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History writer’s latest book shares tragic story of station train crash

PUBLISHED: 12:00 24 December 2019

Writer Michael Foley. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

Writer Michael Foley. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

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Local historian Michael Foley explains about his new book

Britain's Railway Disasters is available on Amazon and in the shops. Picture: Pen & SwordBritain's Railway Disasters is available on Amazon and in the shops. Picture: Pen & Sword

Passengers on the early railways took their lives in their hands every time they got on board a train.

It was so dangerous that they could buy an insurance policy with their ticket.

There seemed to be an acceptance that the level of danger was tolerable in return for the speed of travel now available to them.

It was speed that was often the cause of the danger as railway companies tried to increase the speed of trains and cut down the journey times regardless of the danger.

Writer Michael Foley. Picture: Ellie HoskinsWriter Michael Foley. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

My latest book, my 38th, examines the accidents that have occurred on Britain's railways from their early days to today.

The result of so many accidents led to other developments in life as claims in the legal system against railway companies saw the development of a compensation culture.

It also led to progress in medical knowledge as the effects of speed on the human body was examined.

January 30, 1958 was to be a day that residents close to Dagenham East Station would remember.

The wrecked engine following a crash at Waterloo in July, 1913. Picture: Michael FoleyThe wrecked engine following a crash at Waterloo in July, 1913. Picture: Michael Foley

It was a foggy evening which wasn't unusual in those days of coal fires used to heat homes.

Despite the fog there seemed to be little danger on the modern British Railway system running through Dagenham alongside the London Underground.

The line running through the station had an automatic control known as the Hudd system of automatic train control.

Meanwhile new systems involving mechanical and electrical safeguards against human error costing £150million were being introduced on the British Railways network at the time.

The aftermath of a rail crash in Wellingborough. The date unknown. Picture: Michael FoleyThe aftermath of a rail crash in Wellingborough. The date unknown. Picture: Michael Foley

Mr J Watkins a member of the Transport Commission said that the chance of someone dying in an accident on Britain's railways was one in twenty four million.

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They were odds that didn't favour passengers on the trains passing Dagenham East on that foggy evening.

The accident involved two trains travelling in the same direction.

Attempts to raise a steam engine following a crash in Gretna, May 1901. Picture: Michael FoleyAttempts to raise a steam engine following a crash in Gretna, May 1901. Picture: Michael Foley

The first train was the 18.20 running from Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness which was travelling at about five miles an hour while the following train, the 18.35 from Fenchurch Street to Thorpe Bay, was travelling at about 20 miles an hour according to the Ministry of Transport report.

Both trains were running late. Despite all the new automatic safeguards the report went on to say that the driver of the second train was inexperienced and had never driven in fog before.

Brigadier Langley, the author of the report, stated that the driver of the second train probably missed the red signal due to poor visibility.

The Manchester Guardian reported how people in the neighbouring houses were the first on the scene.

The second train ran into the rear of the first train and the level of injury was dependant on 
where the passengers were on the trains.

One man said many of the passengers on the front carriages were so unaffected by the accident that they left the station and went to bus stops to continue their journey.

It was in the rear carriages of the first train and the front carriages of the second train where the worst injuries occurred.

The last three carriages of the Shoeburyness train were crushed and others derailed along with the engine of the Thorpe Bay train. There were 10 fatalities and around 90 injuries, including four railway staff.

The accident was the subject of a Pathe Newsreel which showed the injured being released from the trains by firemen and police officers.

There were also nurses, a doctor and a priest present. The wreckage was spread across the London Underground line as well but did not cause any damage to tube trains.

Despite the improvements to rail travel taking place at the time, serious accidents did still occur on a regular basis on Britain's railways at the time and as with the Dagenham accident fog was often a factor in this.

For more stories visit michael-foley-history-writer.co.uk

Britain's Railway Disasters by Michael Foley is published by Pen & Sword and available on Amazon.


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