How did that happen?

Browsing, as one does, the on-line Railway Archive — after all, today is the 210th anniversary of Trevithick demonstrating “the first guided steam locomotive at the Pen-y-Darren ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil”.

In doing so I bumped into:Fakenham

The school run

Persons of a certain advanced age, including at least one reader of this blog, will have spent much time standing, late afternoon, on the platform at Fakenham East (Fakenham West was on the Muddle and Get Nowhere line — both are long deceased) for the train home from school. My own journeys were first hauled by one of Mr James Holden’s D16 “Clauds”, then on a Derby Lightweight.

None of the “Claud”s survived the breakers’ yards. One of the older E4s (another of Mr Holden’s creations) did, and is now at Bressingham. Or, rather, it appears under its original  designation: number 490 of:

Great Eastern Railway Class T26 2-4-0. Built in 1895 and retired from mainline service in 1959. Designed for cross-country excursions and slow main-line duties. Renovated at Stratford works in its original livery. Operated in the Cambridge area before being withdrawn.

This, ladeez an’ gennelmen, is what a real, live steam locomotive looks and sounds like:
Rain, rain, go away 
How did two E4s, LNER numbers 7457 and 7486, come to collide? The simple answer is (1) driver error and (2) inadequate maintenance. To which we might add poor quality rolling stock.
Fakenham crash
Inevitably, the driver of the north-bound train, A.E. Borritt took the worst of the Inspector’s stick:

Driver Borrett’s statement that the down main line home signaI was lowered for his train is not supported by any other witness. Even his own fireman, Wigley, was unable to confirm it, because he said that he was occupied at the time with an injector which was giving trouble. It is, however, to be noted that subsequent to the collision no diffculty was found by fireman Smith in making the same injector work.

I cannot disregard the weight of evidence that both home signals were actually at danger when Borrett passed them…

I cannot therefore accept Borrett’s evidence, and conclude that the accident was due to his failure to obey the danger signal indications in question. 

And yet, was it that simple:

There may also have been a fault in the signalling: —

Mr. H. A. McEllroy, Stationmaster of Fakenham, … said that there had been five or six cases of electrical failure during May. Occasionally “B” track circuit went out of order; after a train had actually cleared it the indicator showed the track circuit as still occupied; but after another train had passed in the reverse direction the indicator showed it correctly as clear. In one case he thought this change of indication took place during the night, after the signalman had left duty.

Just possibly, was there some “human intervention”:

Lineman H. L. W. Smith said that Fakenham was in his charge. He had received complaints as to ” B ” track circuit failing to show ” clear” owing to low ballast resistance on May 5th (two failures), which he rectified by adjusting the resistance in series with the battery; on May 22nd, when the fault had righted itself before he arrived; and on May 24th when he again adjusted the resistance. There had also been a failure of the points No. 32 on May 22nd due to disconnection of the battery. He reported the failures on May 5th and 24th to Inspector Robinson, but had no complete record of them. He entered them all up at the same time on the card in the relay cupboard. He had to look after 5 track circuits, the electrical and telegraph instruments in a district of roughly 90 miles; also about 28 signal boxes, the instruments in station offices, and the line wires. Maintenance therefore of the track circuit was only a relativeIy small part of his work. 

And what caused any intermittent fault? —

The nearest rainfall recording station is at Mitchell Dunham, near Swaffham, some 15 miles or so away, and information received from the Meteorological Office indicates that rain fell there on 18 days during May, and that on six of these days the amount was considerable… While there is no complete coincidence between these dates of rainfall and track circuit failures, there is at any rate a strong probability of some connection between them. 
Yet, when we look at the rainfall numbers quoted, the days immediately before the accident were quite dry. The heavy rain had been a week earlier.
Added to which …
The death and injuries were at least partly caused by the inadequacy of old rolling stock.
The three passenger carriages where the casualties occurred were old six-wheel coaches, numbers 61028 and 60959. The damage they incurred was substantial, and precisely detailed:

Third Class Carriage No. 61028.
4 Buffers bent, 2 Headstocks broken, Westinghouse and Steam Heat Pipes broken, Brakegear damaged, Stepboards damaged, Step Irons damaged, 2 Ends broken, 2 Quarters and Pillars broken, 2 Doors broken, 1 Bottom Side broken, 8 Side and Door Lights broken, 1 Inside Partition broken, 2 Seats broken, 1 Compartment and Fittings completely wrecked, 1 photo glass broken, Westinghouse Alarm gear broken.

Third Class Carriage No. 60969.
1 Headstock broken, Diagonals broken, Longitudinals broken, Bottom Sides broken, Drawgear broken, Brakegear broken, Stepboards broken, Step Irons broken, Springs displaced, Axleguards bent, Floor damaged, Roof damaged, 2 Buffer castings broken, 2 Buffers bent, 2 Quarters broken, 1 End broken, 2 Partitions broken, 2 Compartments with Fittings completely wrecked, Steam Heat and Westinghouse Pipes damaged, 11 Side end Door Lights broken, Westinghouse Alarm Gear broken. 

All of this post was made possible because the original accident enquiry was so thorough, and the report has been preserved.

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Filed under History, Norfolk, railways, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

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