Cowden rail crash

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Cowden rail crash
Memorial plaque at Cowden station.jpg
Date 15 October 1994
Location Cowden railway station, Kent
Country England
Rail line Oxted Line
Operator Network SouthCentral
Cause Signal passed at danger
Statistics
Trains 2
Deaths 5
Injuries 13
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Cowden rail crash occurred on 15 October 1994, around 400 yards southeast of Cowden Station in the English county of Kent. There was a head-on collision between two trains in heavy fog after the driver of a northbound train ran past a red signal and entered a single line section.

Five people were killed and thirteen were injured. The guard of the northbound train, Jonathan Brett-Andrews, had ambitions to become a driver and was in the driver's cab at the time of the collision; this was in defiance of the regulations. It is thought that his presence may have contributed to the accident and there were even suspicions that he might have been at the controls; he had been reprimanded twice before for driving trains[1] when he should not have. However, this will never be known as he and both drivers were killed in the collision and the front ends of both trains were so badly damaged that it was not possible to ascertain the exact positions of the crew in the northbound train at the point of impact. Two passengers, a couple travelling in the leading coach of the northbound train, were also killed.

There were several other contributory factors; it was conjectured that the AWS may have been inoperative (though the official report considers this unlikely), the signal was dirty and the light intensity was low, and there were no trap points to prevent a train wrongly entering a section against the signal. However the official report placed the blame on the driver of the northbound train, Brian Barton.

It was noted that the Oxted signalman, who was aware of the situation, had no direct means of alerting either driver to the danger. He apparently attempted to contact the down driver on the signal telephone (the up driver having passed the protecting signal - as noted at danger), but to no avail (presumably the driver never heard it above the noise of the engine immediately behind him). The signalman did alert the emergency services to the collision - while the trains were still one mile apart. The reason for cancelling the contract to fit Cab Secure Radio to this line prior to the incident and in the wake of the previous Clapham disaster and Hidden report recommendations, remains unclear, however it seems likely that the changes occurring at the time (Channel Tunnel and privatisation of the Network) took priority over funding. Cab Secure Radio was installed immediately following the incident and an inquiry was started.

The accident was exacerbated by the age and design of the multiple units involved. The separate-chassis construction of the elderly British Rail Class 205 stock, based on the BR Mk 1 design, led to overriding of one carriage by the next. The weight of the diesel engines above the frames of the coach probably did not help. These trains, unpopular with users of the line because of their antiquated nature, were replaced in 2004 by Turbostars.

The Wealden Line Campaign, which lobbies for service improvements and extensions to the Uckfield Line, had previously predicted within their newsletter "Missing Link" and via the local press, that the "rationalisation" (reduction to single line sections) could lead to such an event. They continue to work for the re-doubling of the route and its development within their "BML2" project.

A plaque on the station buildings at Cowden commemorates the accident.

Subsequently SPAD signals were provided for those signals giving access to the single line sections.

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Coordinates: 51°9′9″N 0°6′50″E / 51.15250°N 0.11389°E / 51.15250; 0.11389