on 23rd AUGUST 1881

Involving Brighton Drivers Samuel Young, 

Extracted & adapted from the report by



A collision  occurred at Lewes station, on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, on the 23rd of Augustln this case two platelayers' trolleys, each loaded with about two tons of rails, which had overpowered the men in charge of them, ran down the incline from Falmer, and, passing through Lewes station on the Brighton line at a speed of probably nearly 15 miles an hour, struck the  third carriage from the front of the 4.50 p.m. passenger train from Seaford to Lewes, which was entering the station upon the up main line, and was just crossing the junction with the Brighton line.

No persons were injured. 

Two carriages were very slightly damaged, and the trailing wheels of the six-wheeled first-class carriage, the third vehicle from the tender, were thrown off the rails.


At Lewes the Brighton branch joins the line to Hastings at the east end of the station, which has one platform in the angle between tho two lines, and one outside each line.

The Brighton branch falls into Lewes on the following gradients:

From 4 mile post at the top of Falmer Hill to 7 1/2 mile post, 1 in 86 falling; from 7 1/2 mile post, 1 in 120 failing; from 7 3/4 mile post to 8 mile post at Lewes station, level.

The signal box at Lewes is at the junction at the east of the station, and from the signal box the Brighton branch can been for the only 380 yards.The following are the dimensions of the trolleys used upon this line.

Height  - 1ft. 9in.
Size of body 6ft x 5ft. 6in.
Extreme length 7ft 2in
Diameter of wheels 1ft 6in
Distance between wheel centres 3ft 6in
Weight 6 cwt

They have no fixed break, but they are freaked in the usual manner by means of break sticks 2ft 8in x 3in x 1 1/2., each trolley having two such sticks.


Samuel Young states. - I have been a driver for 25 years, over 20 years in the service if the London, Brighton, and South coast Railway. On the 23rd August I was driver of the 4.50 p.m. passenger train from Seaford to Lewes, consisting at engine and tender and seven vehicles. I was running nearly to time, and I found the signals off for running into Lewes. 1 came slowly over the junction up to the platform andI did not see the trolleys until l had  passed the signal-cabin. When I saw them they were·half·way along the platform, and they seemed to me to be running fast perhaps at as much as 20 miles an hour. I at once put on steam to try and get by them, but they struck the third vehicle in my train. I then at once shut off steam and came to a. stand as soon as possible. I did not see the ganger jump off the trolley.

George Lewis states:- I have been 27 years in the service, and 22 years a guard. I was guard of the 4.50 p.m. train, which was made was made up as follows:- engine and tender, second class break carriage, one third class one second-class, one first class, and two third-class carriages, and rear break-van, in which I was riding. We arrived  at Lewes at right time, 6.22 p.m. I was on the platform in my van when I saw that something had struck the centre of the train. I at once applied my break. I had not felt the train increase speed, at all just before it was struck. T'he trolleys grazed the sides of all the vehicles in the train behind the third vehicle. The trailing wheels of the six-wheeled first class carriage were off' the rails. No passengers were injured.

William Elphick states.-1 have been 16 years in the service, and 10 years porter at Lewes. I was on the Brighton up platform at Lewes when the two trolleys passed, I saw them coming with only the ganger on the front trolley. They were running at 12 or 14 miles an hour for they passed me quickly, at I was running towards the signal-cabin to try and attract the attention of the signalman. The ganger jumped off when within about 40 yards of the train which was struck by the trolleys. He did not fall when he jumped off.

James Blackman states.-I have 17 years in the service, ganger all the time. I am in nominal charge of a length of 1 3/4 miles from Lewes towards Uckfield, but I am usually employed on special jobs, and I have been away from my length now for 18 months, another man being in temporary charge. On the 1st August I began to relay between and Falmer, putting in new steel rails  in place of the old ones. Having finished that length we came on to Falmer, and put in 1/2 mile of new rails, on the up line, through the tunnel, and a little on the Lewes side of it. We finished doing this on the 22nd August. On the 23rd August I had working under me 12 men; the four men belonging to the length and eight others. The whole gang was employed in bringing the best of the old rails, which we had taken out, further down the line towards Lewes, to be put in at places where the old rails were most worn. One man was out signalling and the other 12 were with the trolleys. I had three trolleys, and we loaded each with ten rails, there being four men with each trolley. We made four trips down, taking all the men each time, and unloading each time a little nearer to Lewes. The fifth lot of rails were to be unloaded near Ashcombe signal cabin. As soon as a down train had passed at 4.55 p.m., we commenced to load for the last trip that evening, and we started a few minutes after 5 p.m. We had to push the trolleys about 200 yards to the top of the incline, and then we started to run down with three men on each trolley. I left behind the four men of the gang, who lived at the place where we loaded, as I thought the nine men would be sufficient. We came about a quarter of a mile, breaking the trolleys down at about 4 miles an hour, and here we passed the place where we had unloaded the previous lot, and where the men had left their clothes. I was on the leading trolley, and, with my permission, two men got off Nos.1 and 2 trolleys, and one off the rear trolley, to pick up the clothes, &c., and then to get on again. We came very nearly to a stand before the men got down, and I intended to stop altogether, but the rear trolley came up and struck the one in front, and that started the two front trolleys off. We had been running down with the two front ones near together, and the rear one a good bit behind. I remained on the front trolley doing my best to stop it, by the help of the break stick, but the two front trolleys ran down together gaining speed as far as Ashcombe, that is about 1 1/4 miles. The third trolley, which had two men still on it, did not run so fast, and was stopped a little below Ashcombe. We were running at 15 or 20 miles an hour as we passed Ashcombe, but after that I thought at one time I had nearly got control over my trolley. The man on the second trolley jumped off about half a mile from Lewes. I believe he thought he could stop his trolley, as we were then running a little slower, but as he did not succeed in doing so, I had after that the weight of both trolleys on me, I do not think, however, that we gained a great deal of speed after this, as the gradient go less steep. I remained on the leading trolley until within 30 yards of the place where we struck the train, having done my best all the way with the break I had, and being completely done. I could not signal to the signalman at Ashcombe as we passed, for I could not leave my break stick. There are no special rules as to the loads of trolleys. I have often taken 10 rails before. That would be about two tons. I think I made a mistake in not being sure I had stopped before letting the men get down, and then spragging the wheels while they were away. I never intended to run on with only one man on each. trolley, and did not think we would have started off so fast if the rear trolley had not struck the one in front of it. A trolley is indispensable  for small jobs but in cases where there are a large number of rails to be moved, I think it ballast train would be better, This did not occur to me before the accident, and the distance in this case was so small, I thought trolleys would be sufficient. I have no reason to think that if I had asked for a ballast train I could not have got it. There would, in my opinion, be no difficulty in fitting trolleys with a break.

John Allen states.- I have been a ganger for two years and have charge of the first length from Lewes towards Brighton. Some of the rails which were being moved were to be put in on my length, and I was waiting about 150 yards on the Lewes side of Ashcombe signal cabin to show where the rails were to be placed. I saw the trolleys coming with only one man on each of the two leading ones. I could see they were coming too fast to stop, but I had not my shovel or anything to enable me to do anything to stop the two leading ones. I was able to put some ballast on to the rails in time to stop No.3, which was some way behind, and having two men on it, was not running so fast. Nos. 1 and 2 were running at 10 miles an hour. I then run to warn the signalman in Ashcombe cabin and told him to get them turned on to the Tunbridge Wells line. I cannot say what message he sent. The rails were greasy that evening. The men seemed to be doing all their power to stop the trolleys.

Frederick Huggett states. - I have been nine years in the service, and from four to five years signalman at Ashcombe. on the 23rd August, soon after 5 p.m., I was on the line between the signal box and the down distant signal, going back to my box, having been out to light my lamps. I was running back, as I had an engine to take on. I heard a man call out, and heard the noise of the rear trolley striking the front ones, some way back towards Falmer. Just as I got to my box the trolleys passed me, running at about 10 miles an hour. I did not then think they were running away, but thought they had overshot the mark a little, as they should, I knew, have stopped near the signal box. A minute or so afterwards ganger Allen called out to me, "Let Lewes know about trolleys. They cannot stop." He said nothing about the Tunbridge Wells branch that I heard. I then called Lewes on my speaking instrument. The following are the messages which passed between us: 

5.15, Ashcombe to Lewes. - "Three trolleys are got away from the men; turn them on Tunbridge Wells line." 

5.19 p.m. Ashcombe to Lewes " Do you understand?" 

Lewes to Ashcombe. - "Yes; turn some trolleys on tunbridge Wells line." 

Ashcombe to Lewes.- "The men cannot stop them."

This message was not taken off by Lewes. I did not at the time enter these messages in my message book, but according to the rules I should have done so. When I am busy I often write out messages on a rough memorandum, and then enter them afterwards. I wrote these messages on a memorandum a minute or so after I had sent them; before I heard of the accident.

Walter Finch states.- I have been 16 or 17 years in the service, and over 12 years signalman. I was on duty in the Lewes signal box on the 23rd august. At 5.19 I got this message from Ashcombe:

5.19 p.m., Ashcombe to Lewes. - "Three trolleys coming down; turn them on Tunbridge Wells line." I took this off. Ashcombe then asked me if I understood, and I said "Yes," and repeated the message back, when he answered, "Right." No other message passed, and nothing was said about trolleys running away. I received the message at 5.17, but I booked it at 5.19. I saw the trolleys coming when they were about half way down the platform. the train was then close to the junction, so I could not move it up the Brighton line. I often receive messages to turn trolleys on to Tunbridge Wells line, so I did not think there was anything unusual. I thought Ashcombe was only letting me know which line they wanted to go to. I made the entry in my message book at once.


Ganger Blackman in his evidence describes very clearly the events preceding this collision, which was undoubtedly due to a grave mistake on his part. He ought not to have allowed any of his gang to get. off the trolleys to pick up their clothes until these had been brought quite to a stand, and had been properly secured. I believe, however, that the two leading trolleys would not have started off and overpowered the men who remained, ono upon each of them, if it had not been for tho carelessness of the two men remaining on the rear trolley, in letting this one strike the one in front, and so start it off. The probability is that all the men were in a hurry to get home from their work, and, as is unfortunately too often the case in these days, were thinking more of this than of doing their work properly. 

After the trolley had got away, the ganger and the man on the second trolley seem to have done their utmost, with the means at their disposal, to bring them to a stand and the ganger remained at his post until the collision was inevitable

It might easily have been averted if it had not been for a mistake on the part of the signalman at Ashcombe or at Lewes. There was certainly a message sent from Ashcombe to say that three trolleys were coming down, and were to be turned on to the Tunbridge Wells line; but while the Ashcombe signalman states that he sent another message to say that the men on the trolleys were unable to stop them, the signalman at Lewes denies having received any such message. The probability is\that the statement of the latter is correct, for the Ashcombe signalman admits that he did not obey the rule as to entering the messages at once, and, if this message had been sent, there could have been no possible reason for the Lewes signalman not attending to it.

There is no signal in the block telegraph code in use on this line for vehicles running away, as the Company consider that there is less liability of mistake when such messages are sent on the speaking instrument, in the use of which all their signalmen are instructed.

Although the results of this collision were not grave, there can be no question about the real danger which is caused by the running away of heavily laden trolleys on a steep incline, and I think that the Company would do well to issue some regulations regarding the use of trolleys, and limiting the loads which may be placed upon them. Trolleys cannot he dispensed with in carrying on the ordinary repairs of a line, but it would be far better in such cases as this, where it appears that over 50 tons of rails had to he moved, to employ ballast trains, using trolleys only in cases where a few rails or some light loads have to be moved.

It is also worth consideration whether platelayers' trolleys should not be fitted with a proper break, provided one could he designed strong enough to stand the rough usage to which such trolleys are necessarily subjected.

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