THE SIGNAL BOX

BRANCH LINES

ACCIDENT AT BURRY PORT DOCK JUNCTION

30th January 1929

by Steve Daly

Burry Port Dock Junction box was a small, but vital cog in the running of the Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley section of the G.W.R. The box itself was small, somewhat resembling a garden shed, and contained a frame of only 3 levers: down and up home signals and a set of points with their associated facing point lock. Not a difficult or arduous box to work, but essential to the working of the BPGV line, controlling, as it did, the access into Burry Port Docks.

The section of line from Burry Port station to Burry Port Dock Junction was worked on the train staff and ticket system, while the section from Burry Port Dock Junction to Tymawr was worked using the Electric Staff system.

The box was situated on an embankment at the north side of the line, atop a retaining wall. On the eastern side of the box was a two-bar iron fence on top of the retaining wall and three steps leading from the embankment to the entrance to the box. On the outside wall of the box, over the doorway, was an electric light positioned to illuminate the embankment and the steps leading down to a cinder crossing.

It was the working practice for the signalman at this location to exchange the train staff from the embankment. However, when a freight train was involved, the staff had to be collected or delivered from the “six foot” between the passenger and goods lines. In order to perform the latter duties, it was necessary for the signalman to stand on the cinder crossing.

At 12.20 on the morning of 30th January 1929, 32 year old signalman Charles James Mortby was nearly eight hours through his night shift, having come on duty at 5pm the previous evening. He had accepted the 11.30pm passenger train from Cwmmawr to Burry Port and left his box to exchange the single line staffs. The crew on board the engine of the approaching train, saw Mortby leave the box, but to their surprise he failed to take the staff from them. They immediately brought their train to a stand and hurrying back, found Mortby lying in the “four foot” with a cut ankle and bruising to his head, face and body.

An investigation into the accident was conducted by William Worthy Cooke, of the Board of Trade. Cooke found it difficult to clearly ascertain what had happened due to conflicting accounts of Mortby’s movements immediately prior to the accident. Upon examination of the scene, he found that the tread of one of the steps leading to the signal box was loose, but concluded that this defect in no way contributed to Mortby coming into contact with the engine.

However, the picture that he managed to piece together showed that immediately prior to the accident, Mortby was seated in front of the fire in the signal box. He was undoubtedly startled by the whistle of the train engine, which was sounded close to the signal box in order to attract his attention, and would therefore not have appeared to have been in a position to exchange the train staffs. In short, it would appear that in all likelihood, Mortby had dozed off in the warmth of his signal box.

As Mortby left the box, it would appear that he did not realise on which road the train was approaching and in error descended the steps leading to the cinder crossing, in doing so coming in to contact with the leading end of the engine causing him to fall into the “four foot” of the passenger line. Cooke concluded that the accident, “was due to the negligent manner in which Mortby performed his duties.”

Steve Daly would always be pleased to hear from anyone with information about the Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley Railway at any stage of its history. In the first instance please e-mail Steve Daly.