Round Oak rail accident
|Round Oak rail accident|
1858 print of 'The Accident on the Oxford and Worcester Railway, near Round Oak Station'
|Date||23 August 1858|
|Location||Round Oak, near Dudley|
|Rail line||Oxford-Worcester-Wolverhampton Line|
|List of UK rail accidents by year|
The Round Oak railway accident happened on 23 August 1858 between Brettell Lane and Round Oak railway stations, on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. The breakage of a defective coupling caused seventeen coaches and one brake van, containing about 450 passengers, of an excursion train to run backwards down the steep gradient between the stations, colliding with a following second portion of the excursion. 14 passengers were killed and 50 injured in the disaster. In the words of the Board of Trade accident inspector, Captain H. W. Tyler, it was at the time "decidedly the worst railway accident that has ever occurred in this country".
Circumstances of the accident
On 23 August 1858 the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway ran a special day excursion from Wolverhampton to Worcester and back. It was intended to be for school children only, but this ruling was not adhered to and the train was packed with children and adults alike. The train left Wolverhampton at 9.12 AM, comprising 42 four-wheeled coaches (none of which had any brakes) and four brake vans.
Guard Cooke was in the rear brake van of the train, together with six passengers, who should not have been there. The atmosphere became somewhat convivial in the van, with the result that Cooke invited the passengers to have a go at working the van handbrake. This caused three separate breakages (at Brettell Lane, Hagley and Droitwich) of both the main screw couplings and side safety chains on the outward journey, requiring Cooke to make temporary repairs. To repair the first two breakages, Cooke managed to find spare three-link or screw couplings; but at Droitwich he was only able to patch up the side chains, which were not designed to hold the full weight of a train. The broken side chains were properly repaired while the train was waiting at Worcester to return, but the centre coupling was not.
On the return journey, the train ran as before (one portion of 42 coaches and 4 brake vans) until Stourbridge was reached. Here it was decided to divide the train in order to make easier the negotiation of the 1 in 75 rising gradient between Brettell Lane and Round Oak. The train was divided into two portions; the first, with Guard Cooke in the rear brake van, comprised 28 coaches and two brake vans pulled by two locomotives; and the second comprised 14 coaches and two brake vans, hauled by one locomotive. The first train ascended the gradient successfully and reached Round Oak at 20:10; but, just as it drew to a halt, the rear coupling of the eleventh coach broke, and Cooke's van plus 17 coaches began to roll backwards down the incline. The line was not worked on the block system, so the second portion had, shortly after the breakaway occurred, been allowed to leave Brettell Lane; there was no communication between stations, so the staff at Brettell Lane had no way of knowing that they were sending the second portion into danger. Night had fallen by the time of the breakaway, with the result that the crew of the second train did not see the runaway coaches until they were about 300 yards away. The second train had virtually drawn to a standstill when the runaway coaches collided with it. The locomotive of the second train remained on the rails and was only superficially damaged; the same was not true of the runaway coaches. Cooke's brakevan and the two coaches next to it were, in the words of the inspector "broken all to pieces", killing 14 passengers and badly injuring 50 more.
According to Cooke he applied, then released his brakes just before the train stopped at Round Oak, and the jerk of the train stopping caused the coupling to fail. Immediately he realised that the train was rolling backwards he screwed his brakes hard down, locking the wheels of his brake van but failing to stop the train. By now the second part of the train had left Brettell Lane and was making steady progress up the steep gradient; Cooke saw it and jumped off his brake van, yelling to the passengers "Jump! Jump! or we'll all be killed.". Inspector Captain Tyler was not convinced, though, and subsequently proved that Cooke's evidence that he attempted to stop the runaway was false.
Tyler did this by deliberately recreating the circumstances of the runaway. He reassembled the train exactly as it was at the time of the accident, with substitute vehicles of identical design to the destroyed ones to replace them. Weights were added to the coaches to simulate the load of passengers, and the train was released down the bank. He found that screwing down the brakes stopped the train. Moreover, the brakescrew was recovered from the remains of Cooke's van. The nut was in the 'off' position, and the collision had bent the screw so that the nut could not have been moved after the accident. Tyler therefore determined that Cooke had left the train when it came to a halt at Round Oak and was not in the van on its runaway descent. Cooke was convicted of manslaughter as a result. Captain Tyler also criticized the Railway Company for failing to restrict passengers to children, as had originally been intended.
- Tyler, Captain H.W. (16 October 1858). Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway (pdf). London: Board of Trade. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
- Rolt, L.T.C.; Kichenside, Geoffrey (1982) . Red for Danger (4th ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. pp. 178–181. ISBN 0-7153-8362-0.
- Extracts from The Birmingham Post :
- The Railway Catastrophe near Dudley (1 October 1858)
- The Railway Accident near Bretell Lane, verdict of manslaughter against Cooke, the guard. (6 October 1858)