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Sheffield History

The Great Central Railway Disaster at Woodhouse Sheffield

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I've never seen this before so thought I'd post it and find out some information from people with memories and knowledge (way more fun than using google!)

This is a postcard showing the Railway Express Disaster at Woodhouse on February 29th 1908.

Question is what happened, what caused it, and what are the main points of this terrible day?



Also if anyone would like to purchase the postcard it's on Ebay here - http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Woodhouse-near-Sheffield-Great-Central-Railway-Disaster-1908-by-Cox-/391597348699?hash=item5b2d05575b:g:xwMAAOSwOyJX8mlV

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About 12-45 on Saturday morning, a Mineral Train was leaving the East Junction, when an Emigrant Special from Liverpool to Grimsby, containing about 300 passengers, travelling at nearly 30 miles an hour, dashed into its rear.The terrible impact caused the immediate death of Goods Guard Rowley.Fireman Clark was pinned beneath the Engine, and it was two hours before he was released: he succumbed to his injuries the following day.Walter Howell, Driver of the first engine, was very badly injured and scalded.Driver Borland and Fireman Jarred both of Liverpool, escaped without injuries, although their engine was almost overturned.

 

 

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The location would appear to be in the cutting that is sandwiched between Woodhouse Junction and Signal Box and the road over-bridge that separates Woodhouse Central Station from that self-same cutting. The photograph seems to have been taken from the side bank of the cutting that borders Soap House Lane. The Birley Colliery wagons at the back are standing on the colliery exchange sidings that existed on the opposite side of the cutting. The Birley Colliery branch line approached the exchange sidings from the east (LHS) side of the photograph, from behind Woodhouse Junction Signal Box. A well visited 'train-spotting' location in my younger days, though, following the quadrupling of this track section, which I think occurred after this photograph was taken, the embankment on which the photograph was taken became much steeper and deeper. I have some record of this accident somewhere, although it as not the first at this location. An earlier collision between two trains occurring on 05/11/1849.

The attached photograph, taken by me nigh on seventy years after the event, shows what I believe to be the approximate location of the accident. The bridge seen in the background, (left-hand-arrow), separates the junction sidings (foreground), from Woodhouse Station. Woodhouse Junction Signal Box would be behind me. Soap House Lane (right-hand-arrow) lies beyond the embankment upon which the locomotives came to rest. By the time that my own photograph had been taken, the lines through this section had been quadrupled.

WRS038-Woodhouse (GCR) Station-16-06-1977.jpg

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Thirty miles an hour doesn't seem that fast a speed for such a disaster 

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53 minutes ago, Sheffield History said:

 

Thirty miles an hour doesn't seem that fast a speed for such a disaster 

Perhaps you're thinking in terms of an accident in a modern car, with its crumple zones and seat belts. Imagine being thrown into a wall at 30mph or falling off a horse onto hard ground. Passengers in a train accident in those days would be flung about inside, hitting hard wooden surfaces with a force of up to 12 tons (like falling to the ground from a height of ~30 feet). You might find this interesting:  http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/carcr2.html  .

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Im lead to believe there were lots of these types of disasters with these trains in the early days.

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More than nowadays but we still have them despite rails good safety record.

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The guard who was killed would have been in the brake van at the end of the goods train. Basically a wooden structure mounted on a metal base. An engine that size could have weighed in at above 70 tons. Going at 30 miles and hour it would have smashed the van to bits. 

The railways at that time were not intrested in safety at all. It's clear that the signals (if they were even present) did not do their job, as it is nearly impossible to run a train into the back of another without doing it on purpose these days. 

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Imagine if they did a report like that today!

The conclusion someone was to blame!

But they don't know if it was the drivers or the signalman:wacko:

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13 hours ago, History dude said:

The guard who was killed would have been in the brake van at the end of the goods train. Basically a wooden structure mounted on a metal base. An engine that size could have weighed in at above 70 tons. Going at 30 miles and hour it would have smashed the van to bits. 

The railways at that time were not intrested in safety at all. It's clear that the signals (if they were even present) did not do their job, as it is nearly impossible to run a train into the back of another without doing it on purpose these days. 

SPAD incidents (signal passed at danger) surprisingly, are not as uncommon as you might think, even today, although improved technology has, of course, played a major part in bringing about a reduction in such incidents.

The following is a summary from the most recent RSSB report.

In the last 15 years, the rail industry has made tremendous progress in reducing the risk from SPADs, coming down by over 90%.   The average number of SPADs in the 1990s was 774 a year, peaking at 881 in 1998/99. This compares with the annual average of 292 between 2006 and 2016, and the current level of 272 for 2016/17. The level of underlying SPAD risk has fallen from 8.2 FWI/year in 2001 to 0.7 FWI/ year in 2016/17, a 90% reduction in risk. The risk reduction over this period is so substantial that we now use 2006 as a benchmark, to remove the effect of a train protection system fitted earlier that decade and ensure short term changes in the risk are more visible and can be analysed.  Since 2006, there have been short term minor increases and decreases in risk but the trend has generally continued to be downward, reaching an almost all time low risk level in February 2017 at 32% of the 2006 benchmark.

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The railways have always been interested in safety...almost from day one when ,in 1830, Wm.Huskisson ,MP for Liverpool, was killed on the inaugural journey on the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. In 1840 the Railway Regulation Act was passed and H.M. Inspectorate of Railways established to oversee matters of safety .Laws and regulations ( including  large rule books )were introduced at an early stage and improvements made as time progressed and knowledge increased. In fact the GCR was at the forefront of safety and some of their latest coaches had safety features not generally repeated until the 1970's.

I think HD is over critical ,forgetting that improvements in Health and Safety have , in general, multiplied exponentially in the latter part of the 20th century. I worked in the steel industry and remembering some of its practices, whilst I was a lad, am amazed there weren't far more fatalities and serious injuries...a "bursting" roll or box on the mill train ; water accidently entering a furnace, an exploding grinding wheel  or a cobble could cause mayhem...and that was just in a rolling mill!

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It took a great deal of legislation to get the Railway Companies to introduce safety measures. The vast majority were introduced after a major rail accident. Railways at that point in time were mostly interested in profit for the shareholders. The more trains run and full of passengers in compartments that were often overcrowded was the rule of thumb. Accidents on the railway were as common as muck.

Many accidents would have been caused by staff drinking. The demon drink was affecting many areas of life back then. It lead to a Prime Minster commenting on it during the war.   

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6 minutes ago, History dude said:

It took a great deal of legislation to get the Railway Companies to introduce safety measures. The vast majority were introduced after a major rail accident. Railways at that point in time were mostly interested in profit for the shareholders. The more trains run and full of passengers in compartments that were often overcrowded was the rule of thumb. Accidents on the railway were as common as muck.

Many accidents would have been caused by staff drinking. The demon drink was affecting many areas of life back then. It lead to a Prime Minster commenting on it during the war.   

That's a very simple and not at all accurate assessment of the majority of rail accidents. Equipment failure and/or human error account for most.

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Another postcard of the smash, from my collection

smash smaller.jpg

 

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7 minutes ago, History dude said:

It took a great deal of legislation to get the Railway Companies to introduce safety measures. The vast majority were introduced after a major rail accident. Railways at that point in time were mostly interested in profit for the shareholders.

During the period of time that we are talking about, those comments could equally apply to any other aspect of life. Whether it be railways, coal mining, quarrying, steel production, textile manufacturing, chemical processing, etc., etc., etc.

It would be unfair to assume that the rail industry, at that time was in any way, worse than any other industry.

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2 hours ago, Oldbloke said:

That's a very simple and not at all accurate assessment of the majority of rail accidents. Equipment failure and/or human error account for most.

I didn't say what was the cause of most accidents on the railways only that drinking WAS a cause. And the human error aspect would of course apply to the people who had been drinking. Don't forget drinking a small amount of beer would not be an offence to the railway authorities at that time. Drivers and staff were not tested for the amount of alcohol they had in their system, because they couldn't test them. We now know that even one or two pints of beer could effect the drivers and staff's ability.   

 

As for the other industries, with the exception of a major pit disaster, numbers of lives lost was often small. But a rail crash could take out many lives. Also they were often members of the general public. With children and women dying. The only industry that would be comparable was shipping. Where a great deal of lives were lost. Certainly more than the railways. 

In the past shipping accidents and the lost of lives, would be the equivalent of an airliner crash a day today. 

 

 

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I take your point but feel you are rather exaggerating, bearing in mind the rapid growth of railways in the UK ( and throughout the world) You state that it took "a great deal of legislation to get the Railway Companies to introduce safety measures" . Yet, the first Act, as I have already stated, was in 1840 and an Inspectorate established in the same year... According to records some 4 serious accidents  ,involving loss of life or serious maiming ,occurred in the UK in the ten year period following the death of Huskisson . Accidents, mainly involving human error or the failure of components,occurred throughout the world and lessons were learned ( how I hate that phrase) You mention safety at sea but, surely, the nearest parallel is civil aviation which in 100 years has grown from the dangerous pastime of "idiots" to the safest mode of travel. Was this entirely by dint of legislation or was it by learning from mistakes; from improving materials and research? I think the CAA would say it was all as, indeed, is the case with railways.

In my time in the steel industry I can remember when drinking beer at work was especially encouraged for those doing hot manual work such as furnaceman and , indeed,Brown Bayley Steels had a pub entrance built within its walls ...which had permission to open outside the then licensing hours In the EU, as late as the 1980's, German steel manufacturers, Zollern Stahl und Metal, had beer dispensers in their factories selling 330ml bottles for a few pfennigs.

How times change...but we are a history forum and instead of holding our hands up in shock horror we should try and understand...Without understanding we learn little.

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If you look at the safety record simply in terms of trains crashing it will not be that bad. However add the accidents and deaths and injury were no trains crashed will paint a bleaker picture. From what I have seen recently on TV, especially on Who Do You Think You Are, the railway companies around 1900 were not to concerned about accidents. And it's only after a shocking accident that generated bad publicity did they do anything, but it was often forced on them by government.

I don't think you can compare the Airline Industry to any others. Simply because if a plane breaks down in the air it will crash to the ground. If that happened to much they couldn't get anyone to fly in planes. A train, ship, or car, if they break down they simply stop. And 9 times out of ten nothing serious will come of it.

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Well, we are all entitled to our opinions, be they guided by TV or by life experience. I say that because my maternal ancestors worked for the MS& L R, GCR, LNER and BR and I grew up with seeing the rule books, visiting the engine sheds and talking with a very proud, very erudite,  very political train driving grandfather....so I am rather biased.

To revert to your comments about loses of ships I am afraid statistics tell a very different tale. Research undertaken in 2000/2001 on the causes of  500 ship losses that year and the consequent loss of life are listed as follows :

Weather...causing the stranding of ships in fog or gales.

Engine failure...the loss of power making the ship unmanageable especially in bad weather and, consequently, foundering.

Collisions ...with other ships or obstructions.

Navigation errors.

Age of ship and structural defects.

Leaks.

Explosions on board ships equipment or cargo.

Terrorism.

Insurance fraud.

And all  that with  legislation, navigation aids , weather forecasting, radar and modern technology...Hardly just "stopping is it?:unsure:

 

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I didn't say that shipping was safe either. I just said that the majority of ships breaking down would simply not result in an accident.

 

I myself was on a job scheme working with British Railways in 1977 for over 6 months. I was instructed greatly on the health and safety aspects of the railways. However while I was on the Master Cutler knock down and killed several track workers. Somebody committed suicide jumping in front of a train. And one worker let a BRUT trolley fall into the line on Midland Station. Though no-one was hurt. These are the accidents that I knew about just in the Sheffield area.  

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:)But we weren't just discussing a railway breakdown were we? I suggest that all forms of transport have required legislation and have only become safer with more knowledge and better technology...and that railways are no different....hence the details of shipping casualties. You seemed to suggest that early railways were lacking in safety because of a the profit motive, and this may well have been true  in the very early days ( although stats show otherwise) but at the time of this crash that was far from the truth...as my own Grandfather, who drove for the GCR ,would have attested. He always maintained railways were the safest mode of travel and drivers regularly had physical examinations to ensure their fitness to drive as well as tests...all of which was overseen by HM Inspector of Railways.

Not all technical problems with commercial aviation result in crashes either or, as in the amazing case of an Air Transat flight , running out of fuel because of human error, midway across the Atlantic, did!

Back to the Woodhouse crash I think the loco was one of Parker's class 2  ,of which 24 were constructed, and the immigrant train was an especially interesting part of social history .Eastern Europeans( many being Jews escaping pogroms) emigrating to the USA,  having crossed western Europe, caught railway steamers to the Humber ports and thence trains to take them across to Liverpool and onward to America.:)

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I would think no one would like to be seated in the back part of the HST power cars, certainly not with the original engines! The guards compartment was built into the power car along with the luggage area, but the noise of the engine soon put paid to that idea and they were moved into the coach immediately behind the power car. The class 91's locos have no space for seating accommodation and the associated DVT's were designed to be the luggage and parcels areas from the outset.

Agreed there is a weight difference in the class 91 loco and DVT, (89 tonnes against 43 tonnes) but even heavier locos have come to grief hitting things on the track.

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Andy, Long before we had diesel or electric units we had steam operated "push and pull" trains.. especially on suburban and rural routes... where a "driver" coach would be pushed by the steam locomotive....usually a tank engine.These were largely replaced by diesel and/or electric multiple units which don't have a heavy engine at the front and yet their safety record is excellent ...given the millions of miles they run every year. The Voyagers and similar units in use world-wide have the engines distributed along the length of the train...in the case of the Voyager a 750hp diesel under every coach powering an electric motor....and electric locomotives are even lighter as they have no need for a heavy diesel engine to generate power, Their safety record is excellent as well.

An unfitted goods train before descending an incline relied on the guard leaving his van and going down the train applying the external brake fitted to every wagon. The brake van relied on its weight and a screw operated brake to its four wheels to provide some resistance when its brakes were applied and a good understanding between driver...who would be applying the locomotive brakes... and guard was needed.This accounts for the slow speed of unfitted goods trains and the move, after nationalisation, to run ever more "fitted" trains... but it took decades! Passenger trains, on the other hand had been running with fully fitted brakes for many years. In this case a train travelling at speed smashed into the rear of the goods train destroying wagons and the guards van...the guard was killed. I suspect you need to read the report again...carefully ...one of the driving crew of the passenger train succumbed to his injuries .

PS. Presumably you never enjoyed being in a rear engined car and your Hornby coaches weren't designed to be pushed at "speed" having no suitable weight added to compensate...Your curved track had extremely tight radii...so basic physics should tell you why your coaches ( and everyone else's) derailed if you didn't slow down...but that was part of the fun!:rolleyes:

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