18th AUGUST 1877

Involving Driver John Coppard & Fireman Thomas Stevens

Depot unknown

Extracted and adapted from the Board of Trade report 

by  F. H. RICH, Colonel, R.E

An accident occurred on the 18th August, between Newhaven and Lewes, on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway.

The train, which is due to leave Newhaven at 5.18 p.m., ran off the rails; near the 52nd mile post. Three passengers arc reported to have been slightly shaken.

The train consisted of a tank-engine, which was running with its cool-bunk in front, three third-class, one first, one second, and a break-van, with a guard in charge at the tail of the train. It started from Seaford, and, on leaving Newhaven, it was four minutes late. The time allowed for running the 6 3/4 miles between Newhaven and Lewes is 15 minutes with this train; but some of the trains are timed run it in 11 minutes. The place where the accident happened is 4 1/2 miles from Newhaven station, and the train appears to have run this distance on the day in question in about eight minutes, according to the times taken by the guard and the signalman at Southerham junction: the latter was looking out of his cabin window at the time, and noticed the train get off the rails by the dust that was made.

The permanent way was slightly moved out o£ line at four or five places in the 200 yards back where the engine first mounted; the sleepers had been moved in the ballast, showing that the engine must have been rnnning somewhat unsteadily. It mounted the rails about 50 yards beyond the 62nd mile post, and about four yards back from a rail-joint of the off-side rail. The off-front wheel of the engine appears to have dropped outside the rail on to the chair next the joint about three yards from where it mounted. This chair was broken. The engine then rawith its front wheels on the right side of the rails, and the rest of the wheels on the rails until it reached a field level-crossing about 100 yards further on. The near side left guard of the engine struek the baulk of timber which guards the near side rail at the level-crossing, and broke the baulk. Ten yards beyond the level crossing the off side rail was broken into five pieces, and all the wheels of the engine and the rest of the train appear to have left the rails at this spot. The train then ran long the sleepers and ballast, and came to a stand about 170 yards further on. The off side wheels of the engine and train were in the six foot interval between the lines, and the near side wheels were between the rails of the up line. The engine stood foul of the down road. The whole of the rails on the off side for the last 170 yards were bent, and five of them were broken; 200 chairs, and some fish bolts and fish plates, were also broken, and the sleepers were damaged. The near side left guard of the engine and one axle guard of a carriage were broken.

The line was opened for passenger traffic about 30 years since. The permanent way consists of a double headed rail that weighs about 75 lbs. per lineal yard. It was originally fixed in joint chairs that weigh about 33 lbs. each, and intermediate chairs that weigh about 24 lbs. each. The chairs were then fixed with oak treenails to wooden sleepers laid transversely, at an average distance of three feet apart; the rails are 15 feet long. The fastenings between the chairs and sleepers were gradually changed to iron spikes, the treenails holes being filled up with iron or wooden felloes, and about eight years ago the joint chairs were moved to one side of the joint, and the rail joints were fished. The sleepers on the railway were renewed about 17 years since, and since then the bad one have been again replaced with new sleepers. The line was originally ballasted with chalk, but it was re-ballasted with shingle about 17 years since, when the sleepers were renewed. The permanent-way of this branch railway, considering its age, is at present in fairly good order.  The rails are sound ; they have been turned in· some  cases, and occasionally show signs of laminating. The permanent-way inspector had walked over this  part of the line eight days before the accident, and had travelled over it twice with a train in the eight days previous to the accident. He did not observe anything wrong, and no report had been made of any defects in the rails.

The accident occurred on a part of the line which turns to the north-west on a curve of 75 chains radius, and falls towards Lewes on a gradient of 1 in 424. The directions given to the platelayers in charge are to keep the cant of the outer rail on this curve about 1·85 above the inner railThe engineer in charge, who examined the line immediately after thaccident, stated that he found the gauge to be right, the greatest super-elevation of the outer rail above the inner rail being two inches, and the smallest l 3/4 inches.

When I examined the line this day i found the gauge to be correct, and the greatest super elevation to be 2 1/4 inches, and lowest 1 1/4 inches on the curve adjacent to the place where the accident happened. I also examined the down road, which did not appear to be quite so good as the up road. The gauge was correct; the greatest super elevation was 2 1/4 inch, and the smallest 3/4 inch. The line is well ballasted.

On looking at the permanent way, I should not

have expected a train driven at moderate speed (say not ex~g 35 miles an hour) to have met with any accident; but from the distance the engine and train ran after the engine mounted the rails, it would appear to me that the train was going at considerable speed, and that, owing to some defect in the permanent way, such as tho difference of an inch to 1 1/4 inch in the super-elevation of one rail above the other, the engine first commenced to rock, then mounted and got over the rails, and broke up the road, so that the whole train was pulled off the rails. 

The engine is a single-wheel tank-engine, with tanks at the side. It weighs about 30 tons. There are 10 tons 9 cwt. on the leading-wheels, 10 tons 4 cwt. on the driving-wheels, and 8 tons 17 cwt. on the trailing-wheels. The distance between the leading and driving wheels is 6 ft. 6 in., and between the driving-wheels and trailing-wheels 7 ft. When the accident occurred she was running with her trailing-wheels in front, and the weight on these wheels would be 1 ton 12 cwt. less than the weight on the hind wheels as the engine wo.s running. This would give her an inclination to mount on meeting any low place on the outer rail, and she would be slightly assisted in this by a fracture in the upper plate of the off-side front spring, which bears the appearance of having been about three parts broken through before, and was completely broken through by the accident. Some three or four other plates were partly cracked, but these were probably broken when the engine left the metals. The springs ore only 2ft. 6 in. long.


James Hoadley, I am signalman at Southerham junction. I recollect this accident on the 18th of August. I went on duty at 7 o’clock that morning. the train was signalled on from Newhaven town at 5.22 p.m. Its proper time is 5.18 p.m. I saw the train get off. I imagined it was off because I saw the dust flying. The distant signal is 900 yards from the box, and 700 yards from the home signal, which is 200 yards from the box. I have been signalman 12 years; 6 1/2 years at Southerham junction. The train was going about the usual speed.

Joseph Simmons, I was guard of the train in question. It consisted of a tank engine, tender in front, two third class carriages, one first, one second, and a break van, in which I rode, in the rear. We left Newhaven at 5.22 p.m. Our proper time is 5.18 p.m. This was owing to the down train being late at Seaford. I noticed amiss until I looked out of the van, and saw the engine funnel rolling. We were not running harder than usual. When my van got off I jumped out, and told the people to keep quiet. I noticed nothing amiss with the road when I travelled over it before that day. i have been in the Company’s service 11 years, and am now head porter at Seaford, acting as guard with this train. I booked the train off the road at 5.29 p.m.

John Coppard I was engine driver of the train in question. We left Seaford at 5.3 p.m., three minutes late. i have been 12 years fireman and driver. I now certify as a driver. I have worked this engine and train for about three weeks, and have no fault to find with the engine; she is a steady running engine. The tender was running first. We do not turn the engine on this branch. I cannot account for the train getting off. I had felt nothing wrong with the road that day; it was a little bit shaky at places, but not particularly so, and had not complained about it. Steam  was on when the accident occurred, and the signals were right for us. We were running about 35 miles an hour. When I found the engine shake I shut off steam. I received a little shock, which afterwards brought on palpitation. The engine was in good order, with breaks on all the wheels.

Thomas Stevens, fireman I cannot give any reason for the engine getting off the road, and had not noticed anything the matter with the road. I have been fireman four years. As soon as I saw the engine off the road I put the break on. We were running at about usual speed.

Edward Harland I am inspector of permanent way on the length where the accident happened. My length extends from Seaford to Southerham Junction, and thence to St. Leonard’s. I walked over the length on the 10th, and rode over it twice during the week the accident happened; once on the engine, and once in the train. I found nothing th matter particularly with the road. On the down line I had half a mile under renewal just beyond where the accident occurred. The men had been lifting and screwing up the bolts near where the accident happened. I have been inspector of permanent way seven years. The ganger had been many years ganger on this length. He is a tolerably good man. There are nine men to work this 5 3/4 miles of line.

Joseph Clarke I am inspector of permanent way at Lewes. I reached the scene of the accident at about a quarter past six, and I found the road knocked out of line before the train got off for about 276 yards. I noticed nothing wrong in the gauge, but thought the speed o trains too great over this road, which is 30 years old. I found no spikes out, and none of the chairs were moved. It was Monday morning before we examined the measure of the gauge. The oscillation took place where the repairing was going on. The plate layers leave off work at four o’clock on Saturday afternoons. Five passenger trains, four boat trains, and two goods trains run over this branch every day.

Mr. A Steinhaeuser I am assistant engineer on the Brighton Railway. The engine in this accident mounted about 46 yards north of the 52 mile post, and ran along with the leading wheels off the rails to a level crossing a little more than 100 yards further on. The left lifeguard struck the balk of the level crossing, and the trailing wheels and the rest of the 

engine then seem to have left the rails. The second right-hand rail beyond the crossing was broken into five pieces, and the engine and the whole of the train seem to have got off the rails at this spot, and were brought to a stand about 170 yards from this place. The whole of the vehicles stood up on their wheels on the ballast between the six-foot and the four-foot-eight of the up line ; the engine was foul of the down road. The curve where the accident happened is 76 chains, and the gradient falling very slightly towards Lewes. The permanent way consists of a double-headed rail, and weighed about 75 lbs. to the yard when originally laid down some 30 years ago ; the chairs weighed 24 l b s., and were originally fastened t o transverse sleepers with oak treenails. These have since been replaced with spikes, the large holes in the chairs being filled up with iron or wooden felloes. The line was only finished about eight years ago, and the joint chair, which weighs 33 lbs. was moved to one end of the fish-plate. These joint chairs are fastened with three spikes. Five rails on the outside of the curve were broken, and the rest of the rails for a distance of 170 yards were bent ; 200 chairs were broken, and some of the bolts and fish-plates were broken. The line about 200 yards back from where the accident happened, on being examined after the occurrence, showed signs in four or five places of the sleepers having been slightly moved by the strain on the rails, caused, it is supposed, by the wabbling of the engine. I tested the road after the accident with a level and gauge, and found the gauge rather tight, the greatest difference between the tightest and loosest place not more than a quarter of an inch. The cant which the platelayers are ordered to keep on this part of the road is 1 1/2 inches. I did not find it anywhere more than two inches nor less than 1 3/4 inches. I did not notice any defect in the road which could have caused this accident. I arrived at the conclusion that the speed was too great for the road. About 17 years ago we re-sleepered the whole of the road to Newhaven.


The accident seems to have been caused prima facie by the train being run at an improper rate of speed over an old permanent way, which, though not perfect, appears to have been in fairly good order.

The platelayers had been engaged on the day the accident happened in regulating and renewing the fish bolts

on that part of the permanent way where the rocking of the engine first began, and it being Saturday, they had left work before the accident occurred. The Company are at present gradually renewing the permanent way, and I think it would be desirable that the speed of the fast trains, which is now about 35 miles per hour, should be reduced on this branch until the present old permanent way is renewed.

Driver John Coppard & Fireman Thomas Stevens

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