on 7th JULY 1879

Involving Engine Drivers  Henry Snelling & William Roberson

Depots unknown

Extracted & adapted from the report by

W. Holland Colonel

A collision occurred on the 7th instant, at the London Bridge station of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, between a passenger train and a light engine.

Four passengers complained at the time of having been slightly injured, and three have subsequently written to the Company on the Hame subject.

Two first and one second-class carriage, and a pair of wheels ·of another second- class carriage, were thrown off the rails, and these carriages were slightly damaged. The framing as well as the step of the light engine which ran into the passenger train were broken and the buffer-beam was bent.


In the up approach to the London Bridge terminal station of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, the Brighton line leaves the up main line, which is used in common by this and the South-Eastern Railway Company, at what is called the A. B. signal-box, belonging to the South-Eastern Railway Company. The next box, to the north, in the London and Brighton Company's station yard, is called the south signal-box situated on the western side of that Company's lines, and this signal-box is about 84 yards (centre to centre) north of the South-Eastern A. D. box, which is fixed on an elevated girder that runs across some of the Companys' lines.

About 141 yards north of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Company's south signal-box, there is another large signal-box called the north signal-box, and the south and north signal-boxes contain the levers which move the signals and points that. control and regulate the disposal of the trains on their arrival in the Brighton Com- pany's station yard.

From the South-Eastern Company's A. B. signal-box the arriving trains are telegraphed to the south box and from thence to the north box, and the signalman in the north box works certain signals erected on an elevated girder, situated about 40 yards south of the north signal-box, which signals indicate the different lines on which the trains are to run into the station alongside the platforms.

At the A. B. signal-box, in addition to the usual semaphore home-signals for the up main line, up local or Croydon line, and up South London line, there are brackets below which cover certain letters A. B. C., which refer to the South London line, and others D. and E. that refer to the up main and up local lines that run into the station, so that the up home-signals exhibited at the A. B. box are not actually complete, unless a letter is moved out from the bracket, at the same time that the semaphore arm is lowered for a train to enter. The A. B. signalman does not work the levers that move the letters D. and E. out from the brackets. Instructions have been given to the engine-drivers that they are not to pass the A. B. box with an up train when any one of these letters are shown, nor until the semaphore arm is lowered : but on the other hand instructions have NOT been given that they are to stop unless, in addition to t.he semaphore arms being lowered, a letter-signal is also shown. These letter-signals, in this case D. and E., are worked from the Brighton Company's north and south boxes, and not by the South-Eastern Company's signalman in the A. B. box.

The up main signal at the A. B. box is worked by the signalman in that box and it is controlled from the south or north boxes, but the up signal for the up local or Croydon line is slotted from the south and north signal-boxes, and the usual practice which is followed with reference to signals that are slotted from a second and third signal-box is, that the two or three signalmen which control a signal, must all shift the levers that act on that signal, before it can be taken off for a train to pass, but any one of these men is enabled to replace the signal at danger.

This was carried out in the new arrangements at London Bridge station, as far as the up local or Croydon line was concerned, but by an oversight it was not adopted for the up main line signal over A. B. signal-box.

The collision took place about 116 yards north of the A. B. signal-box. 


J. Woodman, signalman about 15 years, and in charge of the south box at London Bridge on the 7th July, states.-A light engine was signalled from the South-Eastern Company's A. B. box, as coming up the Croydon line at 3.19 p.m. with four rings of the bell. I gave it on myself to the north box, at the same time, the man in the north box did not pull ofF for the engine, or in other words did not unlock the signal so that it could be directly pulled off. At 3.21 p.m. the Brighton main line train, 1.35 p.m. from Brighton, was given on to me with three rings of the bell. and given on to the north box by me at the same time, but the clerk in my box did not acknowledge his signal from the A. B. box till two minutes after (or at 3.23) when be (the clerk) at the same time lowered the electric semaphore arm in the signal-box. I immediately gave the Brighton up train on to the north box with three rings, the man in the north box pulled off and unslottted the lever in my box for the signal for the main line train, and I then pulled off my lever to allow the South-Eastern signalman in A. B. box to pull off the up main line signal for the train to proceed, directly after he pulled off for the light engine to come in on the local line after I had given permission for him to do so, when I also pulled over my lever for the engine to enter the north side of the station. No cancel signal was given by me, nor am I aware that any was given by the train signal clerk to the north box, as he was not near the instruments at the time. I was attending to trains on the South London line and did not observe that the train and engine had come into collision till after it had actually happened. I cannot account for the mishap, And I was strongly under the impression that it was impossible for such a thing to be brought about. The collision occurred about 3.25 p.m. The main line up train was travelling about the usual speed, and the light engine ran into the up main line train.

Frederick. Edward Stagg, train signal clerk, south box, four months, states.-At 3.19 p.m. I received a signal on the telegraph instrument from the A. B. box for an engine up the local Croydon line. I at once acknowledged it, and dropped the electric arm for the engine to come up to A. B. box. At 3.21 p.m. I received a signal for a Brighton train up the main line, when the signalman (Woodman) said "Wait a minute, if it is empties we will have them up the " local line. I therefore did not give clear to the A. B. box till 3.23 p.m., when I lowered the electric arm for the train to come up the main line. As the north box man did not pull off the slots for the engine to enter the station, I gave it on three separate times, four rings each time, 1 pulled off at 3.24 the slot was pulled off, and I saw the signalman in my box pull off the lever for the train, i.e., light engine, to come up the local line. I did not ring the main line train at 11 from the south box to the north, but I saw Signalman Woodman ring it on once and the slot for this train was.pulled off at 3.23, as per entry made in my book. I did no' see the collision take place.

John Bridgman, eight years a signalman, and acting as assistant signalman in the south box, states.- I observed Signalman Woodman pulling off the main line signals about 3.22 or 3.23, and I remarked "You are " pulling off for the main line, and you have no " train on," and be replied, "Yes I have, as I gave it on myself.'' I then went to the other part of the box, and I could see the main line train at No. 4 box. I did not have anything to do with the signalling either on the instruments or levers for the up main or Croydon line, as I was attending to shunting operations on the South London side. Nothing else attracted my attention with regard to the main line trains until the collision occurred. I saw it take place. The main line train was running perhaps one or two miles an hour and the light engine about the same rate.

Peter Thompson , signalman six months and in charge of the north box, states.- I received a signal for an engine up the Croydon local line with four rings of the bell, I did not pull off for this signal ut the time, as I knew there was a main line train due, and I pulled off my signals for the main line train, although the main line train had not been signalled to me, that is in accordance with the practice followed; but after I had pulled off the signal I received seven rings on the bell from the south cabin. I then gave six rings to ask if a main line train was waiting. I again received the seven rings. I then put on the main line signals, and set for the engine to come off the local to run on to No. 6 platform line, and immediately pulled off my releasing slot to the south box for the light engine. When watching for the engine to enter, looking townrds the A. B. box, I saw a main line train was approaching it, and saw it come under the box. I did not notice the state of the signals at A. B., but I ran to the window, and held up my arms to stop the Brighton up train, my mate also did the same, and immediately after the collision took place. We have no written or printed code for the cancel signal, seven beats, nor for the signal which I gave (six rings) to ask if there was a train on the main line. These signals were not arranged by me, they were in use when I went to the box first, and worked as helper, and have been in use since I have been in charge.

Edward Rhodes signalman about seven months, and acting as assistant signalman in the north box, states. - Signalman Thompson stated to me, we will have the main line train in No. 2 platform line first, and after we set the road for the main line train, to enter No. 2, there were several rings on the bell. I cannot say how many, they were so quick, then four distinct rings, which indicated an engine on the local line. Thompson said, "The main line train is not out " there; we will have the engine in No. 6 platform  line, so the road was set for No. 6. I saw no more as I was at the north end of the box, but I heard Thompson whistling and shouting out of the window and holding up his hands, and immediately after the collision occurred.

Henry Snelling, driver of engine No. 208 (Richmond) of 1.35 p.m. up train from Brighton on Monday July 7th, and who has been a driver 13 years, states. - I left Brighton at the right time, but was delayed outside Three Bridges station, and at Three Bridges, also at Croydon and No. 4 signal-box. I pulled up and stopped at the latter signals, which were at danger, about 3.22 p.m., and sounded my whistle, when the signals at No. 4 box, the distant-signal for A. B., the signal over A. B. box and the signal for section 6 was lowered. The signal on the girder for No. 6 I could not see until I got under A. B. box. I proceeded, and when within about 20 or 30 yards from the north signal-box I found my train pulling heavier, and I thought the guard had his break on, when I looked back and saw the corner of a carriage jumping off the rails. I immediately put on my break, and shut my regulator. I was going very slow, and the train was brought to a stand immediately before it passed the north signal-box. When I was standing at No. 4 signals I could see the engine on the local line standing at A. B. box, and as I passed it, it was just put in motion. Before I found my train dragging heavy I noticed Signalman Thompson in the north box whistling and shouting, and holding up both hands, but I was not aware it was intended as a signal for me. My impression was it was intended for the light engine that was coming in, the signalman wanting him to stop clear of the coal road crossing. I did not observe if the letter referring to the section was down for me at A. B. box when I got underneath the bridge. I saw the platform signal for No. 6 was down.

A. Foster, guard of 1.35 p.m. up train from Brighton on Monday 7th July, states.- We left Brighton at 1.35 p.m., were delayed two minutes outside Three Bridges by signal, two minutes at Three Bridges taking in luggage, one minute at Red Hill by luggage, two minutes at Croydon by luggage, two minutes at No. 4 signals. On approaching No. 4 signals they were at danger, and our train was brought to a stand. The driver whistled for the signals, and after being there two minute.; the atop-signal at No. 4, the distant-signal working from A. B. box, and the signal over A. B. box, were lowered, and we proceeded, and on passing A. B. box I saw the section-signal also was lowered. My attention was first called by the driver stopping so suddenly, and when I looked round I saw some of the carriages oft' the road by being in collision with the engine ; just at the moment we stopped I heard the signalman shouting from the north box. When I arrived at London Bridge my train consisted of a tender engine, one break-van, one plain van, two second-class carriages, two first-class carriages, one carriages truck, having left 12 coaches at Croydon for Victoria. Two first-class carriages and two second class carriages were thrown off the rails, the leading wheels of the first second-class carriage only was off the rails. I think we were not travelling much more than four miles an hour when it occurred.

William Roberson, driver of tank engine No. 19 (Belmont), states. - I left Victoria about 2.25 p.m. on Monday 7th instant, light engine via Crystal Palace for London Bridge. On arriving at No. 4 signals, about 3.20 p.m., I was slightly checked; when the signals were lowered I pulled up to A. B. box, where I stopped about three minutes; while I was standing there I saw the main line signal lowered for the main line train to come in, and I turned round and looked, but I could not see the main line train near me. Immediately after the letter "E." was lowered, when I proceeded, and I observed there was only one section· signal down on the girder. I could not understand it, and I looked to the points and saw as they stood that they would bring me into collision with the main line train. I immediately called out to my mate "Hold on," and he applied the break, and I reversed the engine, but it was not soon enough to prevent the collision, as the engine of the train and the break-van had passed my engine at the time. The step-boards of the hind part of the train came in contact with the buffer of my engine, pulling it forward, Lreaking the framing of my engine, also the step, and bent the buffer beam. I did not observe anyone shouting or whistling or holding up their hands from the north signal-box. As soon as I got past the A. B. box I observed the platform signal was down for No. 6 line that I was to nm into. I was running very slowly when the collision occurred. I thought something was wrong when 1 saw that only one of the section signals ahead were off for two trains to enter the station; these section· signals are worked from the north box.


From the preceding statements it appears that a light engine was signalled on from the A. B. box to the south signal-box, as coming on the up local or Oroydon line at 3.19 p.m., and it was given on to the north signal-box at the same time, but this signal was not at once acknowledged by the signalman in that box.

At 3.21 p.m. the Brighton Company's main line train, 1.35 p.m. from Brighton, was signalled to the south box from the A. B. box, and at once signalled forward to the north box by the south box signalman, but the signal from the A. B. box was not acknowledged from the south box until 3.23 p.m., when the telegraph clerk lowered the electric semaphore arm in thfl signal-box. The south box signalman states that when he gave the train on to the north box the signalman there pulled off and unslotted the lever in the south box for the main line train, and he then pulled over his lever to allow the South-Eastern signalman in the A. B. box to pull off the up main line signal for the Brighton train to proceed, directly afterward he (the A. B. box signalman) pulled off the signal for the light engine to come in on the up local line, after the south box signalman had given him permission to do so, and after he had pulled over his levers for the light engine to enter the north side of the station.

The telegraph clerk in the south box explains with respect to the light engine that as the north box signalman did not pull off the slots for the engine to enter the station I gave it on three separate times, four rings each time, and at 8.24 the slot " was pulled off, and I saw the signalman in my box pull off the lever for the light " engine to come up the local line."

On the other hand, the signalman in the north box states : " I received a signal " for an engine up the Croydon local line, with four rings of the bell, but did not pull off for this signal at the time, as I knew there was a main line train due, and pulled off my signals for the main line train, although the main line train had not been signalled to me: that is in accordance with the practice followed, but after had pulled off the signal I received seven rings on the bell from the south cabin. I then gave six rings to ask if a main line train was waiting. I again received the seven rings. I then put on the main line signals and set for the engine to come off the local and to run on to No. 6 platform line, and immediately pulled off my releasing slot to the south box for the light engine.

The men in these signal-boxes had introduced what they called a cancelling signal, (seven rings on the bell) which is not sanctioned by their code of signals, and it appears to me probable that the signalman in the north box had mistaken the three separate attempts of the telegraph clerk in the south box, four rings each time, for the cancelling signals referred to by the signalman in the north box.

In my opinion, in a busy yard like that at the Brighton terminus at London Bridge, the signalman in the north signal-box acted wrongly in setting his signals for an up train from Brighton, merely because it was due, before he knew where that train was, or had received any signal that it was coming, as the doing so must necessarily have interfered with the free running of other arriving trains or engines, on some of the other lines in the station yard.

The 1.35 p.m. up train from Brighton consisted of a tender-engine, break-van, plain van, two second-class, and two first carriages, and one carriage truck. It was stopped at the signals at No. 4 signal-box, which are practically the distant-signals for the A. B. signal-box, and when these signals were taken off, as well as the up main line signal at the A. B. box, the train proceeded and had passed the A. B. box and was travelling at from two to four miles an hour, when it was run into by a light engine travelling on a cross-over road which had also received an all right signal to proceed into the station yard.

No blame attaches to the signalman in the A. B. signal-box of the South-Eastern Railway Company, nor to the servants of the Brighton Company in charge of the passenger train, or the light engine, and the collision was undoubtedly the result of an error in the interlocking of the points and signals at the A. B. box, which permitted two up-signals to be off for two up trains to travel on lines that converged to each other, at one and the same time.

Fortunately the collision was a slight one. The Company are ~~fA steps for correcting the error that existed in the interlocking of the points and signals.

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