather at that time had been wettish and he 

thought the rails might have beens greasy.

Guard S.M. Nixon the guard of the Brighton - Victoria train, was able to offer very little useful evidence. He remembered 

working down as the guard of the 22:32 Victoria - Brighton train and changing platform at Brighton to work train 2A19, the 

01:35 Brighton - Victoria train. He could not remember making a brake test, nor could he remember leaving Brighton or any of  

the incidents leading up to the collision or after it. The first thing he remembered was waking up in Cuckfield Hospital, 

wondering what he was doing there.

Driver E.B. Batchelor a driver since 1976, was the driver of the 01:00 Victoria to Brighton trina, 2A18. After working the 

23.15 Brighton to Victoria train he had gone to the Brighton end cab of the 4 car Class 421 unit which was to form the 2A18 

and had carried out a brake continuity test in conjunction with guard: the test had been completely satisfactory. The journey 

had been entirely uneventful as far as Three Bridges where they lost a few minutes due to station duties.

After leaving Three Bridges the wheels lost adhesion for a short period, resulting in wheel spin, but he shut off power and then 

opened up again which successfully cleared it. He braked without difficulty approaching Balcombe Tunnel Junction before 

receiving the signal with the necessary route indication for him to cross from the Down line onto the Up line one the Down 

direction, whereupon he traversed the facing crossover at 20 m.p.h. When his train was completely on the Up line he fully 

opened the controller and ran without any wheel spin through Balcombe Tunnel and on to Balcombe Station whee closed the 

controller and commenced to coast at a speed of 65 m.p.h.

Batchelor said that when he sighted the first signal on the reversible section of line, Signal T335XRR which was showing a 

Double Yellow aspect, he started to brake, applying about 20lb/sq in. on the E.P. brake. He realised that the train’s wheels had 

locked as speedometer dropped to zero and so he released the brake until he could see that the wheels were revolving, 

whereupon he made a further application of the E.P. brake of about 20lb/sq in. of air. He clearly remembered that the train was 

skidding when it was on the Ouse Viaduct and that as he come off it, he freed the wheels by releasing the brakes and then again 

re-applied them using 20lb/sq in.

Batchelor said that he continued to apply  and release the brakes, in the manner he had been taught to brake when encountering 

low adhesion, each time using 20lb/sq in. of air resulting in the speedometer indicating zero which in turn showed that the train 

was skidding; after each release of the brakes the speedometer would recommence to register the speed, showing that the 

wheels were freely revolving. Signal T335XR, showing a Single Yellow aspect, was passed at 40 -45 m.p.h and Batchelor 

continued to use the ‘brake and release’ method in an attempt to control his train. He continued to do this as he approached 

Signal T335X at Red which he passed at about 20 -25 m.p.h., having cancelling his A.W.S. as he approached the signal.

I questioned Batchelor about his continuation of the brake and released method after he passed signal T335XRR and 

approached Signal T335X, pointing out that he knew that the latter signal was approach control to ensure that Down rains on 

the Up line, did not cross to the Down line via Crossover No. 1784 in excess of 20 m.p,h, I asked him whether he was not 

expecting that the signal would clear as he approached it and thus was not unduly alarmed at that fact, using his method of 

braking, it was extremely doubtful if he was going to bring  his train to stand before Signal T335X. He assured me that he was 

endeavouring to bring the train to halt before the signal,that at no time did he assume that it would clear to a proceed aspect as 

he approached it and that he considered that his method of ‘brake and release’ was the most effective in the condition of low 

adhesion. In his opinion, if he had made a full emergency application of the brakes as he passed Signal T335X and approached 

the Up train 2A19, his train would have continued to skid into the other train.

As he approached the other train he flashed his cab lights two or three times as a warning to the driver of 2A19. At the moment 

of impact the wheels of his train were locked and he recalled being thrown against his desk and then receiving a blow in his 

back.After the collision he turned the master switch to off and took the key out. He was unable to join Driver Edwards on the 

ground as his driver’s doors were  jammed, but the latter, having ascertained that not injured, took his short-circuit bar, track 

circuit-clips and detonators, applying the first to the Up line and the second to the Down line. He then managed to open the 

communicating door to the train and made his way to the rear cab to apply the handbrake. En route he tried to reassure the 

passengers, a number of whom were injured.

Guard P.D. Norton worked 2A18, the 01:00 Victoria Brighton train. He said  that he had an uneventful journey as far as 

Three Bridges where they lost a few minutes due to the time taken to unload parcels and papers. the train started normally from 

Three Bridges and he then particularly remembered going through Balcombe Tunnel as the wall nearest to the train was the 

righthand one, indicating that they were travelling on the Up line in the Down direction, using the reversible signalling. Norton 

was unable to estimate the speed they were travelling when they emerged from the tunnel. He certainly, however, that the train 

was not travelling excessively fast and,in his opinion, it was travelling at the normal speed when going on that stretch of 

reversibly-signalled line.

Norton said he was unable to remember anything from when the train emerged from Balcombe Tunnel until after the collision 

when he regained consciousness and found himself in one of the passenger coaches together with four or five passengers. A 

young lady was comforting him he said “because I was in a state of shock and didn’t know where I was”.

Leading Railman A. P. Woodrup was on duty at Haywards Heath Station on the night of the accident. His office was on the 

Down island platform, facing platform No.2, and to assist him in his platform duties he was provided with a visual display unit 

(V.D.U.) showing the movement of trains in the Haywards Heath area. He noted from the V.D.U. that the 01:35 from Brighton 

was travelling Up the Down line from Wivelsfield and was being routed into No.3 platform. He also noted at that time that the 

V.D.U. first showed the Down train, 2A18 signalled into the UpMain platform, at the end of the platform. This then changed to 

platform No.1 and then the platform indications for the Down train disappeared completely.

Woodrup then went over to platform No.3 to cary out the platform duties with train 2A19. These duties were entirely uneventful 

and he estimated that he was only away from his office for about three minutes. When he looked again at his V.D.U. it seemed as 

though the two train were side by side. At about 02:00 he was sled by the signalman at Three Bridges to go to Copyhold 

Junction on foot to investigate whether or not there had been a collision. He at once set off along the Down chess to investigate 

and en route met the guard protection the rear of the Up train: he was very dazed. Woodrup told him to sit at the side of the 

track as it was obvious that he was in no state to continue his duties. He carried on to the trains, found a guard who had been 

travelling as a passenger and requested him to go back and complete protection of the Up train. H went through both trains 

and, finding a considerable number of passengers either injured or suffering from shock, he enlisted uninjured passengers to 

help carry out first aid.

Woodrup said that he had then telephoned the signalman at Three Bridges from Signal T326 to inform him of the details of the 

collision. He then continued onto Copyhold Lane Bridge where he had seen blue flashing lights. Arriving at the bridge, he found 

no vehicles, but soon afterwards a police car arrived and he informed the officer in charge that there was a considerable 

number of injuries and explained the location of the two trains, whereupon it was decided to use Wickham Lane bridge for the 

emergency service to evacuate the casualties. Woodrup then moved back to the trains, helping to remove the passengers and 

then helping with the removal of the trains.

Driver A.G. Pelling said that he was travelling as a passenger on 2A18, returning to his depot at Brighton. He had been a 

driver since 1960 and had been stationed virtually all the time at Brighton. Thus he was a very experienced driver with a 

comprehensive knowledge of the London - Brighton line. Describing his journey from Gatwick to Copyhold Junction, he said it 

was quite normal with no excessive speeds, nor any sharp braking until they were approaching Copyhold Junction: he was 

aware that the train was travelling down the reversibly signalled Up line. He did not notice the train passing through Balcombe 

Station or over the Ouse Viaduct, as he was talking to his guard, but he was aware that the train was skidding as it approached 

Copyhold Junction.

Pelling said that he was sitting over a bogie and thus aware of the wheels skidding and then of the sound of the brakes being 

released. He could not say how many times the driver applied the brakes, the wheels skidded and then the brakes were released 

before being re-applied, but he was expecting that the skidding would cause wheel flats if it continued and he was waiting for 

them to develop. He was absolutely certain that each time the brakes were applied the wheels skidded, for the sound of the 

wheels on the rails when skidding was unmistakable.

When the collision occurred. Pelling was thrown to the floor but, after he had recovered from his fall, he tried to get down on to 

the track to discover what had happened. The doors in his coach were jammed but he managed to open one in the next coach 

and then went forward to the head of the train where he talked to both the train drivers, Edwards and Batchelor. The former was 

concerned about the protection of his train and Pelling and his guard agreed that they would ensured that this was carried out. 

When they had finished protecting the train they returned to the drivers where Pelling answered the adjacent signal post 

telephone and was informed that the emergency services were on their way.

Pelling also asked the drivers whether the short circuiting bars had been applied to give a local protection against the re-

energising of the conductor rails. Only one had been put down and so he immediately obtained a second and applied it to the 

other line, thus ensuring that both Up and Down Main lines were protected electrically.

I asked Pelling about the weather on the night of the collision to which replied “just damp, damp and misty”. finally, in answer 

to more questions, he agreed that there were a number of areas on the Southern Region where, particularly with heavy freight 

trains, you tend to get wheel spin on the rising gradients and brakes locking  with the wheels skidding on the falling gradients: 

Balcombe was one of those bad cases.

Guard H.K. Watson had accompanied Pelling from Gatwick and confirmed the evidence the latter had given. He too 

telephoned the signalman at Three Bridges to ensure that all the necessary protection had been given, and then went to 

Copyhold Lane bridge to locate the emergency service where, after about five minutes, the police arrived, announcing that 

Wickham Lane bridge would b used for the evacuation of the casualties.

Watson said that he could not comment on train 2A18 as it approached Copyhold Junction, although he was aware that the 

driver was applying and releasing his brakes. He was unable to estimate the train’s speed as it proceeded towards the scene of 

the accident but was certain that it was not excessive and that it gradually dropped until at the collision he estimated the speed 

to be 10 - 20 m.p.h. 


 Brighton Top Yard


Mr G.R. Taylor, the Regional Traction Inspector, Waterloo, said that he had examined the condition of the running rails 

on the Up line from Ouse Viaduct to the point of collision on the morning following the accident. The rails at the southern end 

of the viaduct had some black depots on their heads, but the deposits were intermittent. From the 35 mile 36 chain, point the 

railheads were black until 36 mile 05 chain, then not as black to 36 mile 15 chain, and finally solidly black from there to the 

point of the collision at 36 mile 72 chain. Where the railheads were black, there were many trees on the line side which had shed 

their leaves. Skid marks could be seen at irregular intervals from 36 mile 25 chain to the point of collision. in contrast, the 

railheads on the down line were clean and bright with o black deposits.

Mr. Taylor said that he observed the passage of the first two train on the Up line in the Up direction after the line was re-opened 

to traffic. Both experienced bad wheel spin over the section of line he had examined, thus confirming the low adhesion on that 

stretch of line.

Mr Taylor also examined how a driver recognised when his train was skidding. The speedometer only indicated what the wheels 

were doing on the driver trailer at the head of the train, but a driver would normally hear a hissing noise and also notice a 

lower volume noise in general because the noise from the wheels running on the rails ceases. If it was only the front coach that 

was skidding, the driver would experience ‘bumping and boring’ from the rear coaches. The other important thing to note was 

that when a driver released the brakes when skidding took place, it took several seconds - sometimes four or five - for the brakes 

to finally release. Mr Taylor had also notice that wheels did not necessarily start revolving immediately. He also experienced 

delay of three or four seconds before the wheels started to revolve.

Finally, Mr Taylor confirmed that having hears his evidence, he considered that Driver Batchelor had braked in accordance 

with the current instructions on the Southern Region in attempting to overcome the poor rail adhesion and bring his train to a 

halt before signal T335X at Danger.


 Cattle Dock Haywards Heath


Mr. K.W. Parsons, Depot Engineer, Stewarts Lane, said that he had been called out to attend the accident and had 

arrived at the site at 03.10. He examined the leading cab of each train and found nothing out of order. He then examined the 

wheels of both units and found the tyres slightly warm when touched. On examine the site, he found that the two trains had come 

to rest approximately 10 metres apart, the Brighton train being approximately 3 metres from the point of impact which could be 

determined from the position of glass from a broken observation light at the from of that train. The London train was 

approximately 7 metres back from the point of impact.

Mr. Parson then examined the Up line as far as Copyhold Lane Bridge to look for skid marks from the London train. He noted 

black deposits on the heads of the rails which he assumed were from the crushing of fallen leaves. He found skid marks of sort 

from the bridge to the point of the collision, but in many paces the locked wheels had not penetrated onto the meta of the rail 

heads but had skidded on the black deposit, tending to scotch its surface. It was extremely difficult to determine the skid marks 

accurately apart from those place where the wheels had penetrated the deposit and thus skidding was between two steel 


Mr. P.R. King, Senior Engineering Assistant, R.M.&E.E., Southern Region, had examined the London - Brighton train 

2A18, paying particular attention to the tread and flange damage to the tyres. There was sufficient grand damage to show that 

most wheels had skidded sufficiently to produce wheel flats of 10-50mm over more or less the tread width. Whilst not 

particularly pronounced, there was a definite trend to larger flats towards the rear of the train, suggesting that the 

contamination of the railheads had been at least partially removed by the sliding of the wheels at the front of the train. 

No wheels showed heavy tearing of the tread surface, but there was damage to the flanges showing heavy metal-to-metal 

contact for a short period with bluing indication local heating. These ‘flanges burns’ were mainly about half way up the flange 

on the right hand side and there were ‘vee scars’ on the lefthand side. Mr. King examined the backs of the tyres and noted a 

slight scrape between 10 and 15mm long and a maximum of 33mm wide where the flange radii blended into the back of the 

tyres. These marks were consistent with the train having run through a set of points, the left hand flanges having to push the 

open switch blade towards the curve stock rail whilst the right flanges had passed between the closed blade and the straight 

stock rail. The flats on the wheels were in line with these marks, indicating that the wheels were not rotating as they had ’trailed’ 

the switch blades.

Mr. King also carried out tests to the brakes of train 2A18. Everything was within normal operating limits apart from one brake 

cylinder which had been damaged in the accident. Tests on the train AWS equipment were also satisfactory.

Finally, Mr. King stressed that, in his opinion, only one flat on each tyre had been made by skidding prior to the collision and 

these were in line with the damage to the flanges. He certain that the flats were caused when trailing the points at Copyhold 


Senior Rolling Stock Inspector P. Kersey, had examined the two trains after the accident. He said that the damage in the 

main had occurred to the under frames and to the interior of the coaches. The under frame garage was mainly ‘drooped’ ends, 

namely the ends of the headstocks being driven down, together with damage to the draw gear housing, and also the centre 

casting housing. There was also a limited amount of damage to the bogies, mainly in the torsion bars and the dampers.

The interior damage was particularly was particularly serve at the partitions, much more than he would have expected in an 

accident of this nature. Only 5 pieces of glass were broken, but a very considerable number of doors were damaged and/or 

jammed. About 24 side doors on both trains were jammed solid and a considerable number of corridor or cross doors at the 

ends of coaches were either very hard to operate or jammed in the half-open position; a number of the swing doors were also 

jammed due to the distortion of the flooring.

Mr. Kersey confirmed that the second coach of train 2A19 had suffered more serious damage than any other one, but pointed 

out that this was unique. In a recent rear-end collision at Battersea Park the second coach had also been the one most severely 

damaged. He was unable to explain, however, why this should have been.

Mr. P.J. Coulson, Assistant Area Signal Engineer, Brighton, said that when he arrived at There Bridges Signal Box after 

the accident. Mr D.A. Hotchkiss, the Signal Engineer (Projects), Southern Region, was already in the signal box in connection 

with the testing of certain new works unconnected with the accident. The latter supervised the establishment of the normal 

running of trains, with No. 1783 Points clamped ‘normal’ with ‘normal’ detection; the signals were temporarily approach 

controlled. By 14.24 on the day of the accident No. 1783 points had been repaired, the clamp locks and associated equipment 

replaced and tested, and handed back to the operating staff.

Mr. Coulson was then able to carry out the essential route locking testing, that is to say he tested to establish that there was no 

route or signal to signal locking missing in the area of the accident. The method he used to carry this out was to simulate the 

running of a train along one route by dropping individual track circuits and then attempted to set conflicting routes. He did this 

for all combinations of routes from signal T335X with from Signal T332 and in the reverse direction.

Mr. Coulson confirmed that, as a result of the test he carried out, he was absolutely certain that the signalling from Balcombe 

Tunnel Junction to Haywards Heath was completely in order and could in no way have contributed to the accident. He also 

confirmed that the wrong-direction rules on the reversible section of line between Balcombe Tunnel and Copyhold Junctions 

had to be set to manually and could not be programmed to be set by the automatic route-setting equipment. Finally, he 

confirmed that after a train, travelling on the Up line in the Down direction towards Copyhold Junction, had cleared the berth 

track circuit of Signal T335X there was a delay of 10 seconds before the Up signals on the reversible section of the Up line 

could return to Green.



Mr. L.H. Page, Area Signal Engineer, Brighton, said that he was in Three Bridges Signal Box at the time of the collision, 

assisting Mr. Hotchkiss in the testing of signalling alterations in the East Croydon area. Having arranged for various technical 

staff to make their way to the scene of the accident, he left for Copyhold Junction in a police car, arriving at the accident site 

just before 03.00, laving Mr. Hotchkiss and some supporting staff to check the signalling equipment in Three Bridges Signal 

Box. At Copyhold Junction he carried out an inspection of the on-site signalling equipment No.1784A and B switches were fully 

‘normal’ and detected ‘Normal’, no.1783B switch was fully ‘Reverse’, No.1783A switch was ‘Reverse’ but the closed switch 

blade was slightly open and showed signs of damage consistent with being run through. When the clamp-lock hook was 

changed later in the day, it was found to have been stretched by about 25mm. Signal T335X was displaying a Red aspect, the 

relays associated with this signal indicated that the signal was illuminated and showing a Red aspect, and the cable associated 

with the signal were tested and found to be in perfect condition. The AWS equipment associated with the signalling was found to 

be working correctly, Signal T335XR which was displaying a single yellow aspect, and Signal T335XRR. which was displaying 

a double yellow aspect, were similarly tested and found to be in perfect condition. Mr. Page said that the approach sighting of 

the three signals was: T335XRR 313 yards, T335XR 176 (sighting reduce due to line side trees) & T335X 1140 yards.

Mr. page assured me that only Mr. Hotchkiss and himself had been on the operating floor of the signal box on the night of the 

accident and they were some 15 yards from the part of the signalling panel controlling the Balcombe Tunnel-Copyhold Junction 

section of the line. Similarly no S&T staff were in the Three Bridges Relay Room immediately prior to or at the time of the 

accident. Thus he was completely satisfied that no signalling equipment had been interfered with which could have had any 

effect on the accident.

Mr. R.F. Bonham-Carter, the Assistant Regional Civil Engineer, Southern Region, explained the current policy 

regarding the trimming of line side trees and bushes. The principal activate was to clear a stir[ of land 3 or 4 metres wide, next 

to the chess, to ground level to enable train drivers to have a clear view of signals, to make a safe walkway for people working 

on or adjacent to the track and also to reduce the number of leaves, falling close to and on the track. In some places there were 

large areas of trees and shrubs reaching back to the railway boundary fence. There the principal activity was the identification 

and removal of trees that were rotten or potentially dangerous, to avoid them either falling on the track or on adjoining 

property. Where the falling of leaves on the track was particularly troublesome hey tried to alleviate this by cutting down 

additional trees in the central belt referred to above, even large scale clearance in these areas did not necessarily solve the 

problem, however, as leaves, where the railway passed through large wooded area. Often then blew onto the line from trees 

outside railway property.

Mr. A.M. Bath, the Regional Operating Manager, Southern Region, in answer to my questions about the action the 

Southern Region was taking to reduce wheel spin and skidding of trains due to lack of adhesion caused by leaves being  crushed 

onto the heads of rails, said that he considered that the Region was in advance of other Regions in the application of ’Sandite’ 

to rails to aid adhesion, but perhaps this was because they had more adhesion problems. There were seven trains specially 

equipped to lay ’Sandite’ on the rail heads throughout the parts of the Region where they anticipated lack of adhesion during 

the leaf fall season. the Brighton line south of Redhill had not been such an area, as it had not previously been one where 

adhesion problems had been particularly had. The lack of adhesion leading up to the accident at Copyhold Junction had, in his 

opinion, been caused by gales, wet weather and frosts which caused a particularly large number of leaves to fall at once.

Finally, Mr. T.O. Monkhouse, Regional Mechanical and Electrical Engineer, Southern Region, briefly summarised 

the main efforts which had been made to overcome this problem of lack of adhesion due to crushed leaves on the heads of rails. 

Attempts had been made to burn the leaves off using a plasma torch, but that had not proved effective, neither had the use of jets 

of high-pressure water to break up the contaminant and wash it away. The most effective method so far discovered was that 

which was currently in use ’Sandite’, namely the laying of fine sand in an adhesive jelly, similar to that used for wallpapering a 

room, on the head of the rails which is then spread by the wheels of trains, giving an abrading effect between and the rails.  



Conclusion and Recommendations

The immediate cause of this collision was the inability of Driver Batchelor to bring the Victoria - Brighton train, 2A18, to a halt 

at signal T3355X at danger due to the lack of adhesion between the wheels and  the heads of the rails. Not only did he pass the 

signal at danger at between 20 - 25 m.p.h., he trailed Turnout No. 1783, set for the Brighton - Victoria train, 2A19, to travel 

from the Up Main to the Down Main in the Up direction and collided with the latter train while still travelling at an estimated 

speed of 15 - 30 m.p.h. at a point 521 yards beyond signal T335X. The Brighton - Victoria, Driver Edwards, having seen the 

Down train approaching with Driver Batchelor flashing his indicator light, was at or nearly at a stand after an emergency 

application of the brakes had been made.

I am satisfied from all the evidence given tat Driver Batchelor at no time travelled at an excessive speed between Balcombe 

Tunnel Junction and the point of collision. I am also satisfied that he applied the train’s brakes in the normal manner when 

approaching signal T335XRR displaying a Double Yellow aspect. His evidence regarding the wheels locking and the train 

skidding, resulting in him carrying out the release and re-brake procedure, as laid down the Southern /region for braking in 

such condition, is confirmed by Driver Pelling who was travelling as a passenger in the train and clearly heard the brakes 

being applied, the wheels skidding, the brakes being released and then re-applied, several times. Thus I do not consider that 

Driver Batchelor can be blamed for the collision, although with hindsight it is for consideration wether, regardless of the 

driving techniques he had been taught, he would not have been wiser to have made a full emergency application of the brakes 

on passing signal T335X at danger rather than to continue applications and releases of the brakes whenever skidding 

commenced right up to the time of the collision. The results of the tests, confirm that, notwithstanding the low adhesion, the 

collision have been prevented had Driver Batchelor made a full emergency brake application as he approached signal T335X.

The fundamental recommendation that clearly arises from the collision is that greater effort must be made to eliminate the areas 

of low adhesion which have become increasingly prevalent on the Southern Region of British Railways. I am glad to learn that 

the number of ‘Sandite’ trains is being increased from seven to thirteen this year and that priority is to be given to manning 

them to enable them to be used at the most effective times, namely between 02:00 and 06:00 and in any event, before the 

passage of the first train in the morning.

Various methods of treatment of rails contaminated with crushed leaves causing low adhesion have been tried in the past, 

several of which are referred to in this report. While I am assured that ‘Sandite’ is the most effective method of treatment used 

up to the present time. I strongly recommend that further research should be undertaken with a view to producing a more 

efficient treatment with a longer effective life between successive applications to the rails.

The most effective way to eliminate low adhesion from leaf fall is to prevent the falling of leaves on the line. The complete 

removal of tree and scrub and shrubs from all railway cuttings and embankments, however, is obviously impracticable and is 

also likely to encounter opposition from local residents on environmental grounds. The clearing from the line side of trees with 

undesirably heavy leaf fall, particularly sycamores, will reduce the problem very appreciably, however, and I strongly 

recommend that the current programme referred to should be continued until heavy fall trees have been eliminate. From an 

environmental point of view, a properly afforested line side study, stable, trees such as beech, oak, Scots pine and larch, together 

with slow growing hubs such as prover, holly yew and hazel will make attractive features of the landscape as a whole. In 

addition, these trees will assist in the stabilisation of banks which in some areas is so essential for the the stabilisation of the 


The flailing of the line side strips, again is recommended, provided that is carried out sufficiently frequently and effectively, and 

chain saws used to tidy up wherever necessary. I also recommend that trials should be carried out using the latest design of 

heavy agricultural hedge cutters as opposed to flails, in my opinion, these are just as effective and provide a neater finish.

The Southern Region accepts that the instruction given to drivers in the past were not as specific a they should have been when 

dealing with braking in conditions of very low adhesion. Following the Copyhold collision special instructions were included in 

drivers; training courses and I am assured that these instructions on low adhesion braking are being issued to drivers in 

advance of the 1986 leaf fall season. I understand that the instructions are based on the recommendations made by theBritish 

Railways Board’s report and I fully support this decision. I am aware that the instructions will leave the driver to decide the 

moment at which to continue to ‘release and re-apply’ is no longer safe and that he must make a full brake application until he 

has come to a stand. The only safer method is to instruct the driver to make a full brake application as soon as his train starts to 

slide and to maintain it. This could be guaranteed to bring the train to a halt more rapidly that any other method but it would 

also result in so many flats being made on tyres that, by the end of the leaf fall season, a high proportion of the EMU fleet would 

be out of  service waiting for their tyres to be turned. This is obviously unacceptable.

Finally, while the results of the trials carried out by the British Railway Board using a Class 421 (4-CIG) unit with G.I.C. fluid 

to promote conditions of low adhesion are most valuable, there is no proof how accurately these represent the lack of adhesion 

caused by wet leaves. Thus the conclusions regarding the influence of braking practice may not be completely accurate and the 

recommendations made could be incorrect. I recommend, therefore, that further test be carried out this autumn during the 

height of the leaf fall season, under conditions as similar as possible to those at the time of the accident, to confirm the validity 

of the tests carried out with G.I.C.



For the full report into this accident, click 75A icon  


After this accident A.S.L.E.F. placed an embargo on the operation of reversible line working between Preston Park & Balcombe 

Tunnel Junction. This embargo was only lifted after a strict method of working was agreed and the various operational 

practises that had been operating prior to this accident had ceased. 

This motion was proposed and carried by a small number of A.S.L.E.F. members, at the Brighton No.2  Branch meeting, which 

was held on the 7th November 1985. 

The full impact of this motion was later to become very effective, with all the A.S.L.E.F. Branches within Central Division 

supporting this resolution, along with A.S.L.E.F. members refusing to work over the reversible lines between Balcombe Tunnel - 

Preston Park. The members considered that the method of working at that time were unsafe and wanted safer working practices 


Eventually a number of Joint L.D.C. meetings took place to try and resolve many of the issues regarding the reversible line 

working since its introduction in c1984.

A method of working was finally agreed that included the introduction of "Pilot Man Working" between the various sections on 

the line, the cessation of parrell running, passing trains on the opposite running lines in mid section.





Minutes of  A.G.M. 1985 

December 1st  1985 Branch Meeting.

Held at Staff Club Belmont, meeting opened at 19:00 Hrs.

Members present: P. Plaine, D. Knight, A. Ricketts, R. Matthews, A. Light, L. Osman, A. Edwards, 

P. Edwards, R. Lawrence, F. Locke, E. Janes, & B. Hall (12).


Receipts 1986 A.A.D., F. Gething, Batchelor, K. Punter, P. Edwards accidents. 


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