on 19th DECEMBER 1890

Involving Drivers William Packham, Alfred Sturman

Driver John Cousens and his Fireman Sidney Milhill

Depots not known

Extracted & adapted from the report by



A collision which occurred on the 19th ultimo between Spa Road and London Bridge stations on the South-Eastern Railway. In this case the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company's 6.43 a.m. up workmen's train from West Croydon for London Bridge ran into the same Company's 6.50 a.m. up empty train from New Cross for London Bridge while the latter was crossing from the up main line to the up local line at No. 4 signal cabin London Bridge.

The collision occurred at 7.20 a.m. during the prevalence of a snow storm.
Six passengers in the workmen's train complained of having been shaken.
None of the servants of the Company were injured.
The workmen's train consisted of a tank-engine running chimney in front and 
14 vehicles (including two third-class brake carriages, the fifth and last vehicles), fitted throughout with the Westinghouse automatic-brake. No wheels left the rails in this train and no damage was sustained, except by the engine.

The empty train consisted of a tank-engine and 16 vehicles, including two third-class brake carriages and a tank-engine at the back of the train, the Westinghouse automatic- brake being fitted to the engine at the front of the train and all16 vehicles. In this train the 1st, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th vehicles were thrown off the rails, the vehicle first struck having been the 13th or 14th from the front.

A list of damage to the empty train is given in an Appendix.


This collision occurred about 35 yards on the London side of No. 4 signal cabin, London Bridge, this cabin being nearly half-a-mile from Lon·don Bridge station. The next signal cabins to it are Spa. Road on the down side and "AB" cabin on the up side about 600 yards and 300 yards respectively distant from it. The signalman in No. 4 cabin has to attend to the signalling of no less than six lines of rails, viz., four up lines and two down lines, as well as to a crossing from the up main to the up local line. The lines are properly signalled. The only signals to which it is necessary here to refer being the distant and home signals for the up local line and for the crossing from the up main to the up local line.

These signals are the two on the left of a group of up signals, the distant and home signals being arranged in a precisely similar manner. The distant and home signals are 370 yards apart, those for the up local line being on the extreme left of the group, and those for the crossing from the up main to the up local line being those next to the local line up signals, the up main line lying to the right of the up local line.

These signals can be well seen in clear weather. 

The collision occurred about 130 yards on the up side of the up home~signals at the fouling-point of the crossing from the 11.p main to the up local line.

The up local line passes underneath No. 4 .signal cabin.

This part of the line is worked-so far as regards trains following each other on the same line of rails-upon the absolute block system; but the signalman in No. 4 cabin is allowed to accept at the same time from Spa Road a train on the up local line and one to cross from the up main to the up local line, the up home and distant signals being depended on for protection, the former being, as before stated, about 130 yards distant from the fouling-point of the crossing.

The lines in the neighbourhood of No. 4 cabin are straight and practically level.


George Kavanagh, signalman ; 16 years in the South-Eastern Company's service, 10 years signalman. I have been employed for three years in No. 4 box, London Bridge, where I came on duty at 6 a.m. on the 18th December to remain till 2 p.m. I had a booking boy in the cabin with me. There are 19 levers in the cabin. I work block system between " AB " cabin towards London Bridge and Spa Road in the other direction. Block system is worked on six lines, viz., on four up lines and on two down lines. My rules allow of trains being accepted at the same time from Spa Road on the up local line and on the up main line to cross from the up main line to the up local line. It was snowing when I came on duty, and continued snowing up to the time of the collision, but there wall no fog, and there were no fog signalmen on duty. I could not see the up distant-signal back lights, but I could see those of the home-signals, which the diagram in the cabin shows to be 111 yards from the centre of the cabin, the distant-signals being 370 yards from the home-signals. At 7.10 a.m. I received the "Out'' signal from Spa Road for a train on the up main line, at which time the up main line was given at 7.19, :was the only other train in the block clear between me and Spa Road. I accepted the train and put up the electric semaphore arm at Spa Road. At 7.16 a.m. I got the tram described from Croydon line junction, nearly a mile off, on the train describer as a Brighton empty train. I forwarded the signal to "AB" cabin, and got in reply to the signal three blows on the local bell, meaning that I should pass the train from the up main line to the up local line. I acknowledged the signal by three blows. I then set the road and lowered No. 12 home-signal, but not the distant-signal, as the points having been stiff to work, and it having occupied longer than usual to take off the home- signal, I judged that the train would have passed the distant signal before I could have lowered it, though I had not yet seen the head-lights of the train. The front engine of the empty -train passed the cabin about 7.20 a.m. at a walking pace, as "AB" home signal (which I could see) was against it. The "Out" signal from Spa Road and the describing signal were the only two received affecting the empty train. two minutes is the general time taken by the trains to reach my cabin after the receipt of the describing signal. For the workmen's train due to pass my cabin about 7.14 or 7.15. I reached the "Out" signal from Spa Rond at 7.15 a.m. on the up local line. At this time the up local line was clear between my signals and Spa Road, and I accepted the train and received the describing signal at 7.18 a.m., but I did not pass it on to "AB" as the empty train wall close at hand and the home-signal No. 12 will lowered. It was impossible for me to lower either No. 14 or 15, the up home and distant signals for the up local line as the crossing was open for the empty train. I know that the up home-signal No. 14 was properly at danger and not showing a mixed light. l first caught sight of the workmen's train when it was a short distance, perhaps 30 yards, on the Spa Road side of the up home-signals, and I thought it was coming rather fast, and in consequence I went to the window at the Spa Road end of the cabin and shouted to the driver before he reached the cabin. I had not time to get hold of my lamp. There was a ".ab over the footplate and I could not see either the driver or fireman. I think the train passed under my cabin at a speed of 15 or 20 miles an hour. Steam was on the engine, and I do not think it was reversed, nor that any brakes were on the train. I was not in a position to do anything with regard to the empty train. The engine of the workmen's train and the rear engine of the empty train passed the box at the same time, but I do not know which vehicle in the empty train was struck by the other engine. After the collision, when the trains had come to a standstill, the last vehicle of the workmen's train was about 20 yards on the London side of the cabin on the rails; the rear engine of the empty train was about 10 yards from the cabin, nearer to it than the last vehicle of the workmen's train. It was still on the rails of the crossing. I heard no whistling before the collision. I did not notice what tail light the rear engine of empty train was showing. I did not see the driver the workmen's train after the collision. The collision occurred at 7.20 a.m. The lines were cleared by 11.51 a.m. A down Greenwich train for which the "Out" signal from "AB" cabin had been given at 7.19, was the only other train in the block at the time. No.12 signal was not thrown to danger till after the collision as I was trying to stop the workmen's train.

William Packham, driver; 16 years in the London and Brighton Company's service, four years driver. - I commenced work on December 18th at 9 p.m., to sign off between 9 and 10 a.m. on the 19th. I was driving No. 88 engine, a goods tank engine six wheels fitted with the Westinghouse brake. I joined the empty train at the down side of New Cross to take it up to London Bridge and started at 7.10 a.m. with 16 vehicles and another engine at the rear to work the train which should have formed a South London train due to leave London Bridge at 7.31 a.m. The Westinghouse brake was fitted throughout the train. We got a clear road as far as Bricklayers Arms junction, where I stopped, as though the main line signal was off, I wanted to come up the Spur line, as this was the readiest mode to get to the South London line. However, on the signalman informing me that the Spur line was blocked I proceeded along the up main line and found all signals off except the distant signal for No.4 cabin London Bridge, which was at danger; the home signal was off, which I saw immediately on passing the distant signal. I could not see it sooner owing to snow which was falling at the time. The signal I saw off was the second one from the left, which I knew was the one for passing from the main to the local line, and this was the line I wanted. I saw nothing wrong with the home signal for the local line, which was showing as good a light as the one next to it. I passed through the crossing at a speed of about 10 miles an hour, and observing that the South London home signal at "AB" cabin was at danger, I was prepared to stop at it if necessary, but it was lowered immediately on my whistling when I had passed through the crossing some 30 yards, and had just taken off my brake preparatory to going on, when the collision occurred, the speed of my train being about five miles an hour. The collision took me quite unawares, I having neither seen nor heard anything of the workmen's train. The engine of this train struck mine about 10 coaches from my engine. The coach next my engine was thrown off the rails, with four wheels out of six, the eight next remained on the rails of the crossing, the next six were off the rails, and the last vehicle and the other engine remained on the rails. The couplings were broken between my engine and vehicle next it and the engine was driven forward about 30 yards. There were no side-lights on the train and the lamps were not lit in the carriages. Dawn was just breaking at the time of the collision, which occurred about 7.20 a.m.

Alfred Sturman, driver; 16 years in the London and Brighton Company's service, 11 1/2 years driver.-1 came on duty on the 19th  ultimo at 6.10 a.m. to sign off between 12 and 1, this being a short day. My engine wns No. 261, a six-wheeled engine, with the leading and driving wheels coupled. I joined the tail of the empty train at New Cross, and proceeded with it towards London Bridge, having afterwards to work it as the 7.31 a.m. South London train from London Bridge. My engine was fitted with the Westinghouse brake, but it was not couple to the train on leaving New Cross. My engine was showing two red lights on the buffer-beam at the tank end. had seen these lights before leaving New Cross, and they were burning well. We stopped at Bricklayers' Arms junction to try to get the Spur Road, but not succeeding we went along the up main line, and the first signal at danger was the up main line distant-signal for No. 4 cabin London Bridge, but when I first saw the up home-signal for crossing from the up main line to the up local line it was lowered. I saw this signal when the front engine and three or four carriages had passed it. I could not see it sooner on account of snow falling at the time. I noticed at the same time the up local line home-signal and it was showing a good red light, our signal being green. The first I saw of the workmen's train was when the engine of that train was passing my engine ; at that time both engines were close to No. 4 signal cabin, my speed being five or six miles an hour, and that of the other engine 15 to 20 miles an hour. I called out, "Hie ! where are you going?," but had no time to whistle. I put the Westinghouse brake on my engine, which somewhat checked the speed without snapping the couplings. The engine of the workmen's train was not steaming when I first saw it, but I heard the Westinghouse brake being applied twice as the engine was passing. The third vehicle from my engine was struck by the other engine. My engine did not leave the rails, it stopped dead on the collision occurring, and I was not hurt. I saw the driver of the workmen's train soon after, and he was crying. He made no reply when I asked him what he had been abont. After the collision the red lights at the rear of my engine were still burning.

John Cousens, driver; 19 3/4 years in the London and Brighton Company's service, six months driver ; fireman 10 years previously to becoming driver.-I commenced work on December 19th at 5.20 a.m. to sign off between 1 and 2 p.m. I had left work on the December 18th at 8 p.m. I am well acquainted with the line between .London Bridge and New Cross, and have often been on it both as fireman and driver on both the local and main lines. On the morning of the 19th, I went light from New Cross to West Croydon, and my first job was to bring up the workmen's train, due to leave at 6.43 a.m. to London Bridge. I was driving engine No. 279, a six-wheeled passenger tank engine, with four coupled wheels, driving and leading, and the train consisted of 14 vehicles, with two brake carriages, the 5th and 14th vehicles, with a guard in each. My fireman was Sidney Mihill, who had been with me for the first time that morning. He was the regular fireman of No. 279 engine, the proper driver being ill, and I was taking hie place as a spare driver. The engine was running from West Croydon chimney in front, and my aide was on the left hand. The train was fitted with the Westinghouse brake throughout; the air pressure was about 50Ibs. in the reservoir, and I had about 45Ibs. when the collision occurred. I started from West Croydon about two minutes late; it was snowing at the time, and snowed all the way up. we stopped at every station on the way up, New Cross being the last. The brake acted properly at each stop. After leaving New Cross at the right time, I found no signals against me until the distant signal of No.4 cabin, London Bridge, for the up local line, on which line I had been running on all the way from Norwood, I saw this distant signal about 50 yards off; the snow prevented my seeing it sooner. I saw the arm before the lamp, as dawn was just breaking. On seeing this signal at danger, my speed was about 30 miles an hour. I at once shut off steam, intending to stop at the home signal if necessary. I did not apply my brake, but was looking out for the home signal, viz., the left hand one. After passing the distant signal I turned round to shut the damper, and opened the cock of the feed pipe, and while doing this I missed the home signal, and I was quite unconscious that I had passed it till I struck the empty train, when my speed was not more than 20 miles an hour. I had not seen the light at the  back of the empty train before the collision. I did not know I was passing the signal cabin till just as I got to it, but I cannot explain why, on then finding that I must have passed the home signal without seeing it, I did not at once try to stop my train, the brakes being off when I ran in although I put them on immediately the collision occurred. I did not run far after the collision, not more than 10 yards. My engine did not leave the rails nor any vehicle of my train. No couplings were broken nor brake-pipes severed, I believe. My fireman was not doing anything from the distant-signal up to the collision. I did not hear any shout either from the signalman or the rear driver of the empty train. I had had nothing to upset me, nor- was I feeling ill before the collision.

Sidney Mihill, fireman ; eight years in the service of the London and Brighton Company, eight months fireman.-I have no regular engine or driver, but I had been with engine No. 279 for about 10 weeks with driver Chapman, who was ill on December 19th, and Cousens was appointed to take charge of the engine; my hours were to be the same aa his. I joined the workmen's train at West Croydon, where we started about right time, chimney in front. My place was on the right band side of the engine. We stopped at all stations on the way up. We did not overrun at any station, and the brake acted properly. After leaving New Cross, the first signal against us wu No. 4 cabin, London Bridge distant-signal. This I saw 20 or 30 yards off, the morning being very snowyAt about this place the driver shut off steam, when is my opinion the speed did not exceed 18 miles an hour. At this time I was putting my feed on, my mate having requested me to do so. I was attending to the feed and this took my attention off the home-signals, and I did not see them, nor did the driver so far as I know though he was looking out. I saw him do nothing with the damper. The first thing I saw after attending to the feed was the train on the crossing, and I called out to my mate, but there was no time- to do anything before we struck it at a speed of 10 or 12 miles an hour. I waa not hnrt and did not have- to leave duty. My mate was not hurt to speak of. I did not hear any one shout just before the collision. I have acted as fireman on the up local line for about. four months, three or four times a day. There was nothing wrong about the feed. The driver was perfectly sober.

Frank Wilcocks, guard; nine years in tbe London and Brighton Company's service, eight years guard.- I commenced work at West Croydon at 6.43 a.m. on

the 19th December, and was head guard of the workmen's train the due to leave at that time, but it started at 6.45 a.m. waiting for passengers to be seated. The train consisted of 14 vehicles including two third-class brakes, the fifth and last vehicles. I was in the fifth. The train lost time at each station, and left New Cross five minutes late. The stops were all made correctly by the driver alone. I was looking out

for signals after leaving New Cross, but I was unable to see any, except the Croydon junction up home signal, which was off, on account of steam from the

engine and snow. I saw nothing of the home and distant signals from No. 4 cabin, nor did I feel the driver shut off steam. I saw nothing of the empty train before we struck it at a speed of 15 to 20 miles an hour. I was shaken, but did not fall down. I have not had to go on the sick list. The collision occurred at 7.20 u.m. I did not feel the brake go on either before or after the collision. I spoke to the

driver at Croydon, and he was then perfectly sober. My idea is that the driver mistook the signal for the empty train for his own. There was no damage to my train. I heard no complaints of injury.

George Coll, assistant guard; seven years in the London and Brighton Company's service, three. years assistant guard.  I was acting guard of the 6.43 a.m. workmen's train from West Croydon on December 19th. I was in the rear vehicle, a third- class brake. There were two Company's servants in the brake compartment with me. Proper stops were made at all stations up to New Cross. After leaving New Cross I was looking out for signals, but saw none owing to snow and its being somewhat foggy. I saw nothing of the empty train before we struck it at a speed of 20 miles an hour. I was knocked down backwards by the collision, but was not hurt to signify. I did not. speak to the driver at all that morning.


This collision between a workmen's train, and an empty train some of the vehicles of the latter being happily those which alone were damaged-was due to the fact of the driver and fireman in charge of the workmen's train either having failed to see that the home-signal for the up local line, on which the train was running, was at danger, or having mistaken the home signal, which was lowered to allow the empty train to proceed from the up main to the up local line, for the signal for the up local line.

The result was that the engine of the workmen's train passed the home-signal for the up local line at a rapid speed and struck one of the vehicles near the end of the empty train, which was crossing from the up main to the up local line, about 130 yards inside this home-signal, at a speed acknowledged hy the driver to have been at lea3t 20 miles an hour, the front vehicle and the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th, having been thrown off the rails and some of them very badly damaged.

Cousens, the driver of the workmen's train, has been 19 3/4 years in the service, but has been only six months a driver, having been a fireman for 11 years previously. He was perfectly well acquainted with the lines and signals between New Cross and London Bridge. He states that he saw the up local line distant-signal worked from No. 4 cabin at danger, when about 50 yards from it, the snow which was falling at- the time having. prevented him from seeing it sooner, his speed being at the time about 30 miles an hour ; that he at once shut off steam, intending to stop if necessary at the home-signal, but that he did not apply his brake until ha saw whether or not the home-signal was at danger; that on passing the distant-signal he turned round to shut the damper and open the tap of the feed pipe; that while so engaged he must have missed seeing the home-signal, and that he was unconscious that he had passed it till his engine struck the empty train at a speed of not more than 20 miles an hour, he having seen nothing of it previously and only applying the continuous brake upon the collision occurring, after which his engine did not go more than 10 yards. Cousens is unable to explain why on passing under the signal cabin, 35 yards from the point of collision. he should not have realised that he must have pas3ed the home-signal without knowing its indication, and why he should not in consequence at once have applied his brake. He states further that his fireman was not engaged in any work between the distant-signal and the point of collision, and that he heard no shout either from the signalman or from the driver at the rear of the empty train, both of whom state that they shouted just before the engine of the workmen's train reached the cabin.

Mihill, the fireman of the workmen's train, has been in the service for eight years and a fireman eight months. He had been with driver Cousens only on the morning of the collision, the driver with whom he had been working for the previous 10 weeks having been taken ill and Cousens having been appointed to take charge of the engine Mihill seemed to have a proper knowledge of t.he signals and line between New Cross and London Bridge. He agrees with the driver in stating that No 4 cabin distant signal for the up local line was at danger when he saw it about 20 or 30 yards off, snow falling fast at the time. In contradiction to Cousens he says he was then attending to the feed by Cousens' direction, and that this took his attention off the home-signal, which he failed to see. He also states that he saw Cousens do nothing with the damper (again contradicting Cousens' statement), and that he caught sight of the empty train on the crossing and called out to the driver just before the collision.

Neither of the two guards saw anything of the signals of No. 4 cabin or of the empty train before the collision, attributing their not having done so to the snow which -was falling at the time.

It is very difficult to understand how any driver who was at all well acquainted with the lines in the neighbourhood of London Bridge station and Cousens was well acquainted with them could have so mistaken his position that after passing No. 4 cabin distant-signal for the up local line, he should have missed seeing the home- signal had he kept any reasonable look out for it, and had he not been proceeding at a rate of speed most injudiciously high considering the fact of the distant-signal being at danger and that snow was falling at the time. I am very much disposed to think that Cousens really mistook the home-signal, (the second from the left) which was taken off for the empty train, far the home signal (the left hand one) for the line he was on, and that the high rate of speed at which he was running when the collision occurred, and his not being on the look-out, are to be accounted for because he thought that the home-signal he saw lowered was the one for his train. This same supposition tends also to explain the fireman's conduct.

Both Cousens and Mihill had been on duty about two hours when the collision occurred, their day's work lasting between eight and nine hours. Had the guards of the train been, either of them, keeping, as they ought to have done, a proper look-out for signals, one or other of them could hardly have failed to see the up home-signal for the local line at danger, and could have applied the continuous brake upon seeing that the driver was overrunning this signal, and thus at any rate have mitigated the violence of the collision.

The South-Eastern Company should in my opinion carefully consider whether it would not be possible, without any very serious delay to the up traffic, to alter the rule under which a train may be accepted from Spa Road on the up local line, while a train is signalled to cross from the up main to the local line. There would be no object10n to a train being accepted from Spa Road on the main line and having to cross to the local line when a train has been signalled on the local line, as the points of the crossing would prevent a collision in case of the train on the main line overrunning signals.

Though the signalman in No. 4 cabin is in no. respect to blame in the present instance, it seems. only right to draw attention to the fact that he might on certain very busy occasions have to deal with no less than 12 trains at one and the same time, viz., with four up trains and two down trains in the block sections on each side of his cabin. At other block posts on the down side of No. 4 cabin two cabins have been provided, each dealing with two up lines and one down line, and I would strongly recommend the same course being adopted with No. 4 Spa Road and Blue Anchor cabins, where the signalmen are now likely under certain circumstances to have more trains on their minds than they can be· at all times reasonably expected to deal with without mistake.

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