24th March 1871 

extracted and adapted from the report by 

H.W. Tyler

A collision occurred on the 24th March 1871, at the Norwood Junction on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. In this case, the 10.30 p.m. passenger train from London Bridge, via Norwood and the Balham line, for the Victoria station, came into collision with four low sided trucks, loaded with materials for the erection of booths, which stood in its way across the main line. Sixteen passengers have complained of injury.

At the Norwood Junction station there are eight lines through the passenger shed, of which five are used as passenger lines, and three are used as sidings. On the south of the junction station there are goods sidings east and west of the passenger lines; and goods trucks are shunted by day and night across the passenger lines, and into and out of the three lines under the passenger shed which are used as sidings. There is a raised signal cabin 107 yards south of the passenger platform, from which 14 pairs of points, and five home and three distant signals, are worked. But there are upwards of a dozen pairs of points which are not 
worked from the cabin; and the points and signals in the cabin have not yet been interlocked with one another.

The passenger train left the London Bridge station at 10.31, one minute late, on the night in question, consisting of an engine and tender, and six passenger carriages, of which two were break carriages. It reached the Norwood Junction station at 10.59, and started again punctually at 11.1 p.m. A porter on the platform reported the time to be up for starting after the train had waited two minutes. The head guard saw that the fixed signal had been lowered, and gave the engine driver a signal to start with hand lamp. The engine driver found the signal down for him to proceed before he entered the station on his arrival; and when he received orders to start, he opened his whistle, and turned on his steam. He had moved forward rather more than 100 yards, when he perceived, by the light of his green head lamp, that there were some trucks in his way on the main line. He shut off his steam, opened his whistle, and directed his fireman to apply the break; and the train at once came into collision with the trucks, while travelling at a speed of from 10 to 15 miles an hour. The guards of the train were first aware of their danger from the shock of the collision. the leading guard was slightly injured, but the second guard was not hurt; and they have neither of them been absent from their work since it occurred.

The buffer plank and left buffer, and the footplate side of the passenger engine, were damaged; and the engine left the line with all, and the tender with four of its wheels. One quarter light was found broken in a second class carriage. Two of the trucks were knocked off the rails, and damaged; the horn plates having given way, and a pair of wheels having been knocked from under one of them. None of the passenger vehicles left the rails.

The signalman on duty in the signal cabin south of the junction, previously referred to, was not aware that the passenger line was blocked by the four tucks which thus stood across it, in the ay of the passenger train. He knew, before that train arrived, that it was approaching Norwood; as it had been signalled to him by telegraph in the usual course from the north cabin at Norwood, as soon as the signalman in that cabin received notice of it from Anerley. He had also received a signal from the direction of the passenger platform, from the hand lamp of the head shunter, to indicate that the passenger line was clear of trucks. He therefore 
lowered his signals about four minutes before the passenger train arrived; in readiness for it to start again by the West Croydon line towards Victoria, as soon as it had exchanged passengers at Norwood. the trucks were standing during these four minutes directly under and within a few yards of his cabin, but he knew nothing, as already stated, of their being in the way of the passenger train until after the collision occurred. The night was dark, and even if it had been lighter, the trucks were in a position in which he could not have seen them without leaning out of the door of his cabin. He had come on duty at 10 p.m., to remain till 7 a.m.; and the collision occurred at 11.1 p.m. He had allowed an engine to leave the passenger shed with the trucks about a quarter of an hour before the collision occurred, but he did not know what became of the trucks. He had no control over the working of the points through which the trucks were turned towards and across the passenger line; and he considered that the head shunter was responsible to him for keeping the line clear, or for letting him know if it was obstructed.

The head shunter, at quarter to eleven, had ordered one of his shunters, Snelling, to pull three trucks over the spur points, and go out on the Croydon Road, and put four trucks through the box points, all clear of the down Croydon Road; and then to come back on to the carriage road, and push back the three trucks, which he left on the spur road; and then take the engine and one truck back to him again on the carriage road. Whiles he went himself along the carriage road, to see what goods were waiting there for the east and west branches, the above operations were going on; and when Snelling came back, the head shunter asked 
him if he had put the trucks under the box, all clear of the down Croydon road. He replied that he had done so; and the two men, waiting then, for the passenger train to pass, gave signals of line clear to the signalman in his cabin.

It appears that Snelling unhooked the wagons in due course, with a view to their being shunted as described; and that another shunter, Austin, was employed to hold a pair of points, some 200 yards distant, connected with the West Croydon line. Austin held the points on the West Croydon line, but there was no one to hold an intermediate pair of points, nearer to the cabin, which led, when set in the wrong direction, across the passenger line, to the spur line. These points, thus allowed to be self acting, did not fall back into their proper position, but remained open for the spur line; and the trucks thus passed across the passenger line, in place of running down parallel to it, and without crossing it, into the passenger shed. The two men then went to assist with the engine and other trucks. Neither of them went to see wether the four trucks had gone down their proper line. Snelling took it for granted that they had done so, and no one knew that they had gone down the wrong line, and fouled the passenger line, before the collision occurred.

This mode of procedure appears to have been in accordance with the practice of these men in conducting their shunting operations. They had not previously found the points in question to fail; they trusted to their falling back, by the action of the weights attached to them, after the passage of an engine through them; and the points were in good condition, nearly new, and apparently in good working order. But it was not right on the part of the shunter, after allowing the engine to push the wagons back towards the signal cabin and passenger station, to go back and report al right, and to give a signal to the signalman in the cabin, to intimate that the line was clear for the passenger train, without first ascertaining, and making sure, that the trucks had travelled back in the direction which they were intended to take, and had come to a stand in a safe position on the sidings.

This collision was the result, therefore, of an inferior system of working, in shunting goods trucks in the neighbourhood of and on passenger lines. And it would not have occurred if the points which thus happened to be set in the wrong direction had been connected with the signal cabin, and interlocked with the other points and with the signals. The trucks could not then have fouled the passenger line, except by the direct action of the signalman; and the signalman could not have opened the points for them to do so, except when his signals were at danger. By his being requires to move the points, he must also have been made aware of any danger of this description, from the passenger line being fouled, or being liable to be fouled, in the process of shunting. With a view to the prevention of such accidents in future, it is desirable that a new and larger signal cabin should be provided, from which all the points and signals may be worked, and in which they may be properly interlocked with one another. I learn that improvements of this description were already in contemplation; and it would be an additional advantage if in re-arranging the construction and working of the station and yard, the goods and passenger lines were kept so far distinct from one another that all shunting should be conducted independently of the passenger lines, and all necessary crossing of the passenger lines should be done on a regular system, under the direct control of the signalman.

I learn that three days after the occurrence of the above collision certain trucks were again pushed back in the wrong direction through the same points; but the points were found on this second occasion to be out of order, and in such a way as to lead to a suspicion of their having been tampered with.

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