Southall rail crash

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Southall rail crash
The remains of Coach G of the High Speed Train
The remains of Coach G of the High Speed Train
Date 19 September 1997
Time 13:20
Location Southall
Country England
Rail line Great Western Main Line
Operator Great Western Trains (IC125), English Welsh & Scottish Railway (EWS) (Freight Train)
Cause Signal passed at danger
Trains 2
Passengers 212
Deaths 7
Injuries 139
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Southall rail crash was an accident on the British railway system that occurred on 19 September 1997, on the Great Western Main Line at Southall, west London. Seven people were killed and 139 injured.[1] Great Western Trains were fined £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law in connection with the accident.


The crash occurred after the 10:32 Great Western Trains passenger train from Swansea to London Paddington, worked by power cars 43173 + 43163 and operating with a defective Automatic Warning System (AWS), passed a red (danger) signal (SPAD), preceded by two cautionary signals.

As the tracks straightened ahead of him, Driver Harrison observes a Class 59 locomotive a mile in distance, moving "at a funny angle" and realised to his horror that it was crossing the Up Main. The EWS-operated freight train was coming from London on the Down Relief line, hauling twenty empty bogie hopper wagons, and permitted to cross Southall East Junction on its way into Southall Yard, south of the main lines. A collision was now inevitable. The HST was travelling at about 125mph, could not stop in time under full braking.

Alan Bricker, the driver of the freight locomotive No. 59101, observed the approaching HST expecting it to stop, was alarmed instead at its speed and apparent brake application. In desperation, he tried to accelerate his train out of the path of the HST, but to no avail. At 13:20 local time, the Power car impacts. The engine severs the brake pipe. Causing the stranded hopper wagons to come to a halt.

The Power car, its right side destroyed, came to rest upright next to the remaining wagons. Coaches H, G and F uncoupled and derailed. Coach G and a wagon collide very heavily in an almost full frontal collision. The freight wagons were driven back and jacknife, colliding and jamming up against the nearby OLE stanchions. The result is the pinned Coach G, propelled by the vehicles behind, is severely distorted.

Six people were killed, and a seventh passenger died in hospital. [2]

If the AWS equipment on the High Speed Train (HST) passenger train had been working, the chance of the accident occurring would have been highly unlikely, though not completely eliminated, since the AWS is only an advisory system. The driver's attention had been distracted (though no proof was ever discovered) and he did not observe the preceding signals visually, but AWS would have given him a clear audible warning, which would have required him to acknowledge the warning. Failure to acknowledge the warning would have caused the train's brakes to be applied. Automatic Train Protection (ATP) equipment would have almost certainly prevented the accident. The train was fitted with ATP but this was switched off. At the time of the accident, the ATP equipment was not required to be switched on, as it had proved troublesome in service. In addition, not all drivers had been trained on it.[citation needed]


Following this accident and the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the train operating company First Great Western now requires all its trains to have ATP switched on. If the equipment is faulty the train is taken out of service.

The passenger train driver, Larry Harrison, was initially charged with manslaughter, but the case was dropped. His employer, Great Western Trains, was fined £1.5 million for not having a system to ensure High Speed Trains were not operated for long journeys with AWS inoperative.

View from a passing train

The action of the signalman in giving the freight train precedence over the HST with the faulty AWS has been criticised. However, this was a perfectly standard and safe manoeuvre, in order to regulate the passage of trains to minimise overall delay; the signaller was not and would not have been required to be aware that the HST's AWS was switched off and would have no expectation that the driver of the passenger train would ignore the signals indicating he should stop. The key point, as identified in the report, was that drivers had become increasingly reliant on AWS with single-manning and high speeds and that it was no longer acceptable to run trains at full speed if the equipment was inoperative. Operating rules were changed accordingly.

Power car 43173 was written off and scrapped at Pig's Bay, having sustained heavy damage during the accident.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Professor John Uff QC FREn. "The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report". HSE Books. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  2. ^
  • Hall, Stanley (1999). Hidden Dangers. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7137-1973-7. 
  • Vaughan, Adrian (2000). Tracks to Disaster. Ian Allan. 

Coordinates: 51°30′23″N 0°22′30″W / 51.50639°N 0.37500°W / 51.50639; -0.37500