The Board of Trade Chief Inspector of Railways, Captain Henry Tyler presented his annual report for the previous year in 1874. During 1873 the railways of Great Britain and Ireland had seen 455 million passenger journeys; 247 accidents had been investigated, these including incidents where 160 passengers had been killed and 1,750 injured. The death toll for railway servants and others such as trespassers on the railway was much higher at 1,212. This was concerning, and in 1874 a Royal Commission chaired by the 3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos (who was also Chairman of the London & North Western Railway) was appointed to look into the safe working of railways. This resulted in 1876 in the production of a Standard Rule Book to be used by all railway companies. It included the introduction of fishtail arms for distant signals and “Rule 55” requiring the driver to sound the whistle and the guard or fireman of a train detained at a danger signal to go to the signal box immediately in poor weather, or within minutes if clearer to remind the signalman of their presence. Captain Tyler had already - and repeatedly - given his list of ten recommendations for improving railway safety:
The judicious selection, training and supervision of officers and servants, and the preservation of good discipline.
Ensuring maintenance of the permanent way in high condition.
Good design, construction and material of axles.
The application of tyre fastenings which will prevent the tyres from flying off the wheels in the event of fracture.
Improved coupling of vehicles and trains.
Installation of signal and point arrangements, with modern improvements, including concentration and interlocking of the signal and point levers, and locking bolts and locking bars for facing points.
Installing safety points to goods or siding connections with passenger lines.
Increased use of the telegraph, with block telegraph systems for securing intervals of space in place of illusory intervals of time only between trains.
Creating sufficient siding accommodation for the collection, distribution and working of goods traffic so that goods trains may be shunted and marshalled independently and kept out of the way of passenger trains so that they may not encumber and endanger the traffic on the main lines.
Increasing the use of continuous brakes to be worked by the engine drivers as well as the guards as the occasion may require.
Tyler had been inspecting railways for the Board of Trade since 1853 where he was appointed at the age of 26, and from 1871 to 1877 he was Chief Inspector. Tyler received a knighthood in 1877 in recognition of his “eminent services”. His reputation had taken him to inspect railways in Canada, USA, Greece, Bulgaria and Bosnia. After leaving the Board of Trade he became Chairman of the Westinghouse Brake Company in England and later represented Harwich and Great Yarmouth as a Conservative MP. One of his last enquiries was into a derailment of an up train to Kings Cross on the sharp curve at Morpeth on the East Coast Main Line on 25th March 1877. Ironically, he recommended that “a deviation line could be constructed to avoid the use of so sharp a curve on a main line traversed by the fastest trains between England and Scotland, and so long as this curve exists it is necessary to employ moderate speed only in passing round it”. The curve remains to this day!
And on to Morpeth. Later incidents on the 285 metre radius Morpeth curve gave rise to a recommendation that there should be a permanent magnet Automatic Warning System (AWS) type installation 200 yards in front of an illuminated speed warning board at an appropriate braking distance from the speed-restricted curve. In May 1969 six people had been killed and over 120 injured when the down 7.40 p.m. Kings Cross to Edinburgh express, which included sleeping cars, running under clear signals derailed at an alleged speed of 80 mph when the speed restriction at the time was 40 mph. While the “Deltic” locomotive remained on the track, the first vehicle, a brake van, overturned setting off a catastrophic derailment of passenger coaches and sleeping cars. The driver may have been preoccupied by a notice he had been handed shortly before the event about losing four minutes’ time on an up train from Edinburgh the month before. Fortunately, a closely-following Freightliner train running under caution was able to stop before reaching the wreckage. Inspecting Officer Colonel J R H Robertson recommended the special warning board using a variation of the AWS system. However, the warning board and magnet were only installed on the down line. It was not deemed necessary to fit the up line at the time as there was a descending series of speed restrictions from line speed to the 50 mph limit on the actual curve. Fifteen years later, Colonel Robertson’s colleague, Lieutenant Colonel Townsend-Rose found himself appointed to investigate another derailment at Morpeth. This time in June 1984 the speed limit on the curve was 50 mph yet a “Night Aberdonian” sleeping car train on the up line from Aberdeen to Kings Cross failed to negotiate the curve while travelling at an estimated 85 to 91 mph. Thirty-five people were injured as a result. The driver admitted he had been drinking and he may have suffered a fit of coughing at the time when he should have been taking notice of warnings and reducing speed. There was yet a further incident at Morpeth in June 1994 when a locomotive-hauled Rail Express Systems mail train taking the curve at an estimated 80 mph derailed and overturned injuring the driver. In this case the audible warning system was found to be in working order and driver error was to blame. One wonders what Captain Tyler would have thought of all this!
Read about Friends contributions to the National Railway Museum here