8th JULY 1870

extracted adapted from the report 

by W. Yolland Colonel

A collision occurred on the 8th July, 1870, close to Sydenham station of the the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, between two passenger trains; 33 passengers have complained of having been injured, one of number seriously; and the guard (C. Coomber) of one of the trains jumped out of his van, was run over by the most of the train carriages of one of the trains, and was so severely injured by having legs fractured, that died in hospital under amputation; and the guard of the other train was a good deal shaken.

Sydenham is situated on the main line of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, 6 1/2 miles from London Bridge station. The next station to the south is at Penge, 52 chains from Sydenham, and a branch line from the Crystal Palace joins the main line at Sydenham, the up line joining the up Croydon line about 180 yards south of the Sydenham signal box. The branch to the Crystal Palace is one mile and five chains in length, and there is an intermediate signal box, called Bank Top, between Sydenham and the Crystal Palace, 1,084 yards from Sydenham signal box.

Sydenham station is well protected with signals as regarding the up traffic. There are station signals over the signal box for each line of way, and two stop signals, placed beside each other, between the up Croydon and the up Crystal Palace lines, for those line, 171 yards south of the junction points, or 352 yards south of the signal box. The up distant signal for the Croydon line is 820 yards south of the signal box, or 468 yards south of the up stop signal, and the up distant signal for the Crystal Palace line is 951 yards from the signal box, or 599 yards south of the up stop signal.

The Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon line can be seen from an engine while standing alongside of the up platform at Penge station, at a distant signal for the Crystal Palace line can be seen from the engine of an up train for upwards of 300 yards 
before it is reached.

The Crystal Palace up lines falls towards Sydenham on an incline of 1 in 60 for a length of 50 chains, succeeded by an incline of 1 in 103 for a length of 20 1/4 chains to the junction; while the Croydon line is on a falling gradient of 1 in 660 towards Sydenham.

The traffic south of Penge, and as far as Bank Top signal box, is worked with the assistance of the electric telegraph, and on portions of the company’s lines on the absolute block system, but between Penge and Sydenham and Bank Top and Sydenham the absolute block system is not in force, as up trains are permitted to approach Sydenham station on the up Croydon and up Crystal Palace at the same tine, dependence being wholly placed on the driver’s obeying the indications of the out of door signals; in this instance, distant and stop signals, which are so locked in the signal box that “all right” signals cannot be given for trains to proceed on the both these lines at the same time. When they are at “all right” for a Crystal Palace up train, they must be at “ danger” for a Croydon up train, and vice versa.

In the company’s book of regulations, page 17, rule 32 states as follows: “They (distant signals) must be worked strictly in conjunction with the semaphore signals: that is to say, whenever a “stop signal” is shown at a semaphore post the distant signal must show stop likewise 33. Drivers and guards are required to pull up  their trains at the distant signals when at stop; having done so, they must, without moment’s delay, more gently forward, as far as the road may be clear, to await a signal from the semaphore to proceed; and to be within the distant signal as far as possible for protection against following trains.

According to the statement of the signalman on duty in the Sydenham signal box (Judge), confirmed in all respects by the lad who works the telegraph and makes the record in the signal book, he received a telegraphic signal from Bank Top signal box, by four rings of a bell, for a Crystal Palace up passenger train at 1h. 31m. p.m., and a similar signal was received from Penge station, by one ring on another instrument (while the four rings were being given), for an up train on the Croydon line. At this time all his signals were at danger, and he set the points right for a train to come out of the Crystal Palace line, pointed off the up stop and up distant signals, as were as the up semaphore signal over his box for that line, and also the Sydenham up starting signal, as the Crystal Palace train was a through train, and not intended to stop at Sydenham station.

I should explain that the setting of the points right for an up train to come out from the up Crystal Palace line prevents any of the up signals for the Croydon line being taken off; they must, when the points are to be remain as “danger.” I should also remark that the Crystal Palace train was three or four minutes behind its proper time; and the signalman says that when the two telegraphic signal bells rang out together, the telegraph lad asked him which train he remained to stop to go first, and he answered, “The Palace train and then she will be clear of the Croydon without delay.” He says also, “ hat as soon as the Crystal Palace train passed the up distant signal, he was watching for both trains, but did not know which he saw first; he noticed that the Crystal Palace train appeared to be drawing up at sharp as it could even when he found that the Croydon train did not stop he threw up the Crystal Palace up stop signal to danger in the face of the Crystal Palace train before it passed it.

The two train came into collision with each other some 155 yards more or inside of the up stop signal; the engine and tender and two carriages of the Crystal Palace train were thrown of the rails to the left, and about six carriages of the Croydon train, which was in advance of the Crystal Palace train, which ran into it, were also thrown off the rails; but very little damage was done to the rolling stock, although no less than 11 carriages were slightly damaged. The head gard of the Crystal Palace train, seeing that a collision was imminent out of his van at the front part of the train, as he was passing the stop signal, and fell in some way or other with his legs across the rails. Had he remained in his van it is probable that he would not have been seriously injured.

The two trains which this came into collision were the 1h. 5m. p.m. passenger train from Victoria to Crystal Palace and thence to London Bridge, and the 12h. 40m. p.m. passenger train from Epsom Downs through Croydon also to London Bridge. As already signal the former runs through Sydenham station without stopping and the latter is due to leave Sydenham after stopping at 1h. 32m. at which time the collision is said to have taken place.
It is very long since I have met with statements which are so directly contradictory of each other in reference to the circumstances which precede this collision.

The Crystal Palace train consisted of engine and tender and 11 vehicles including two third class break carriages and two guards, one riding in the break carriage next to the tender, and the other with three carriages behind it. The Croydon train consisted of an engine and tender and 10 vehicles including two breaks with two guards, one riding immediately behind the 
tender, and the other in the sixth vehicles from the tender, with four carriage behind the break.

I have already stated the evidence of the signalman and telegraph lad in the Sydenham signal box with reference to the up signals, and I should now add that the driver and fireman and under guard of the Crystal Palace train, the head guard having been killed, all state that the up distant and up stop signals were at “all right” for that train to proceed through Sydenham station, when they first came in sight of these signals; that a signalman who was walking up the line from Penge in order to relieve the signalman in the Sydenham signal box, observed the signals pulled off for the Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the Croydon train; he was near the Penge down distant signal at the time, and he heard the Croydon train starting from Penge, and when it had nearly reached him he thought the steam would be shut off; but finding that was not done, he held up his arms and called out in order to attract attention; he was about 20 yards south of the stop signals when he called out, and there were four men on the Croydon engine, three were standing up, and one was sitting on the tender; this man jumped down and ran to the break, and the regular fireman went to the break immediately afterwards, and the steam was shut off immediately after the train passed him. This signalman also observed the Crystal Palace train approaching, and after the Croydon train passed him, there was a good deal of whistling, first from one engine and then from the other. He is positive that the signals were against the Croydon train all the way from Penge.

The signalman at Penge notice that the Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon line was at danger when the Croydon train reached that station, but he did not observe it when it left, after waiting not more than a minute.

The signalman at the Bank Top, and a platelayer employed on the Crystal Palace branch observed that the Sydenham up distant signal for the Crystal Palace line was off, for the Crystal Palace train to proceed; while a ganger of plate layer on the line between Sydenham and Penge, the head porter, and another porter at Sydenham all speak to the signals being right for the Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the Croydon train. The ganger ran towards the Croydon train, held up his hands, and threw gravel on the rails, in order to facilitate the train stopping; and the second porter who was standing on the up platform 
waiting for the Croydon train, when he heard the signals over the signal box drop, looked up and saw that the bottom signal for the Crystal Palace train was the one that had been lowered to all right and the stop signal for the same line was also down, and neither train was in sight at this time.

Such is the testimony in favour of the signals being as all right for the Crystal Palace train, and at danger against the Croydon train.

The driver, fireman, and two guards of the Croydon train all positively state that the Sydenham up distant signal for the Croydon line was at all right for the train to proceed before they left the Penge platform. The driver and the two guards also state that the 
Sydenham up stop signal was at all right for them to proceed when they came in sight of it. The driver says that as he was approaching the stop signals in fact  close to them, the one for the Croydon line was rated to danger and the Crystal Palace one lowered to all right. The two guards also state that the Croydon stop signal was placed at danger box do not say that they saw it raised; while the fireman says that he was attending to the fire after leaving Penge, until the driver called out, notice and then he looked up and saw both stop signals at danger.

It appears that another driver and fireman got on the Croydon engine at West Croydon for the purpose of going to New Cross to go on duty and this driver states that he can say nothing about the signals, as he sitting in a position in which he could not see them; but when they were approaching Sydenham he observed a plate layer holding up his hands, this was the ganger of the platelayers, and he told the driver of the engine to hold on, he wants you to stop and then he looked round, and saw the Crystal Palace train coming down the bank and that the driver of the Croydon engine go ahead  and the steam was turned off to try and get the Croydon train clear of the Crystal Palace train. The second fireman also could not speak as to the signals, but he observed the signalman who was walking up the line from Pengeheld up his arms, and he jumped down from where he was sitting, and began to apply the break. It further appears that the driver of the Crystal Palace train endeavoured to stop short of the fouling point, while the driver of the Croydon train put on steam and tried to get clear of the Crystal Palace train. The evidence is conflicting as to the speed at which the two trains were approaching the junction, and the statements vary from 15 to 30 miles an hour.
On the evidence places before me, I have arrive at the conclusion that the signals were at all right for the Crystal Palace train to run through Sydenham station, and at danger against the Croydon train; and, in consequence, I should say that the collision was entirely due to the neglect of the company’s servants in charge of the Croydon train.

Rule No. 33, which I have quoted, is not very clearly expressed, but as I read it, the Croydon train should have been stopped at Sydenham up distant signal, and then without a moment’s delay moved gently forward, as far as the road may be clear, to await a signal from the semaphore to proceed. But, from all that I can ascertain, I believe this rule is seldom if ever obeyed. Had it been obeyed on this occasion the collision would not have occurred.

In the same manner, it is probable that the collision would not have occurred if the absolute block telegraph system of working had been in force between Sydenham and Penge, and Sydenham and Bank Top signal box. It probably would have been avoided if the two trains had been furnished with a larger proportion of break power by means of continuous breaks worked from the two break vans in each trains; and I think it likely that the signals would not have been passed in the reckless manner which they appear to have been by the Croydon train if only the regular driver and fireman had been on the engine, as a much better look 
out ahead would then have been kept.

Rule No.110 says, No one, except the proper engine driver and fireman, is to be allowed to ride on the engine or tender, without leave in writing from the secretary, the resident engineer, the locomotive superintendent, or the traffic manager. For every infraction of this rule the engine driver will be punished by a fine of twenty shillings if the person riding on the engine is in age service of the company, or by dismissal if he is a stranger.

But the rule is no longer obeyed, as engine drivers and fireman proceeding to a station for the purpose of going on duty are allowed to ride on the engine.

The head guard of the Croydon train gave in his resignation of the Company’s service on the 9th instant, the day after the collision happened. His reason for resigning was that this affair had upset him altogether, and that the number of hours which he was required to work were too long, amounting, sometimes for two or three days consecutively, to 18 hours a day; although for six or seven hours he would be unoccupied at the Crystal Palace, and although he would be paid for the extra hours.

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