Monday, 25 May 2015

A Sombre and Sorrowful Memorial

The Princess Royal and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were among those attending a Memorial Service on Friday last to mark 100 years since the worst accident in UK railway history. Quintinshill is an unassuming non-event of a place just north of Gretna Green.
You would take this unmade-up road from just outside Springfield, so remote that Google Streetview does not venture along there!
Just a few farm buildings and a bridge under the West Coast main line are all that bears that fateful name. The actual Quintinshill bridge and farm are at the other (Carlisle) end of the loops.
Amazingly, the two passing loops are still in use and it was the fact the both loops were occupies by goods trains waiting for fast passenger expresses to pass that set the scene for the horror to some.

Three railway employees broke the rules and were subsequently arrested and tried in the Scottish Courts.

So what happened?

The sorry tale centres round Quintinshill signal box, no longer in existence.
Signalman Meakin was due to come off shift at 0600. But the signalmen had an "arrangement" whereby the morning shift man (in this case Signalman Tinsley), instead of walking from Gretna, would cadge a ride on the local passenger train if it was due to be stopped at Quintinshill. There was no station there, but the local was often required to get out of the way of a fast Glasgow expresses, especially if they were running late. Meakin would write details of all post 0600 trains on a piece of paper and Tinsley would copy them into the official log book. That way no-one would ever know!

Because both loops were occupied, the northbound local was reversed on to the southbound line.
In these diagrams, Glasgow (north) is to the left.

This apparently risky manoeuvre was quite safe if everybody followed the rules. The signalman would place a collar on his signal lever ...
... so he could not physically release the signal and allow a southbound train to pass. He would inform  the preceding signal box  (by bell code) that the line was occupied. In addition, the driver of the local train was required to go up into the signalbox and ensure that these actions were done; his presence would be a reminder that his train was blocking the line.

Inexplicably none of this happened and signals were cleared for a southbound troop train ...
... which, of course, collided at speed with the stationary local. The troop train consisted of old wooden coaches lit by gas so fire was inevitable.

The reasons for this slackness have never been fully explained. The signalmen were busy copying the information into the official log; there was a goods train in the way visually which may have confused them and other staff from both goods had popped into the signal box to keep warm and/or have a cuppa (also against the rules).

Then the northbound Glasgow express appeared on the scene, also travelling at speed hauled by two locomotives.
It collided with the wreckage as those fit enough worked to rescue the injured.

The pictures of the accident are harrowing and painful. The fire was intense ...
... and four hefty locomotives were written off.

The trial of the three men started on 24 September 1915 in the High Court in Edinburgh. The Lord Justice General, Lord Strathclyde, presided over the trial; the Lord Advocate, Robert Munro KC prosecuted and the three men were defended by Condie Sandeman KC. Tinsley, Meakin and Hutchinson (driver of the local) all pleaded not guilty to the charges of culpable homicide and breach of duty against them. The trial lasted a day and a half; after the prosecution had concluded their case, Sandeman submitted to the Lord Justice General that there was no case to answer by Hutchinson. This submission was accepted by the Lord Justice General and the jury were instructed to find him not guilty at the conclusion of the trial.

A simple nameboard at the side of the track marks the site today.
It was the telling of this story, using extracts from L T C Rolt's book ...
... that saved fbb's teaching career and was referred to in a blog on  Saturday 1st September 2012, See "L T C Rolt and a Teaching Career" (read again).

 Next bus blog (Cornwall at last!) : Tuesday 26th May 

1 comment:

  1. It was a bit sad that, as it happened north of the border, the Beeb decided the rather good documentary by Neil Oliver about Quintinshill didn't merit a UK-wide showing on the main channel. Watched it on iPlayer last night..