on 11th APRIL 1881

Involving Driver William Searles and his firemen James Brown

Depot not known

Extracted & adapted from the report by


The accident that happened. on the 11th April to a passenger train at the Streatham Hill station of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, when the break-van next the engine, a third- class carriage next to the break-van, and the leading wheels of the next third-class carriage got off the rails at the crossing of the right rail of the up line with the left rail of a cross-over road. 

It is stated that no person was injured; the permanent-way was slightly damaged, and an axle of the break-van which got off the rails was slightly bent.


The line through Streatham Hill station is straight, and with the exception of about 2 chains length, which is level, opposite part of the platform, it is on a gradient of 1 in 100, falling from the Crystal Palace side through Streatham towards Balham for a considerable distance. There is a cross-over road with trailing-points on the up line, about 40 yards from the Victoria end of the up platform, and the crossing at which the accident happened is about 29 yards on the Crystal Palace side of the trailing points.

The permanent-way consisted of double-headed steel rails, that weighed 78 lbs. to the yard, in lengths of 21 feet, fixed in cast-iron chairs, that each weighed 32lbs., by wooden keys placed outside the rails. The chairs are fastened to transverse sleepers by means of hollow trenails with iron spikes 6 inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter. The sleepers of wood are 9 feet. long by 10 inches by 5 inches rectangular, and 8 are allowed for each rail being placed 2 feet 2 inches apart at the joints and 2 feet 8 1/2 inches elsewhere.

The joints of the rails are fished with 2 plates, together weighing 23lbs., and 4 bolts with nuts to each joint.


William Searles, engine-driver about 25 or 26 years, and in the service of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company, states.-I was driving engine No. 33 with the 6.30 p.m. train from London Bridge to Victoria station. My train consisted of a tank engine, running with the chimney in front, and 12 carriages, including two break-vas, one next the engine and the other at the tail of the train. There were two third-class carriages with four wheels next to the front break-van. We left London Bridge at·the proper time, stopped at all stations; and as we were running into Streatham Hill station at the usual speed of about 10 or 12 miles an hour, l applied the Westinghouse break about the commencement of the up platform, and the break-blocks were in contact with the wheels before we reached the crossing of the cross-over road. I did not feel anything unusual as we went over the crossing. There was no platelayer out with a red or green flag to caution the driver. I stood on the platform side of the engine, and my fireman was on the 6-foot side. He was looking over the side of the engine on the 6-foot side, and saw the first wheel drop off. He called out, "The break is off the road." Mine was a close-buffered train, and as soon as the fireman called out I put the full power of the break on. The engine stopped 2 or 3 yards short of the trailing points of the cross-over road. When we had stopped I got off the engine, and walked back along the 6-foot space to see what was the matter; and I found that the break-van next to the engine, and the carriage next to it, were both off the rails, all four wheels on the left side, and the second carriage had the leading wheels also off the rails on the left side. The whole train was still coupled together. I noticed that a right rail was bent on the Victoria side of the crossing. It was near the crossing. I did not notice any chairs broken. The road was so bent about that I could not say what was its exact state. The Westinghouse break was fitted to the engine and to all the vehicles in the train; it was in good order, and had acted properly at all stations. I had about 50lbs pressure on the Westinghouse break. I stopped at about the usual place at the platform, it might be a yard or two further on.

James Brown, fireman to William Searles, 4 1/2 years a fireman, states.-I was with J, Brown four weeks last :Monday morning, 11th April. All went right up to the time of our arrival at Streatham Hill station. We were running in at from 10 to 15 miles an hour, just about the same rate as usual. Some men were employed at the crossing. I had put the hand-break on the engine on, and was looking over the side as we passed the crossing. I was looking back after passing the crossing. I only noticed that the platelayer were in a great hurry, and one jumped up on the platform, as if to get up on the platform to get a flag, to stop the train. When 1 first looked back there was nothing amiss with the train. I noticed the break-van give a lurch towards the platform, and told my mate instantly that the break-van was off the road, and I saw the two following carriages also get the rails on the platform side. The leading wheels only of the second carriage were off the rails. I think the driver put the Westinghouse break very gently on at the London Bridge end of the platform some distance before we reached the crossing. I think we were not running much more than 5 miles an hour when we crossed over the crossing. After the train stopped I went back to sec what was amiss. 1 found that the break-van, the next carriage to it; and the leading wheels of the next carriage, were all off the road. I noticed that the next rail outwards. I did not notice the joint of the rail next the crossing on the right rail. I noticed that three chairs were broken under the right rail of the straight road; these were the three first single chairs from the angle. The first broken was the second from the angle. I do not know whether it was broken on the inside or outside of the rail. I could not say whether the rail was bent or not. I did not notice anything wrong this side (Crystal Palace side) of the angle. The break van and two carriages appeared to get off at the same spot. I cannot say whether the sleepers were packed or not. There was nothing the matter with the Westinghouse break, as far as I know, at any of the stoppages at the previous stations, seven in number, before reaching Streatham Hill station. I am in the habit of using the hand break at all station.

George Brogden, ganger, 15 or 16 years in the service of the London, Brighton, and South Const Railway Company, states. I was on duty at Streatham Hill station on the morning of' the 11th April, and began work about 1.45 a.m. We were engaged in taking out the crossing of the cross-over road of the up line, and in putting in n new crossing. When the 6.30 train was approaching the station we had got the new crossing in, and had spiked some of the chairs and had not spiked others. I was standing on the up platform as the 6.30 a.m. train was coming in. I stood opposite the crossing. I could not see whether the breaks were applied or not. I did not see the vehicles get off the rails; I saw them afterwards. The break van got off the rails. I did not notice the next carriage to it, but the leading wheels of the next carriage were also off the rails on the platform side. The joint of the rail next the angle of the crossing was not fished, but had two bolts in it on the London Bridge side of the joint. No bolts were in on the other end of the fished plates. One chair on the London Bridge side of the joint was broken, and two on the other side. The next chair under the closer was not broken. The closer was a little bent outwards. The sleepers were all properly packed at the time. It is not authorised by the Company's rules to allow trains to run over crossing fastened by one spike in some chairs and none in others. There had been a flag out, but no man with it, but the flag was down when the train arrived. The signal boxes were shut up at the time; they are usually closed on Sunday night, and not opened until Monday morning. I saw the signalman going towards the signal box, and he asked me if I was ready for the train. I told him that I was.

John Parker, platelayer 12 months, states. I was standing in the 6 foot space as the 6.30 a.m. train approached; this was about 7 o'clock. I saw the van get off the rails. I saw the right wheels drop off inside the right rail. The break pushed the right rail out, the closing rail. The crossing was not pushing out at all. I did not see any of my mates use a crowbar to push the crossing inwards. All four wheels of the break van got off; I did not see any wheels of the next carriage get off; and the hind wheels of the next carriage also got off the rails. None got off before passing the angle of the crossing. There were two bolts in the fished plates at the joint on the London Bridge end of the closing rail, and four in the other fished plates at the farther joint. New sleepers had been put in under the crossing that morning. They had been packed, and nothing has been done to them since. Some of the holes in the sleepers under the chairs under the crossing were made after the accident happened.

John Richardson, locomotive foreman 5 years, and 14 years in the Company's service, States.-1 brought a break-down gang here. and got here about 8.30 a.m. At that time the break-van had been got on to the rails; the engine was at the London Bridge end of the train. We then got the next carriage to the break van on the rails at the crossing,  after it had been uncoupled from the train. The next carriage, which had had a pair of wheels off the rails, had been got on to the line before l got here. When I had got the first carriage next to the van on the rails I pulled the break van and the next carriage clear of the crossing on the Victoria side of it to allow the men to go on putting the road to right, but before they had got it in order some one must have taken the break off in the break van in the London Bridge end of the train, and the train ran towards Victoria, and the leading wheels of the second carriage left the rails at the same place, where the road was quite 2 inches wide. This was before the road was put right. I then saw the platelayers make use or the crowbars to push the right rail towards the left at the crossing rail. I am not certain, but 1 think the boring of the holes in the sleepers under the chairs took place after the crowbars had been made use of. I cannot say whether the crossing was pushed over or not.


From the preceding statements it appears that as the 6.30 a.m. passenger train from London Bridge to Victoria station, consisting of a tank-engine and 12 vehicles, including two break-vans, one at each end of the train, and the whole fitted with the Westinghouse break, was in the act of stopping at the Streatham Hill station of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, the leading break-van next the engine, a 4-wheeled third-class carriage next to the van, and the leading wheels of the next carriage all got off the rails, on the left or platform side of the line, and finally stopped, after running about 20 yards on the ballast, the whole train still remaining coupled together.

These vehicles all got off at the crossing of the right rail of the up line by the left rail of the cross-over road, when the train is said to have been travelling at the rate of about 5 miles an hour, and, according to the evidence, the Westinghouse break had been lightly applied until after the engine had got over the crossing, and full power was put on as soon as the fireman warned the engine-driver that the break-van was off the road. This occurred about 7.0 a.m.

It further appears that, on the morning in question; the ganger and a party of platelayers commenced, at a quarter before 5 a.m.; to take out a crossing under the right rail of the up line, and to replace it with a new one, taking out also the old sleepers on which the old crossing had been fixed, and replacing them with new sleepers. The whole of the new sleepers are said to have been properly packed with ballast before the accident occurred.

On the second sleeper back from the angle of the crossing there was a chair under each rail, but there were no spiked treenails in either chair; on the next sleeper ahead, and on that under the angle of the crossing, there were chairs under each rail, but with only one spiked treenail in each chair. I could not ascertain whether these single spiked treenails were on the insides or outsides of the right and left rails. On the sleeper beyond the angle of the crossing there were chairs under each rail, but they were not spiked; the three next sleepers ahead were all old sleepers which had not been interfered with, and each of these chairs, under each rail, had three treenailed spikes driven through each chair. These three chairs under the right rail were all found broken on the inside of the right rail after the accident had occurred; the joint between the crossing rail and a closing rail 7 feet in length ahead occurred between the first and second of these three sleepers; two fish-bolts were in the Crystal Palace end of the fished plates at this joint, but there were none in the holes at the Victoria end of the fish-plates. The joint of the closing rail at the Victoria end was properly fished at that end.

'l'he closing rail was forced outwards a the Crystal Palace end to the extent of about 2 inches, and it is probably certain that this was done by the right wheels of the break-van dropping inside the right rail from the yielding outwards of the crossing where the chairs were only secured to the sleeper by singles spiked treenails, and the absence of any spiked treenails in some of the other chairs under the crossing. The spike in the chair under the angle of the crossing was also found to he slightly bent.

I was told that the ballast was nearly in the same condition when I saw it as it was immediately after the accident happened. It was well filled up inside the left rail, but the sleepers were exposed inside the right rail.

It is also stated that the Westinghouse breaks had acted properly, when applied, in stopping the train at all the stations between London Bridge and Streatham Hill station.

This accident occurred to the first up train to Victoria from London Bridge on the Monday morning. It is stated to be the practice on this line to close the signal-boxes on the Sunday night; throughout the line during the night after the last train has passed, and to open them on the Monday morning 30 minutes before the first train is due; and it is stated that the Streatham Hill signal-box was opened at 6.15 a.m. on that morning.

I have no doubt that the accident was due to the insufficient manner in which the crossing was secured by single spiked treenails in two out of the five chairs under the right rail, while other two of the five had no spiked treenails in the chairs at all, and only one (that next to the joint) with three spiked treenails in the chair. This chair was broken, as well as the two next chairs on two sleepers under the closing rail ahead, 7 feet in length, which was forced outwards by the light wheels dropping off inside the right rail;

It is stated that the engine did not stop exactly at the usual place alongside the platform, other-wise it would not have passed over the spot where the new crossing had been put in, and it is quite possible that the putting on the break had something to do with the rails being forced  out.

But the most objectionable feature connected with this accident is, that the plate- layers had taken .no precautions whatever to warn the driver of the train that this crossing was not properly secured; indeed, the ganger admits that be had told the signalman that he was ready for the train.

The train which met with the accident was one appointed to stop at this station, and no serious results followed the accident; but it might have been very different if a non-stopping special train had run over the crossing in the state in which it was when the 6.30 a.m. train arrived and got off the rails.

I cannot learn that the Railway Company have issued any special instructions to the platelayers informing them of the manner in which they should act in such cases.

I understand that the ganger has been dismissed the Company's service.

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