1863

STREATHAM COMMON


29th MAY 1863


extracted & adapted from the report by

W. Yolland Colonel R.E.

On the 29th May, 1863 on the Croydon and Balham Branch of
the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, when a lady and two of the Grenadier Guards (passengers) and the engine-driver of the train were killed, or subsequently died of the injuries they received, and 59 other persons, including 36 of the and putting in new chairs and two new rails under Grenadier Guards (passengers) and the fireman of the train were injured, some of them very severely.

This lamentable occurrence happened to the Victoria portion of the 5h. 0m. pm. up express passenger train for 224 yards to the + mile post, I tried the cant from Brighton, a short distance on the Croydon side of the Streatham Common Station, which is 3 3/4 miles from East Croydon,  and near the bottom of a gradient, rather more than half a mile in length, of 1 in 126, falling towards London, and on a curve of 80 chains radius, curving to the right. The train—consisting of a tank engine and 16 vehicles, including-three guards’ break-vans, one next to the engine, another in the middle, and a third at the end of the train, with two guards—suddenly got off the rails, and the engine, of the distant signal, but that no chair had been after running somewhere about 224 yards beyond the spot at which the first disturbance of the rails was subsequently noticed, inclined to the right towards the down line of rails, and then turned sharply round to the left and fell over on its right side, and rolled over and remained on its back with the wheels in the air, partly across both lines of railway ; and as the engine rolled over, the dome of the boiler struck a rail, and was knocked off causing the boiler to explode. The dome was found in a field on the west side of the line about 175 yards from the spot at which the engine lay, having been projected there by the force of the explosion, grazing the ground in two places in its flight. The driver probably lost his life from the explosion of the boiler, and the fireman was badly scalded. The carriages of the train all got off the fine. On the rails they would have extended for a length of about 112 yards, but I understand that after the accident they were found in a space not exceeding half that distance, some on their sides, some on their wheels, and some without bodies, many of them greatly shattered.

This branch line was opened for traffic towards the latter end of the year 1862. The permanent way consists of a double headed rail weighing 75Ibs. per linear yard, in lengths of 21 feet, fixed in cast iron chairs, each weighing 25 lbs., by means of patent compressed keys. The chairs are fastened to the transverse sleepers of Baltic timber by two iron spikes, six inches in length under the head of the spike. The sleepers are 11ft. long by 10” x 5 5” scantling, placed at an average distance of 3ft. apart; the joints of the rails are fished and the ballast is of good gravel and sufficient in quantity.

On visiting the spot I made an examination of the line which had then all been restored, so that I have no personal knowledge of the state of the line immediately after the accident ; but I was informed that the first truces of anything wrong on the line, when examined on the evening of the accident and ou the following day, were discovered about 56 yards on the London side of the Streatham Common Station up distant signal, and from thence for about 98 yards towards London or 154 yards from the signal post, both the right and left rails were bent, and the line much twisted or waved ; that the left roil had been more or less displaced and forced outwards, necessitating the respiking, of the chairs for the whole of the 98 yards, and at about 136 yards from the distant signal n. chair on the third sleeper from the joint was broken and shifted outwards about two inches, and some ten yards further forward the rail on the inside of the curve had been so much bent outwards that it had to be taken out, as well as the next rail north of it.

I was also informed that beyond the straightening the bent rails, respiking the chairs, putting in new ones under the left rail, and straightening the rails and putting in new chairs and two new rails under the right rail, nothing had been done to the line up to 154 yards from the distant signal as regards lifting it; and from that point back towards Croydon for 224 yards to the 1/4 mile post, I tried the cant and examined the gauge of the line. The cant varied from 1 1/2 inch to 3 1/4 inches, and the gauge from 1/8 inch narrow to 5/16 inch wide; the proper cant for a speed of 60 miles an hour on a curve of a mile radius being about 2-7 inches; so that practically in these respects the line was in fair order.

I was also told that a portion of the road for it a length of about 50 or 60 yards had been put ut of line and waved some 200 yard on the Croydon side of the distant signal, but that no chair had been broken, nor anything else displaced, and that there was a considerable length of line in good condition between this spot and that at which the engine commenced the struggle which eventually ended in its tearing up the road and getting off the rails. So far as I could ascertain by examination and inquiry, there was no sufficient cause for the accident to be traced to the state of the permanent way.

Beyond the length of 154 yards north of the distant signal, the up line was entirely torn out up to the spot at which the engine lay, and there were slight marks of wheels on the chairs and more decided ones on the sleepers, inside the left rail, and outside the right rail. Some of the rails were bent in an extra-ordinary manner, and exhibited marks of grinding to a great extent, and the ends of some of the rails had been struck heavily; but as the rails were not left in the position they occupied prior to the accident, no safe deduction could be drawn from the damaged state of the rails and the wheels of the engine, but it appears certain that the engine after bursting the road dropped inside the left rail, and ultimately got outside the right rail.

Various persons in the train speak to an oscillation commencing near the distant signal. Thus the head guard riding in the break van next the engine, and looking out ahead at the time, says, he commenced to put on his break as he passed the distant signal, in consequence of observing the oscillation of the engine, but that he did not succeed in getting it on, as there hour. If an allowance of 4 minutes for the loss of was not time. He noticed that the steam was on when he first observed the oscillation of the engine, and he thinks it wait on, and that this peed increased, after passing the distant signal, until the engine got off the line, which he considered was about 150 yards inside the distant signal, and he could not say whether it was shut off or not. He says that there was not any difference in the running of the train on that day from that on previous occasions, and he thinks they were running a little more than 30, but not so much as 40 miles per hour:at the time. He observed the engine glance from one side of the road to the other, and his van commenced jumping up and down, when it reached the spot where he thought the engine got off the rails. He says that as they were stopping, he heard a crash followed by an explosion, and he was thrown down in his break van, and rendered insensible for a short time after hearing the explosion.

The under guard in the break van at the tail of the train states that there was not any difference in the running of the train on that day to the running on any former day — that they were not miming faster than usual. He says he did not find any oscillation until his van got opposite to the distant signal ; that he was looking out along the top of the carriages at the time, and saw a guard's break van with a glass top to it, nearly in the middle of the train, jump, and two or three carriages in succession also jumped up as they got to the same spot where he saw the van jump ; and then he began to put on his break, and was engaged in putting it on, when his own van began to jump and got off the line; — he had not time to put his break on, and he was thrown forward and knocked senseless.

The fireman states that they might be running 35 miles an hour, but were not going quite fast enough —not quite keeping time ; that they had the steam well up and on; that he noticed the engine oscillating about 40 yards before they got off the road, and he says the driver shut off the steam, and the engine went off the road directly. He thinks the shutting off the steam was the cause of the engine getting off the road ; that the shutting off the steam increased the oscillation. He also thinks the driver got alarmed and shut off the steam. He had experienced as much oscillation on other engines, and did not get off the line, but in those cases the driver did not shut off the steam.

Colonel Burnaby, of the Grenadier Guards, in command of the detachment from Eastbourne, says that they left Croydon at an ordinary rate of speed, which was noticeable from their having travelled very fast between Three Bridges and East Croydon, which fact had been noticed by several of the officers; and that a short distance before the accident occurred, the speed was increased prior to any oscillation being felt ; that for a few hundred yards they were going very fast, and he had uever travelled faster ; that it was quite equal to any speed between Three Bridges and Croydon ; that an oscillation then took place, and perhaps after 200 yards or thereabouts, perhaps in a of a minute, the train ran off the line ; and between the time when they got off the line to the mishap, there was sufficient time to pass remarks with his brother officers as to what should be done. He thinks he has travelled at the rate of 70 miles an hour, and that on this occasion the speed was as great as he had ever travelled at ; that he felt apprehensions in his own mind, before the oscillation commenced, and that he thinks he was travelling at the rate of 70 miles an hour for 300 or 400 yards.

The Victoria portion or this express train is appointed to leave East Croydon at 6.4 p.m. It left at 6.8 m., or 4 minutes late. Like all the express trains that do not stop between East Croydon and Victoria Station 16 minutes is allowed for the journey. The distance is about 10 3/4 miles, and the average rate of travelling, assuming that no allowance is made for the loss of time in starting from Croydon and pulling up at Victoria Station, would be about 40.3 miles per hour. If an allowance of 4 minutes for the loss of time in starting and stopping he made, the average rate would be 531 miles per hour ; but inasmuch as there are three junctions to be passed, and that there is somewhat more than half a mile of line on three curves of 15 chains radius, which curvature is far too sharp to be run over at high speed, loss of time must necessarily be experienced at other places than at East Croydon and Victoria Stations, if the Company's regulations are at all obeyed. I was satisfied that the express trains must run at much higher speed over the favourable portions of the line between East Croydon and Victoria Station, than the servants of the Company mentioned, if the time allowed for the journey (16 minutes) were kept, and having received returns from the Railway Company showing that this same train frequently performed the journey in the allotted time, I deemed it advisable to ascertain the speed of an express train allowed the same time over this portion of the line.

Accompanied by several officers of the company, without, as fur as I am aware of, my intention being made known to the engine-driver of the train, I got into the 11 a.m. up express train, on the 11th ultimo, at East Croydon, and timed the rate of speed between that place and the scene of the accident, and ascertained also the total time to Victoria Station, which was 17m. 10s. or 1 1/6 minutes longer than the time allowed, so that I have no right to suppose that this train travelled at any unusual speed.

The result of such timing was, that between the posts on each side of the spot where the accident occurred the train travelled at a speed of 60 miles an hour ; that for a mile back from that spot the average speed was 55 5/13- miles an hour, and for two miles back from the same place the average speed was 54 1/7 miles an hour ; and as this point of the line, with a falling gradient of 1 in 126 and an easy curve of 80 chains radius, is particularly favourable for fast running, I do not see any grounds whatever for supposing that the 5.0 up-express train on the 29th May was running at a less speed than I obtained with the 11.0 n.m. up-express train on the 11th ultimo. 

The results of the accident, as far as regards the greatly damaged state of the rolling stock, the crowd- ing up of the carriages into a short space, and the damage to the line, which was completely torn up for a length of about 126 yards, offer very significant testimony to prove that the speed must have been very great ; and the most remarkable circumstance connected with the accident is that with about 170 passengers in the train and the state of the carriages, the casualties were not much more. In one other respect there was a remarkable escape. If the accident had occurred a quarter of a minute later the disabled train would have been run into by a down train which passed the 5.0 up train just before it got to the distant signal.

The engine which drew the train is a six-wheeled tank engine with the driving and trailing wheels coupled. It is an inside cylinder engine, with 15-inch cylinders and 22-inches stroke ; the diameter of the leading wheels being 3 feet 4 inches, and the diameter of the driving and trailing wheels each 5 feet 6 inches. Its total length is 25 feet 2 inches. The distance between the axles of the leading and driving and the axles of the driving and trailing wheels is in each case 6 feet 9 inches, making up a total wheel base of 13 feet 6 inches. The water is carried in tanks below the boiler and below the foot plate, tending to keep the centre of gravity low. When filled up with coke end water it is, I am in formed, nearly an equally balanced engine, so that the weights on the several pairs of wheels are as follows :—

On the leading wheels 10 tons 4 CWTs
On the driving wheels 11 tons 15 CWTs
On the trailing wheels 10 tons 0 CWTs
Total 31 tons 19 CWTs

The locomotive superintendent could not supply me with the weights when the water iu the tanks got low, but he had another engine of similar construction weighed, with the following results :—

                                                 Filled up with     Without coke or water
                                                 coke and water    in the tanks 
Weight on the leading wheels 11 tons  1 CWTs, 11 tons 12 CWTs 
Weight on the driving wheels 10 tons 13 CWTs   9 tons   5 CWTs
Weight on the trailing wheels 10 tons 17 CWTs   8 tons  18 CWTs
                                      Total  32 tons 11 CWTs  29 tons 15 CWTs

The engine was made in the company's locomotive shops in April 1858, and it had run, up to the day of the accident, 121,167 miles. It had been in the work- shops for general repair during the months of last April and May, and came out of the shops on the 18th, went to work on the 19th May, and continued to do regular daily work up to the time of the accident. Shortly after it recommenced work its driver reported that one of the axle boxes was fast and did not work properly, but it was examined by the locomotive foreman at Battersea, and then tested by the driver and found to be all right. It is stated to have been in good working order when it left Battersea to go to Victoria Station to take the 5.5 p.m. down train to Croydon prior to bringing back the Victoria portion of the 5.0 p.m. up express train. It was designed especially to run without being turned on a turntable, and it has been continuously employed for years at times in running with the fast trains between London Bridge, Croydon, and Victoria Station.

When examined after the accident, the wheels were all found very nearly true to gauge : the springs on the right side were sound and in their place, but the leading spring on the left side, which would be the trailing spring as the engine was running, had been knocked off altogether, and the supports of the driving spring had been bent. The web of the crank axle inside the right hand driving wheel is fractured, but not right through, and not shifted in the hoop ; but these damages were evidently the result of the engine falling over on its side, and had nothing to do with the cause of the accident. The engine was worked at a pressure of 1201bs. on the square inch, and there does not appear to have been any foundation whatever for the rumour that the safety valves had been tampered with to enable the driver to run at a very high speed to make up for lost time. The engine was running with the tank end leading, a practice which in my opinion should never be adopted, as it is always more inconvenient for the engine-liver and fireman, and the engine also works less satisfactorily. In a great many tank-engines, and to some extent in this one, as the water gets low in the tanks the centre of gravity will be in front of the driving-wheel, and when this is the case there is more risk of the trailing-wheels then in front, with less weight on them than in the leading-wheels, mounting the rails. As regards this accident, I did not trace any appearance of the wheels having mounted 'until after the line was destroyed.

When the train left East Croydon the guards brake van was attached to the engine by a double screw coupling. How it got there does not appear, as the usual attachment to the engine is by a single coupling.

The whole of the carriages are stated to have been tightly coupled up together, but it is admitted that the break-van was not tightly screwed up to the engine, and that the buffers were not in contact by ll or 2 inches. It is stated that this was owing to the shortness of the worm on the screw coupling, and that it was screwed up as far as the coupling would allow.
As the result of my inquiry. I should state that the accident appears to have resulted from a combination of circumstances.

All engines are liable to oscillate when travelling at high speed, and irregularities in the true line of the rails are amongst the causes that produce oscillation. which is usually checked by a diminution of speed, by partially or wholly shutting off the swam, and by the application of the break.

But all other things being equal an engine of short-wheel base, similar to this tank engine, is more liable to oscillate from such a cause than one of long-wheel base, especially when that length of wheel base, what- ever it may be, is not steadied in running by being properly coupled up to the tender or other vehicle behind it ; and the coupling up to a break-van, when properly done, is not likely to be so effective in check- ing oscillation as the coupling to an ordinary six- wheeled tender ; so that when, as in this instance, the engine, with a heavy train tightly coupled up together, but not properly coupled to the engine, travelling at high speed down a gradient of 1 in 126, commences to oscillate, and no steps are apparently taken by the driver or fireman to check that oscillation until it becomes excessive, the heavy train following the engine under such circumstances would be more likely to increase than to diminish that oscillation.

Again, sonic considerable distance before the engine actually got off the line another element cane into play, viz., the insufficiency of strength in the permanent way to bear the heavy lateral strain brought against it, the spikes bent or drew, and the chairs broke, and the road was entirely destroyed. This is one of the results that are frequently apparent in running-off cases on the narrow-gauge lines, and I believe that it would be greatly modified, if not entirely done away with, if the chairs were securely fastened down to the transverse sleepers by fang or through bolts instead of by spikes, which do not by any means fasten them down against a lateral strain. I allow that they are somewhat more expensive, and more troublesome for the platelayers, but then on the other lured they are much more safe and secure as fastenings.

Another point on which I am compelled to remark is the insufficient proportion of break-power allowed to this train, which must travel at 60 miles an hour t6 do its work : one break to eight vehicles, exclusive or the engine. Such a train cannot on a gradient of 1 in 126 falling be stopped in half a mile of distance ; and I should remark that if this train had been furnished with three times the amount of retarding force by means of continuous breaks, which could readily have been done without increasing the number of guards, and the evidence of tine guards in this train is believed, it is quite possible that some of the disastrous effects of this accident might have been avoided.

In conclusion, I would recommend for the consideration of the Directors of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, the expediency of net running their express trains with tank engines oh 13 feet 6 inches wheel base. I do not say that similar engines are not run with trains that regularly travel at a speed of sixty miles an hour on other lines, but that 1 am not acquainted with the fact, if they are so run ; and further, if such a speed is to be main- tained, whether the trains are run with tender or tank engines of 32 tons weight, that it will be necessary to strengthen the permanent way by heavier chairs and stronger fastenings. A portion of the line between East Croydon and Victoria Station round the sharp curves of 15 chains radius, has already, I understand, been strengthened ; and the present accident conclusively establishes in my mind the necessity for its being done over other parts of the line.


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