4th MARCH 1863

extracted & adapted from the report by

 H.W. Tyler Captain Royal Engineers

A collision that occurred on the 4th ultimo, near the Victoria Station, between a passenger train of the London, Chatham, and Dover, and an engine of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company. 

The approach to this station is guarded by a signalman whose cabin has from its position acquired the name of the hole-in-the-wall. It is in fact the principal junction-box from which the communications with three separate stations are controlled. The two main lines diverge after passing it from the south into three sets of lines leading to and from three series of platforms. Those to the west are used for the Crystal Palace (Brighton) trains, those in the middle for the main line (Brighton) trains, and those on the east for the trains of the London, Chatham, and Dover Company. The immediate approaches to these three stations are further protected by three separate switchmen, who control the traffic and work the points under the directions of the signalman at the principal box. The hut of the switchman for the Crystal Palace station is 75 yards from that box. 

The Chatham and Dover trains, in entering their own station (on the east) from the main arrival line on the west, pass necessarily across the exit lines from the other stations ; and it is the practice for the principal signalman to hold out a red flag from his box, to warn the Crystal Palace and main line switchmen of the approach of those trains, and of the danger of allowing engines or trains to leave their stations when such trains are expected. 

The regular trains are started from the three stations in obedience to fixed signals, which are worked by the signalman from the principal box ; but shunting engines and trains are controlled by hand signals only, the fixed signals remaining at danger while the shunting is being performed. When a shunting engine is prepared to start from one of the stations, the driver whistles, and the signalman replies by his arm or flag according to circumstances. He holds his arm in a horizontal position when he desires to indicate, either to the main line switchman or to the switchman for the Crystal Palace station, that they may allow the shunting to proceed, and he exhibits a green flag when he wishes to give a similar permission to the switchman for the Chatham and Dover Station. 

It is the duty of the switchmen to seek and to obtain the leave of the signalman (either in this manner or by word of mouth) before they allow any engine to start from their respective stations for shunting purposes. But the foggy condition of the atmosphere, combined with the smoke and steam from passing engines, frequently renders it difficult fur the signalman and the switchmen to see each other across the confined space that separates them, and the want of more perfect means of inter-communication has led to some irregularities in this system of working. The main line switchman, who can see a disc and hear a bell which are used to announce the approach of a Chatham and Dover train, takes these instruments partly for his guide ; and he has thus a better means of ascertaining when there is danger in starting the shunting engines and trains than the Crystal Palace switchman,. who is at a greater distance from the disc and bell. The Chatham and Dover switchman sometimes "works by the points." When the signalman knows that he cannot see him, he pushes over a pair of points near him, which are connected with his box, by way of intimating to him (when the line is clear) that an engine or train may proceed with its shunting. 

In foggy weather three men are stationed between the signalman and the switchmen ; and when these men cannot see each other, they pass the necessary signals from one to the other by word of mouth. 

The atmosphere was clear and the'sun was shining on the morning in question, but the view between the switchmen and the signalman was partially and temporarily obstructed at the time of the accident. The signalman lowered the proper signal to admit a Chatham and Dover train at 10.54, and hung a red flag out of his box, according to custom, to prevent the main line and Crystal Palace switchmen from allowing any shunting to be carried on from their stations. He could hardly see the switchman of the Crystal Palace station, however, when he did so, and he does not think that the switchman could have seen his flag. The smoke from the engine of a Herne Hill train which passed out at 10.56, made the view less distinct. 

About this time an engine was ready to start in its ordinary turn of duty from the middle line of the Crystal Palace station for the signalman's box, that it might be turned into the departure line of the Brighton station, to shunt a train which was standing on that line into a siding. The engine-driver whistled for a signal from the switchman, and received his permission to pass out ; and he proceeded in due course towards the signalman's box. He could not see the red flag in that box, through the smoke and steam that hung about under the roof; and he was not aware that lie was running any unusual risk until he suddenly observed a passenger train 20 yards (as lie believes) from him, about to cross into the London, Chatham, and Dover Station. He was unable to stop his engine before a collision occurred. It came in contact, first with the right side of the buffer beam of the engine at the head of that train, which was travelling tender first, and afterwards with two of the carriages. 

This train left the Elephant and Castle at l0•23 for the Victoria Station in due course. It consisted of an engine and tender, four carriages, and a break van. The signal was lowered as usual for it to proceed into the London, Chatham. and Dover Station, and the engine driver was travelling at a speed of four or five miles on hour, and had gone some 30 yards past the signal box, when he saw the Brighton engine approaching within 10 or 12 yards of him. He was able to blow his whistle and reverse his engine before the collision occurred. The whole of his train remained on the rails (as did also the Brighton engine), and as soon as that engine had set back, he went forward with his carriages into the station. Of the two which had been struck by the shunting engine, one was, however, much damaged, and four of the passengers which this latter contained were unfortunately injured.

The switchman for the Crystal Palace station, James Ballard, admits frankly that he did wrong in allowing the shunting engine to leave that station without first obtaining the permission of the signalman ; and attempts to excuse himself by saying that he had been "working by guess" previously on that morning and at other times. He states that he walked a little way towards the signalman and observed "that the road was right," but could not see any flag at the junction box. He supposed that there was no train approaching because the points were right for the Crystal Palace departure line. He might have gone nearer to the signalman to obtain his instructions on this particular occasion, but he would be unable to get through his work if he made a practice of leaving his hut and walking towards him until be was within sight of him whenever his view was obstructed. 

Ballard had filled this post for about six months, and had acted as shunter and coupler to the trains al the Victoria and Battersea stations for six years. It appears that the six switchmen who are employed on day and night duty at the entrance to the three stations at the Victoria Terminus have all been more or less in the habit of sending out engines or trains without waiting for the permission of the signalman, at times when they were unable to see him. The hand signals by which they were guided in a clear state of the atmosphere not being always visible, they contrived to do without them as best they could, and availed themselves of such other indications as lay within their reach. Their conduct was highly irregular, but not more so than is frequently the case. When men of this class are set to work with inferior appliances, they invariably consider themselves justified in incurring or in causing a corresponding proportion of risk. It will be necessary to provide for future use a means of inter communication, either by " arm and bell" or by other apparatus, for enabling the signalman to exchange the necessary signals under all circumstances with his three assistant switchmen, not only to take the place of the inferior and uncertain system of hand signals now ordinarily employed, but also to supersede the arrangement under which fogmen are occasionally made the means of inquiry and instruction between them in denser states of the atmosphere.

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