17th DECEMBER 1884 





extracted & adapted from the report by


A collision occurred on the 17th December, 1884 near West Croydon station, on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway. In this case, the 5.50 p.m. up passenger train from Sutton to London, consisting of tank engine third-class break-carriage, one third-class, one composite, one second-class, three first-class, one second-class, and one third-class carriages, and third-class break-carriage, when approaching West Croydon at about.6.1 p.m., overtook and came into collision with the rear of the 3.5 p.m. up goods train from Epsom to Norwood Junction, consisting of tank engine, 32 wagons, of which nine were loaded, and two break-vans at the rear which, after standing for about five minutes at the West Croydon south up home-signal, had started ahead and was running probably at about 10 miles an hour when the collision occurred.

None of the vehicles in the passenger train left the rails, and no couplings in this train were broken, but the goods train was divided and three or four wagons were piled up.

The Company report that eight passengers have complained of injury, and both guards of the goods train were badly hurt.

The front guard of the passenger train was also slightly injured.

The engine and three carriages in the passenger train, and the two break-vans and 12 goods wagons were damaged. 


Waddon station is 1,638 yards south of the south signal-box at West Croydon station.
At Waddon the up starting-signal is at the north end of the up platform, opposite to the signal-box, and the advance-signal is 266 yards north of the signal-box. West Croydon south up distant-signal is 8-6 yards south of the signal-cabin, and 556 yards north of Waddon up advance starting-signal, and West Croydon south up home-signal is 244 yards south of the signal-box, and is visible from an approaching up train for over 400 yards.

The point of collision was 44 yards north of the home-signal, and a red light at this point should be seen from an approaching engine for over 260 yards.

The line is level from Waddon to a point 250 yards outside the West Croydon south up home-signal, and thence rises on a gradient of 1 in 100 to West Croydon.

The Wimbledon single line runs parallel to the double main line from a point about 300 yards outside the home-signal and into the station.

The line is worked upon the absolute block system, and on this section the electrical block instruments and out-of-door block-signals are interlocked upon Saxby and Farmer's system, so that the block-signal at any station cannot be lowered until line clear" has been received from the signal-box in advance.

At Waddon the block signal is the advance starting-signal, and this signal cannot be lowered until " line clear" is received from West Croydon south.

The passenger train was fitted throughout with Westinghouse break.


William Younger, guard, states : I have been nearly 30 years in the service and over 20 years a guard. On the 17th December I came on duty at Epson at 9 a.m., and was due off duty at 8.50 p.m. I was off duty from 11 a.m. to 4.80 p.m. I left Sutton in charge of the 5.50 p.m. train for London Bridge. My train consisted of 10 coaches, all fitted with the Westinghouse break, driver Milley, engine No. 6, "Wimbledon." On approaching Waddon Station, I found all signals off with the exception of the starting signal. After doing the work of the station, the starting-signal was still at danger.

I asked the station-master if he was "Right," and he replied " When the signal is lowered," or words to that effect. At that moment the signal was lowered, and I then gave the driver a white light to draw ahead. I do not know why I gave such a signal, as it is not the proper starting-signal. We then proceeded towards West Croydon. I cannot say whether the advance-signal at Waddon was "on" or "off,"as I was busy at the time with my parcels and letters.

I saw that the signals at West Croydon were off. I did not see any red light until just as we struck the goods train. I got out of my break and inquired of the passengers if they were hurt, but no one made any complaint. I then assisted them out and conducted them to the West Croydon station. I was not looking for signals at all when starting from Waddon, and I cannot say whether or not the advance was off when we left the platform. I had the power of applying the Westinghouse break. The train was a block train, and was made up as follows :-Tank engine, third-class break, third-class, composite, second-class, three first-class, second-class, third-class, and third class break. I was in the leading vehicle, which was the one most damaged by the collision. No carriage left the rails. I was slightly hurt, but nothing to speak of. We were running right time all the way. 

I had not seen my driver, certainly not to speak too before starting. I spoke to him after the collision, and to the best of my belief he was sober. He simply said to me "The signals were off" when I questioned him. He was not hurt. I was looking out for signals when approaching Waddon, and I think they were off.

William Jones states: I have been over 31/2 years in the service, and 2 years months as guard. On the 17th December I came on duty at 9.5 a.m., and was due off at 8.38 p.m. I was off duty from 11 a.m. to 4.35 p.m. i left Sutton with the 5.50 p.m. train for London Bridge as under guard. We proceeded as far as Waddon all right. On approaching Waddon station I found the distant and home signals off, but the starting signal was at danger. As soon as we were ready to start that signal was lowered for us to proceed. I cannot say as to the state of the Waddon advance signal. I however notice the West Croydon signals were all off. I saw no red light in front of me, and knew nothing more until we came into collision with the goods train. I was thrown off my seat up into the corner of the break, but soon recovered, and got out, and assisted the passengers to alight, and accompanied them to the West Croydon station. i did not look back towards the platform at Waddon after leaving it, and therefore cannot say wether any light was shown from the platform towards the train. It is my practice to look back, but I did not do so on this occasion. I was riding in the rear break compartment. I did not go back to protect my train after the collision, nor did the other guard. I had no orders to do so. I didn’t see the driver that day till after the collision. He was then sober.

James Frost states. I have been seven or eight years in the service, and five years a goods guard. On the 17th December I was guard off the 3.5 p.m. up goods train from Epsom to Norwood Junction. We started three or four minutes late, and had five stops to make before getting to West Croydon. We left Waddon at 5.54 p.m., four minutes late. The train consisted of tank engine and 32 wagons, of which about nine were loaded, and two break vans at the rear. I was riding in the front one of the two and my mate was in the rear one. The tail light was burning well when we were stopped by signals at West Croydon. the driver stopped close by the home signal. I opened the door and looked out when we stopped, and the light was burning well. 

The tail lamp is on the left handsome. As near as I can remember we stood for about four or five minutes, and then both signals on the home signal post were taken off for us; one being the distant from the north box. My driver started, and I was just about to book the time when the collision occurred. I was thrown back against my break handle and then fell forward into 
the van. I was stunned and do not remember anything more. I am still off work. We are not timed to stop at West Croydon. We have been keeping good time as a rule, and run ahead of the passenger train. 

Martin Duffey states: I have been about four a half years ithe service, and two years a goods guard. l was under guard to Frost on the 17th December, and was riding in the rear van. As far as I knowFrosts statements is correct. I can remember nothing that happened after the collision. I was shaken badly and am still off work. The last time I saw the tail lamp was at Waddon. It was burning well when we started. I had trimmed it that afternoon. It was dark but clear.

Clarence James Stanley, signalman, Waddon station signal-box, states : I have been over five years in the service, and 12 months a signalman. On the 17th December I came on duty at 5.50 p.m. for 12 hours at Waddon station. When I came on duty I found the goods train at the station, which was just ready to start. I signalled it on to West Croydon at 5.52 p.m., which signal was accepted, and the "Line clear" signal given, and the goods left on the second signal, " Train on line," at 5.53. After it had cleared the station, I gave the arrival signal to Wallington at 5.55. I received the signal for the passenger train (5.50 ex Sutton) which I cleared for at 5.55, but not having received the arrival signal from West Croydon for the goods train, I had all signals at danger against the passenger train. On hearing the driver whistle, I lowered my home signal for the train to enter the platform. After I saw the train was ready to start I lowered my starting-signal for the train to proceed to the advance-signal. I a.m positive this signal was at danger, and I saw the driver of the passenger train pass it at danger. I looked out of the window before be bad passed it to see if he was going to stop or not. I then saw Mr. Gates, the station-master, cross the line from the up to the down platform, and wave a red light towards the tail off the train, he then came up in the box and took hold of the speaking instrument and wired something to West Croydon. After that he tested the locking gear. I said to Mr. Gates when he came up in the box, I was afraid the driver was going to run by the signal by the way he started. I did not receive any arrival signal from West Croydon for the goods train. It was impossible for me to lower my up advance starting-signal until I had got " Line clear" from West Croydon south box. I am sure that I had put the signal to danger after the goods train left. I must have done so or else I could not have cleared the road back to Wallington. When Mr Gates tested the locking it was all right. 

Henry Martin, signalman, West Croydon states: I have been 30 years in the service, and 29 years a signal man. On the 17th December I came on duty at 7 a.m. for 12 hours, and I was on duty in the West Croydon south box when the collision occurred. I received the first signal from Waddon for the goods train at 5.52. I cleared the road for the goods to leave Waddon and received the second signal, "Train on line," at '5.53. I gave the signal to the north box at 5.53 asking for the road, but in consequence of the down train from Victoria entering the bay, I could not get the through signal, and therefore kept my up signals at danger. I received the through signal at 5.59 from the north box and lowered all signals for the goods to go rightaway through the station. About three minutes afterwards my attention. was called to the speaking instrument by Waddon box calling " C." I then went to the instrument when I received the message "Driver has passed signal at danger." I then put my distant and home signals to danger, At this time the engine of the goods train was almost abreast of my box, running at between 12 to 15 miles an hour. Immediately then I heard a noise as if the goods train had broken away, and seeing the trucks parted I gave the break away signal to the north box. I then called to a porter to tell the driver of the goods train that he broken away. I had no idea that the passenger train had collided with the goods, as I had given no arrival of the goods train having passed my box, nor had I given any permission for the passenger train to leave Waddon station. It would have been impossible for the signalman at Waddon to lower his advance signal until I had given permission on the block instrument. I lost no time in putting my signals to danger when I received the message on the speaking instrument. I ran to the levers before completing my answer to the message. I should say it was some seconds before the collision took place.

Arthur George Gatesstation-master, Waddon, states : I have been station-master six years, four years at Waddon. I was on duty on the 17th December on the arrival of the goods train, and saw it leave about 5.53 p.m. I stood on the down platform at the office door, and saw the train pass the up advance starting-signal. I then saw that signal put to danger, and listened to the ringing from the box for the 5.50 p.m. up passenger train, which was immediately given out. I then went into the office for one or two letters. I heard the engine whistle, which broucrht n;'e out nt once to the platform. I then looked at the Signal-box and saw the signalman lower his home signal for the train to run up to the platform. The starting-signal and advance-signal were both at danger. After the work of the station was done the guard Younger called out, " Are you right there?" to which I replied, " When the signals are." I then walked towards the guard and he asked me" what was keeping us, as we-were kept a minute at Wallington.'' I replied,"I know you were not, you left at right time. At that moment the starting signal at the platform was lowered and the train proceeded. I gave Younger a white light, telling him to pull up a bit. The train then started towards the advance signal. I waited there as it passed me on the platform, and when the last carriage passed me, I looked to see the tail lamps were all right. I observed the train was going too fast to pull up at the advance signal. which was still at danger. I then got down off the platform on to the metals, and by that time the break had just passed the signal-box. I still observed they were going too fast to stop at the advance-signal. I then turned the red light on in my lamp, and waved it towards the tail of the train. Then I got on to the down platform thinking I might get higher to attract the attention of the rear guard or any one in charge of the train, but failed to do so, when the train passed the advance-signal still at danger. The reason I waved my red light was, I saw the signals were off at West Croydon, and I knew they must be intended for the goods train which had just previously left. While I was waving the light the signalman looked out of the window of the signal-box, and said, " I believe they are going to run by the signal." Finding they had done so I rushed up into the signal-box; the signalman was then at the speaking instrument. I took it out of his bond and called West Croydon south box, who immediately answered when I told the signalman there the train had left against signals. He acknowledged every word except the word " signals." I said to the signalman in my box that driver has taken our advance-signal for the Croydon distant, and will take the Croydon distant for the Croydon home, and will run into something. This conversation took place after the message had been sent to Croydon.

Robert Milley, driver. states: I have been in the London, Brighton, and South Coast service about 14 years, and 3 1/2 years driver. On the 17th December I came on duty at 1.30 p.m., and was due oft' at about 11 p.m. I left Sutton, attached to the 5.50 p.m. passenger train for London Bridge engine No. 6, named " Wimbledon." The train consisted of 10 coaches, all fitted with the Westinghouse break. I was running bunker first. We proceeded safely as far as Waddon. On approaching Waddon station Ifound the signals at duger. I whistled, and got the home-signal to enter the station. I found the starting signal at the north end of the platform at danger. I did not whistle for that signal. I got a signal from the guard to start when the starting-signal was lowered. When I started from the platform I saw the advance-signal was off, but, on approaching it, it was taken off. I was about 10 yards from the the West Croydon home-signal. We passed that at advance-signal when it was lowered. I did not shutoff steam from the time I left the platform. I found the West Croydon distant and home signals off. I saw ahead of me a red light on the near aide, which I thought was something in the Wimbledon sidings. I then found it was a train standing on the up line. I was then about 20 yards from it. I applied the Westinghouse break as quickly as possible, but could not stop before coming into collision with the train. It was too dark for me to see the arm of the advance signal at Waddon fall, but I saw the light changed. I saw the red light on the line a long way ahead first, but thought it was on the Wimbledon line. I did not realise that it was on my line till I was within 20 yards of it. My continuous break was in first class order and acted well. I must have been running about 15 miles an hour when I applied it, and was running between 10 and 12 miles an hour when I struck the other train. I cannot say whether this train was moving or not. I was not knocked down or hurt. I am in the habit of working the same train, and have done so for some time past. My steam was shut off before I saw the red light ahead of me. I had shut it off 200 or 300 yards from the home-signal, and that is the usual place with this class of train. The home-signal at West Croydon was not thrown up to danger.

Joseph Burbage states: I have been over 4 1/2 years in the service, and a passed fireman for over a year. On the 17th December I came on duty with Milley. I have only been four or five times over the line between Waddon and West Croydon. On approaching Waddon the signal was at danger, but the home and distant were lowered for us. The starting signal was not 
lowered until the work at the station was done. The guard gave us a white light signal to start. The advance signal was showing a red light when we passed it. I thought at the time that this signal was the distant signal from West Croydon, and so I did not say anything to my driver. The next signal was showing a green light, and that I took for the West Croydon home signal. We passed that at 25 miles an hour. The next signal had two lights, both showing green, and I took this for another stop signal, with a distant signal below it. It did not occur to me that the first signal was too far out for  home signal. The first time I saw a red light on the line ahead of us was when we passed the West Croydon distant, which I had taken for the home signal. We thought the red light was on the Wimbledon line. We were only about 10 yards from it when we saw that it was on our line. Steam was then off. It had been shut off between the distant and home signals. We had passed the signal with two lights before we made out the red light was on our line. The lights were still showing green; I am sure. We were running at about 25 miles an hour when my driver applied his continuous break, and had reduced very little when the collision occurred. When we stopped I said to Milley, “Bob, we’ve taken that red light for a distant signal,” and he said, “No, all the signals were off.” I told officers of the Company that Waddon advance signal was off, and corroborated my driver’s evidence, but I spoke falsely, and my present evidence is correct.

Inspector Page, of the Traffic Department, and Inspector Bates, of the Signal Department, arrived at West Croydon, the former at 6.30, and the latter at 8.30. They both tested the locking and found it all right.  


This collision is a bad instance of a driver running past a signal at danger, and shows bow impossible it is to avoid accidents, even upon lines worked upon the best possible principles, unless the servants of the Company are alert and attentive.

The driver was the person most in fault, but the collision would not have occurred if either of the guards had been looking out for signals, as it was their duty to do, for either might have stopped the passenger train by the application of the Westinghouse break upon seeing the advance starting-signal at Waddon at danger.

As to the state of this signal there can be no question, in spite of the driver's statement that it was off for him, for, owing to the interlocking of the block instruments with the out-of-door block-signals, it was out of the power of the signal man at Waddon to lower it until he had received " Line clear" from the preceding goods train, which had been stopped at West Croydon south signals, and the whole of the evidence, moreover, goes to prove that it was not lowered.

The driver was clearly keeping no look-out ,whatever, taking it for granted that the advance-signal would be lowered for him when the platform starting-signal had been taken off for him to run up to the advance; and although, after he had passed this advance-signal, all signals were right for him, the West Croydon signals having by that time been lowered for the goods train to proceed, he ought, nevertheless, to have seen that the tail lamps on the goods train were on his line, and not on the parallel Wimbledon line, long before he did, and in ample time to stop his train.

No doubt the curve in the line would have made it difficult for him to realise the actual position of the red tail light when it first became visible, but there is no excuse for his running right on to the tail of a train moving ahead some 10 miles an hour, as he clearly did, before taking any steps to stop his train.

He may have been to a certain extent misled by the guard showing him a white light instead of a green one when starting from Waddon, but that did not in the least justify him in running past the advance starting-signal at danger.

Besides their neglect of duty in not looking out for signals, the guards took no steps to protect their train after the collision, as they should have done.

The driver had been on continuous duty for 4 1/2 hours, and the guards for 9 hours, but with 5 1/2 hours off in the middle of the day.

I think it would be far better not to start passenger trains from the platform at Waddon unless the section ahead is clear, for little or nothing is gained by letting them run forward to the advance-signal, a distance of 266 yards.

The desirability of distinguishing in some way between distant and home signal lamps at night, which is often felt, is shown by this accident ; for the fireman, who saw the Waddon advance-signal at danger, would probably have called his driverattention to it, ha.d he not thought it was a distant-signal, having himself little experience of this part of the line. A recent invention of revolving or flashing lights at distant-signals would seem worthy of trial.

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