1913 Ais Gill rail accident
|Ais Gill rail accident (1913)|
|Date||2 September 1913|
|Rail line||Settle-Carlisle Line|
|Cause||Signal passed at danger|
|List of UK rail accidents by year|
The Ais Gill rail accident occurred on the Settle-Carlisle Railway in the north of England on 2 September 1913. The proximate cause of the crash was a signal passed at danger, but there were a very large number of contributing factors.
The two trains involved were both passenger trains which left Carlisle railway station in the early hours of 2 September, destined for St Pancras station. The Midland Railway, which owned and operated the Settle-Carlisle line, had a policy of using small engines, and the two locomotives had barely sufficient power to surmount the steep gradients on the line with the heavy trains they were assigned. In theory, the load pulled by the first engine was slightly (13 tons) over its maximum limit (of 230 tons), and the driver asked for assistance from a pilot engine but was not given one. To make matters worse, the coal with which both engines were supplied had not been properly screened and was full of slack and "small coal", which would not fire well and would tend to clog the grates.
The first train left Carlisle at 1:38 am. As it struggled up the gradient to Ais Gill summit, the highest point of the Settle-Carlisle line, the steam pressure steadily dropped to the point where the locomotive's injectors were unable to generate enough vacuum to hold the train brakes 'off', and the train stopped half a mile short of the summit. As they cleaned out the grate and tried to build up steam pressure, the driver and fireman made the mistake of telling the guard that they would only be standing for a few minutes. The guard therefore did not protect the train in the rear (by laying detonators or walking a considerable distance along the line with a lantern).
Meanwhile, the second train was also struggling, although it had a lighter load. Just short of Mallerstang, a few miles north of Ais Gill, the driver left the cab, to walk round the outside framing and oil some of the working parts while the train was in motion. Even though this procedure was no longer necessary since wick lubricators were in use, drivers apparently continued to do it out of habit and pride.
While the driver was out of the cab, the fireman was having difficulty getting an injector to work and the boiler water level was dropping. When the driver returned, both men worked on the injector, and eventually restarted it. While they were busy, their train had passed all the Mallerstang signals, and they also missed a red lantern being waved from the signal box by the Mallerstang signalman and another being waved by the guard of the first train. Shortly after, they looked up from their distractions to see the first train stalled in front of them only a few yards away, and far too late to stop.
The crash caused an unexpectedly high number of casualties. Even though the last vehicle of the first train was a parcels van, the second train demolished it and ploughed into a third-class coach ahead. The roof of the parcels van slid over the roof of the second engine and sliced into a first class sleeping car behind it. As with many railway collisions in Britain about this time, flammable gas escaping from the cylinders for the gas-oil lighting system ignited and rapidly spread a fire. Fourteen people in the first train died at the scene, and very few remains were later found. Two passengers subsequently died of their injuries. Thirty-eight passengers in the second train were seriously injured.
See external link to "The Mallerstang Section of the line" (below) for a list of the names of those who died.
The subsequent inquiry blamed the crew of the first train for neglecting to protect the rear of their train, and the enginemen (particularly the driver) of the second train for failing to proceed with caution knowing that they must have passed several signals without observing them.
The Mallerstang signalman was also criticised, although his actions did not contribute to the accident. The section controlled three main signals; the "distant", which could indicate "clear" or "caution", and the "home" and "starting", which could both indicate "clear" or "danger". The signalman had thrown all his signals to "caution" or "danger" after the first train passed. As the second train approached, he thought it was proceeding slowly under caution, and lowered the home signal to allow the train to proceed as far as the starting signal. When he realised that the train was actually steaming hard, he could not throw the home signal back to "danger" until the train had already passed it.
The inquiry made several recommendations. Most concerned the enforcement of regulations on drivers, firemen, guards and signalmen to ensure closer attention to their primary duty; the care and safety of trains. The more extensive use of Automatic Train Control (ATC), then under extended trial on the Great Western Railway, was discussed. This would sound a siren in the cab to alert the crew of a train if they passed a signal at danger or caution and then automatically apply the brakes if they failed to acknowledge and cancel the warning. Signalboxes should be fitted with detonator placers, to alert engine crews who missed signals or were unable to observe them in fog or thick weather. Electric lighting was clearly safer than gas oil lighting, and steel-framed carriages were less likely to be crushed than wooden-framed stock.
With regard to the issue of lack of motive power, the inquiry found that the Midland's policy was not to use pilot engines on engines that were on or slightly over their weight limit as the time lost in calling up a pilot engine, attaching it to the train and then removing it further along the line was greater than the time lost by a slightly overloaded train unable to keep up to time. The company did not discipline drivers who failed to keep to time because their trains were overloaded.
The site of the crash was quite close to the site of the Hawes Junction rail crash which had taken place less than three years earlier, and to which the Midland Railway's small-locomotive policy had also indirectly contributed (in this instance by leading to a large number of light engine movements).
The train crash plays an important role in the plotline events of the Kate Morton novel The Forgotten Garden.
- Rolt, L.T.C. (1999) . Red for Danger. Bodley Head / David and Charles / Pan Books /Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-2047-6.
- Map sources for Ais Gill summit
- Ais Gill viaduct
- A modern train having no difficulty with the same gradient
- The Mallerstang section of the Settle-Carlisle line: including a commemoration (and a list of names) of all those who lost their lives during its construction and in subsequent accidents
- Railways Archive summary, including official report