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Salisbury Accident

During the early years of the twentieth century a great rivalry existed between the Great Western Railway and the London & South Western Railway for the carriage of the Ocean Liner traffic from Plymouth to London. LSWR American Ocean Liner specials first started running, when required, in 1903 and from 9th April 1904 ran on a regular weekly basis. The two railways had a loose understanding whereby the GWR handled the mail and the LSWR the passengers. However, each railway was keen to have the fastest service to London and with the GWR having recently completed the abolition of the broad gauge it was able to operate some of the fastest services in the country. The GWR, furthermore, was in the process of shortening its route through the building of the Castle Cary "cut-off" thereby reducing the mileage on its route to a sizeable amount less than the LSWR's. As a result, Dugald Drummond personally instructed the LSWR drivers to keep to time, with due consideration for weather and speed restrictions. He also instructed Signalmen to give preference over other services to the Ocean Liner traffic.
 
A contemporary postcard of the time, now long out of copyright, which shows the aftermath of the accident whilst clearing up is under way.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

Salisbury Accident
 
Booked to run non-stop from Devonport to Waterloo, the trains had to stop at Templecombe for an engine change and were normally held briefly at Exeter St Davids when the GWR invoked its right to do so. The result was that once clear of these restrictions there was some very fast running indeed, so much so that the situation at Salisbury was causing concern as early as 20th April 1904, just eleven days after this traffic had started. Drivers were instructed on that date not to exceed 30mph through the station, though as this had to be repeated on 3rd May 1904, and again on 16th June 1904, it would seem that not too much notice was being taken! A while after this the schedule between Templecombe and Hampton Court Junction was extended by one minute to encourage drivers to slow at Salisbury.

Come the night of 30th June 1906 when a fully loaded train of 113 tons, consisting of a brake van, three first class saloons and a kitchen car/brake left Stonehouse Pool with the passengers from the RMS New York. T9 Greyhound Nº288 worked the train to Templecombe where it arrived one minute ahead of schedule. At Templecombe L12 class Nº421 took over for the remainder of the journey to Waterloo. Following a slower than normal start speed increased with Dinton and Wilton being passed at 70mph. So far nothing to cause concern, but when the train continued at speed past the Salisbury up distant with only a slight slowing the Guard should have applied his brake regardless of the situation on the footplate. He did not and the train hurtled into Salisbury's curved platform road at some 55mph and was pushed so far by centrifugal force that it collided with another train, and left the track. Damage was considerable with 24 passengers plus the crew dead and the stock and lineside buildings wrecked.

 
Salisbury Accident This engine is one of the Beyer-Peacock Double Framed Goods as later rebuilt by Adams. Someone seems to have chalked over the "A" on the rear splasher and the numbers in front appear to be 351. If so, then this is the engine that was minding its own business when it was badly damaged by the derailment. Don Bradley says that it was "left to rusticate" after withdrawal in December 1913, until sold for scrap eight years later. It was supposed to be reinstated during WW1 but was beyond economic repair.

So, it is not just human lives that are wrecked by such incidents.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

 
The cause (other than sheer speed) of the accident was never fully established, with the enquiry failing to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Drummond spoke of finding the engine's regulator closed, the vacuum brake handle in the running position and the reverser in full forward gear. In his personal report to the directors he put the accident down to 'lack of care by the driver and excessive speed approaching Salisbury'.

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This page was last updated 28 May 2007

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