THE SIGNAL BOX

BRANCH LINES

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THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Two accidents at Derby

by Dave Harris

The travelling public have much to thank the Board of Trade for. Their meticulous inspection of every detail of Railway Operation is a significant factor in making railways the safest form of travel.

When things do go wrong the Railway Inspectorate of the Board of Trade (or, these days, the Health & Safety Executive) cast a detailed, and often critical, eye over the events, operation and equipment which were involved in the mishap.

To a signalling enthusiast, these Board of Trade reports also provide a tantalising glimpse into signal boxes of the past. Here are the stories behind two mishaps in Derby which serve to illustrate how small mistakes so easily combine with fate.

London Road Junction, Derby - 1.0 a.m. 30th March 1923

Whilst London Road Junction signal box contained a traditional mechanical lever frame, the points and signals at Way & Works Sidings signal box were all electrically operated from an interlocking frame with miniature levers. The signals operated from this box were automatically replaced to danger by the passage of a train. All the signals were still Midland Railway lower quadrant semaphores. Shortly before 1am on Friday, 30th March 1932, Leonard Lewis was the night duty signalman on duty in Way & Works. He was offered a St. Pancras to Manchester parcels from Spondon Junction which he accepted. However, when he asked on to London Road Junction the road was refused as a Chaddesden to Birmingham freight was crossing to the western goods lines. Even so, Lewis lowered his Outer Home when he got Train Entering Section from Spondon Junction.

Diagram of routes south of Derby
Soon after, Lewis heard a sound in his Down block instrument which indicated to him that a train was passing over the treadle ahead of the Down Inner Home. He realised it was the parcels passing this signal at danger. He shone a danger signal as the train passed his box and sent Train Running Away on Right Road to London Road Junction.

Signalmen Hood and Walker were on duty in London Road box but were powerless do anything but watch the two trains collide at an oblique angle at the crossover. The injuries were not serious but were sufficient to bring in the Board of Trade.

The driver of the parcels claimed the Way & Works Down Distant was off. As the Outer Home was indeed off it was only while looking for London Roads signals that he saw Way & Works Inner Home at danger. The Inspecting Officer, Col. Hall found that it was unlikely that the Distant was indeed off. Because of the proximity of Way & Works Down Starting signal to London Road Junction Down Home signal, the Down Distant signal lever in Way & Works was locked by the lever of the Down Distant in London Road Junction so that it could not be pulled unless the London Road Junction Down Distant was also pulled. When both of these levers had been pulled the signal lowered. The replacement of either lever concerned back in the frame restored the Way & Works Down Distant to its normal position. As there was no way London Road could have pulled off their Down Distant, Way & Works Down Distant must also have been locked.

It was reported that there was only one known instance of Way & Works Down Distant showing false Clear and that was a few months after these arrangements were brought into use in 1908 and was due to frost. The Inspecting Officer, however, was understandably critical of the practice of pulling off the Outer Home as soon as Train Entering Section was given. There was a written instruction to signalmen not to lower it until the line was clear to the Starting signal. Lewis justified the practice by saying he was afraid of forgetting a train standing at the signal as it was out of sight. The Inspector pointed out that there was a track circuit for the 94yd in rear of the signal. Even though that track circuit wasn't in any way interlocked with the signalling it should serve as reminder to the signalman of any train standing there.

St. Mary's Junction, Derby - 3.52 a.m. 22nd November 1927

During the early hours of Tuesday 22nd November 1927 a down goods had been brought to a stand at St. Marys Junction prior to drawing forward and reversing through the trailing connection into St. Marys Goods Yard. Unknown to all concerned, as the train set off from the Down Main Home signal it divided.

Diagram of routes north of Derby

It was later found that this was due to the coupling of a 1890s vintage S.E.&C.R. van slipping off the draw hook of a newer truck behind it. The guard of the goods hadn't felt anything amiss and was unaware he had been left behind.

Signalman Platt was on duty in St. Marys Junction. He had 48yrs railway service, 46 of them as a signalman and 11yrs at St. Marys Junction. As the goods drew forward past his box he was attending to a goods on the Up side and failed to see that there was no tail lamp on the rear of the Down goods train. As the rear vehicle was a van he must have subconsciously thought it to be a brake van.

Platt was able to see sufficiently that the train had drawn clear of the trailing connection thanks to a nearby light but still missed the fact that there was no tail lamp. He pulled off his backing signal and gave Train Out of Section to Derby North Junction once the goods was in St. Marys Yard. He was immediately offered, and accepted, a northbound express.

The goods guard, eventually, looked forward to see half his train missing. He walked forward to investigate what had happened and to ensure that the Up line wasn't fouled. Only when he heard the approaching express did he give any thought to protecting the rear of his train, too late.

Another goods guard had been more alive to the danger presumably on seeing the signals pulled off run back with a lamp to warn the approaching train. Luckily the express had just restarted from Derby station 1m 33c to the south and was travelling at 35-45mph. On seeing the other guard and the tail lamp of the stationary goods train ahead, the express driver braked and managed to bring his speed down to around 15mph before the collision. Two passengers sustained minor injuries and the fireman of the express received a broken thigh.

The Inspector, Col Trench, was critical of the location of St. Marys Junction signal box. Due to the proximity of the piers of Mansfield Road bridge immediately to the north of the box, the signalman had only a brief period while a down train is in front of his box to see the tail lamp. Col Trench half-heartedly recommended that a mirror be fitted to the front of the box to allow the signalman to look along the line behind a Down train. It is clear from his wording, however, that he wasn't optimistic that this would work too well! It is surprising (to me) that Col. Trench exonerated the goods guard saying that he was right to go forward first. To my (untrained) mind, his prime responsibility was protecting the rear of his train especially when so close to a signal box. If anything had been amiss with the Up line either the signalman or, more likely, the driver/fireman would protect that line?

Comments about this article should be addressed to Dave Harris