Bourne End rail crash

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Bourne End rail crash
Date Sunday 30 September 1945
Time 09:03
Location Bourne End turnout, near Hemel Hempstead
Country England
Rail line West Coast Main Line
(BR London Midland)
Cause Excessive speed on turnout
Trains 1
Passengers 398
Deaths 43
Injuries 64
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Bourne End rail crash occurred on 30 September 1945 when an overnight sleeping-car express train from Scotland to London Euston derailed due to a driver's error. 43 people were killed, making it Britain's joint seventh worst rail disaster in terms of death toll.


The train was the 15-coach overnight Perth to Euston express hauled by LMS Royal Scot Class 4-6-0 No 6157 The Royal Artilleryman.[1] It was scheduled to divert from the fast to the slow lines at Bourne End, Hertfordshire, near Hemel Hempstead, because of engineering work in Watford tunnel. However, the driver failed to respond to the signals in advance of the diversion and took the turnout, which had a 15 mph speed limit, at nearly 60 mph. The engine and the first six carriages overturned and fell down an embankment into a field, only the last three coaches remained on the rails.

The morning was fine and sunny, and the driver was highly experienced with a particular reputation for being conscientious, and had read a notice about the diversion before leaving Crewe. However, due to post war staff shortages, he had worked 26 days continuously and as a result of this it was possible that he had either dozed off momentarily or gone into "autopilot" through fatigue. Although not fitted to this stretch of track at the time it is probable that the Automatic Warning System would have prevented the disaster. (Accident report and Hamilton, 1967)

Advance warning of the turnout was provided by a colour light distant signal showing double yellow, an outer home signal showing green, and two inner homes side by side showing the divergent route. The inspector pointed out that the double yellow indication was ambiguous and evidently did not alert the driver to the approaching diversion, but it was unclear why he failed to notice the diverging route at the inner home. Low sun shining directly in his face would have made observation tiring, but the signals were still clearly visible. (Accident report).

The alarm was raised by a pilot who had just taken off from Bovingdon Aerodrome and who had observed the accident during takeoff and notified the railway authorities via the Bovingdon Control tower. Airfield staff also helped significantly with assistance after the crash (Hamilton, 1967).

Similar accidents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ British Rail Disasters publ. Ian Allan, 1996


Coordinates: 51°45′01.5″N 0°31′29.8″W / 51.750417°N 0.524944°W / 51.750417; -0.524944