9th JULY 1928





Extracted and adapted from the report by

A. C. TRENCH, Colonel

A incident which occurred at about 6.55 a.m, on 27th December, 1928, some 800 yards east of London Bridge Station, on the Southern Railway.

The 6.47 a.m. van train (steam hauled) from New Cross Gate to London Bridge ran past signal at danger and came into sidelong collision with the 6.5 a.m. electric passenger train, which also was proceeding to London Bridge Station and crossing the track of the van train. The engine and leading vehicle of the van train were partially derailed as were also the three rear vehicles of the electric train. One of these was tilted towards the adjoining track and struck and displaced the support of one of the girder structures whlch formerly carried the overhead electric wires of the single phase traction system (now superseded by third rail direct current). This girder fouled the up South London track and was struck by the 8.36 a.m. electric train Streatham Hill to London Bridge, the leading pair of wheels becoming derailed. This blow displaced the girder still further and portion of it fell on the roof of the 6.55am.electric train from London Bridge on the down South London track, and on the parapet walling of the viaduct, throwing m e of the brickwork into the street below.

All the four trains concerned were travelling at comparatively low speeds, and, thanks largely to the prompt action of various members of the Railway Staff concerned, none of the succession of accidents was serious nor were there any personal injuries to passengers or staff, with the exception of the motorman of the 6.38 a.m. train, who sustained slight cut on the arm but did not have to leave duty. The position of the accidents, however, inevitably caused a very considerable dislocation of suburban traffic far wme h w s and moderate amount of damage was caused to rolling stock and permanent way.

The van train consisted of nine vehicles, four being four-wheeled, three six-wheeled, and two eight wheeled was , the weight excluding engine being a proximately 116 tons, vacuum braked on all wheels except the centre pairs of wheels of the six-wheeled vans. It was drawn by engine No.B.15, type 4-4-2 tank, running bunker leading. This engine weighed 684 tons in working order and was dual fitted with combination control lever, the Westinghouse brake operating on the coupled wheels of the engine and the vacuum brake on the coaching stock. The overall length of engine and train was 352 feet.

Each of the three electric trains concerned consisted of eight coachesthree car motor unit at each end and two trailer coaches in the centre. They were. all fitted with the Westinghouse brake on all wheels, and the overall length and weight of each train were approximately 500 feet and 262 tons respectively.

It was still dark at the time of the accident; the weather was dear and the rails were dry.

Ths lines traversed by the four trains concerned in this accident are the five most southerly ones of the eleven tracks running roughly west (into London Bridge) and east (in the direction of New Cross) and all four trains were working into or out of the former Brighton terminal station at London Bridge.

Commencing on the south aide and taking the lines in order towards the north there arthe up South London and down South London lines. Adjoining these are the up local and up through lines and beyond the latter is the down through.

The up van train was.travelling on the up through into No. 16 platform. The up electric train with which it collided approached on the up local, and had to cross the up through, on to the, down through, on the way to No. 12 platform by crossovers No. 166 and 165.

The electric trains which struck, and were struck by, the displaced girder work, were on the up and down South London tracks respectively.

The site of the accidents is within the area of the new colour light signalling system installed-in June, 1928. The signals controlling movement on the up through track approaching London Bridge are A.17, A.11 and A.5, all of which are three aspect colour light signals automatically controlled by occupation of the track sections ahead, No. 175 up through outer home signal (three-aspect colour light), and an up through intermediate home signal (three-aspect colour light with 5-way route indicator), the number of this signal for the route of the van train into Section of the station being 184. This signal is located below signal gantry and is feet 8 inches to the left of the left-hand rail of the up through track. On the same gantry is a similar three-aspect colour light signal with route indicator for the up local track. This is located 5 feet 8 inches to the left of the up through signal and foot inches to the right of the right-hand rail of the up local track but owing to thproximity of some disused overhead structures, the signal is placed immediately above the gantry, other signals being normally placed below this gantry.

The number of this signal for an up local train crossing the up through track into No. 12 platform is 183, and in order to restrict speed over the cross- overs Nos. 166 and 165 this is approach controlled, and after it has been pulled off by the signalman it does not give the green indication until the approaching train has occupied the track circuit immediately in rear.

The overrun be and 184 and 183 signals to the fouling point of the cross-over is 195 yards which should be ample having regard to the restricted speed approaching this terminal and the other conditions.

The gradients concerned are negligible. There is very slight curvature to the left when travelling in the direction towards London Bridge, but this is not sufficient to affect the visibility of signals.


The circumstances of this case are simple. 

Driver John Arnall brought the van train from New Cross Gate, passing,signals A.17, A.11, and A.5, all of which gave a green indication. He observed his outer home signal No. 175 yellow and therefore reduced speed, at the same time seeing his intermediate home signal No. 184 red, and realising that he must stop at this.

ImmediateIy after he passed No. 175 he looked to see what his fireman was doing with the feed pump, to which the latter was making a minor adjustment, and on turning his head back to the line ahead, having reduced speed to 5 or 6 miles an hour, he saw signal at danger some 80 yards ahead and was moving to make farther brake application when he saw signal change from red to green (actually the up local signal No. 183 just released by the electric train operating the approach lock), assumed this was his own signal. and gave his engine steam again. Shortly after passing the signal gantry, while travelling at a speed of  about 10 to l2 miles per hour, he noticed an electric train some 40 yards ahead crossing his track; he made a full application of the brake, reversed his engine and managed to reduce speed to about. 4 miles per hour, before his. engine struck the sixth vehicle of the electric train.

Fireman Saunders had noticed the three automatic signals giving the clear aspect, and signal No. 175 yellow, but thereafter was attending to the feed pump and did not look again until past No. 184, when he saw the electric train ahead the same moment as driver Arnall shut off steam and applied the brake, whereon Saunders applied the hand brake.  

Guard John P. Wood of the van train observed the signals up to and including No. 175 (yellow), after which he noticed that the driver slowed almost to a stand still, before he gave the engine steam and gathered speed again, but thereafter he did not look out again until the train stopped suddenly and found a collision had occurred.

Motorman Bunney, who was driving the 6.5 a.m. electric train, was running under clear signals, after been slowed over the crossover by the operation of the approach control on No. 183 signal. He estimated he was running at about 8 miles an hour when his train was puled up by the Westinghouse brake which had been applied by guard Pain, The latter had noticed when the leading portion of his train was on the crossover that the steam train was still travelling forward, realised that it must have passed a signal at danger, and was converging on his train, and promptly applied his brake to minimise the results of the collision which was likely to ensure.

Motorman Bunney had previously noticed and passed the steam train running on the adjacent up through track, but it appears unlikely that he passed this train so late as to give him cause to realise that it was passing a signal at danger, and I do no think that he could have been expected to take action to avoid risk of collision.

The routes and movements f both trains were normal ones and both were within a few minutes of their normal schedule timings. Occasionally the van train is ahead of the electric train, but more frequently the electric train crosses a head of the van train.

As regards the other two trains concerned, motorman Potts was driving the 6.38 up train from Streatham Hill on the up South London track at about 30 miles an hour, when he saw one of the overhead structures in a position which looked likely to foul his train. He immediately  made a full application of the brake and stopped in about 100 to 120 yards. The girder was stuck by and damaged the left hand side and roof of the cab and Potts had a fortunate escape by taking cover behind the brake column on the right hand side.

This blow apparently dislodged another portion of the girder structure, which fell on the roof of the 6.55 a.m. train from London Bridge on the South London track. Motorman Smith driving this train noticed a bad short circuit ahead just after he left the station and the lights of  his train went out. The train was still coasting at about 15 miles an hour when it was stopped by the guard Simpson. The latter hear a noise and saw the flash of a bad short circuit. The lights of the train then went out and he heard something strike the roof of the train, on which he promptly applied the brake and stopped the train.

After the accidents, the staff of the trains concerned took suitable and prompt action to protect their trains and all roads fouled, to warn passengers to keep their seat until the current was cut off, and finally to escort their passengers on foot to London Bridge Station after the currently was definitely off the lines concerned. In view of the time and the date, all the trains were comparatively empty. Ambulance men with first aid equipment were sent for immediately news of the accident reached London Bridge, and arrived about 7.15 a.m., but happily their service were not required as no one was hurt.

The original derailment apparently caused short circuits on four section of th third rail and the circuit breakers of these tripped in the sub station. In view of this simultaneous action of four breakers the sub station attendant rightly decided not to attempt to replace them after 20 seconds and after 60 seconds in the ordinary routine manner, but waited information as to the circumstances and instruction as to what action was necessary.


Responsibility for this accident must rest on driver Arnall of the van train who frankly admitted the he made a mistake in reading the signal of the up local line in error for the adjoining signal of his own up through line. There was no difficult about visibility of signals, and. the position of the two, signals is such that it offers no excuse for their being confused; in fact from the of similar engine noted that it was if anything easier to observe the correct signal  than the incorrect one.

Driver Arnall stated that he had frequently worked into London Bridge since the installation of the new signalling system and that he was fully acquainted with these signals, and he agreed that the signal for his own line was showing a well-defined red Light. think that possible cause of his error may have been that for a moment lie forgot on which line he was travelling, but having regard to all the circumstances, especially the well-defined indications given by the colour light.signals, I can only describe it as serious we of careless driving, which fortunately was unattended by graver results.

Driver Arnall is 55 years of age and has 36 years’ service with Company, 23 years as driver. He has a fair record. He time of the accident. service with the company, on duty 1 1/2 hours at the time of the accident.

Fireman Saunders was occupied with engine duties and no b l u e can be attributed to him ,fornot observing the signal in question.

Guard Wood had no other duties to attend to in his van, and stated that he was entering a note of the signal check in his journal and preparing the journal, for his next trip. He explained that having noted that his driver had observed and taken suitablaction on a, yellow signal by slowing almost to standstill, he could not imagine that the driver would fail to observe and act correctly on the next signal indication, and therefore when the train accelerated again he considered it safe to assume that the signal indication had cleared. Under these circumstances he did not trouble to look out again far the subsequent signal, which he cadd have observed without difficulty.

The argument is a plausible one, but in view of the facts that he had no other work in his van and that the train was approaching complicated terminal, he cannot be absolved of slackness in the execution of his duties. Had he been more alert it is probable that by prompt application of the brake he might have averted the collision, and.his failure is in contrast to the vigilance and prompt action of guard Pain on this occasion.


It is  evident that the dislocation of traffic and possibilities of danger in this case were much enhanced by the existence of the overhead girder structures, and the desirability of the early removal of such disused structures on busy lines needs no emphasis. I understand that the matter had previously been engaging the attention of the Company and that it is hoped to arrange for the removal of these at an early date.

The first collision would have been prevented by system of automatic train control giving a full brake application at the stop signal, and, in principle, this accident provides strong case in favour of such control in congested areas with dense traffic. There was no question of adverse climatic conditions or un-familiarity with the road. On the other hand this up-to-date installation of colour light signalling gives particularly conspicuous and arresting indications. If ithese circumstances an experienced driver carelessly permits himself to misread such indications, owing to momentary mental aberration, and if disciplinary measures fail to have the necessary deterrent effect, it seems difficult to provide against failure of the human element other than by automatic means.

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