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 (InterCity 125), English Welsh & Scottish Railway (EWS) (Freight Train)
Cause Signal passed at danger
Trains 2
Passengers 212
Deaths 7
Injuries 139
List of rail accidents in the United Kingdom

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. An InterCity 125 passenger train failed to stop at a red signal and collided with a freight train crossing its path, causing seven deaths and 139 injuries.[1]


The crash occurred after the 10:32 Great Western Trains (GWT) InterCity 125 (HST) passenger train from Swansea to London Paddington, formed of power car 43173, eight Mark 3 carriages and power car 43163 operating with the Automatic Warning System (AWS) isolated, passed a red signal, and passed through to two cautionary signals.[2]

As the tracks straightened ahead of the HST train, the driver observed an English Welsh & Scottish (EWS) Class 59 locomotive 59101 a mile in the distance, moving "at a funny angle" and realised that it was crossing the Up Main line. The EWS-operated freight train hauling twenty empty bogie hopper wagons was coming from London on the Down Relief line, and had been signalled 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 125 miles per hour (201 km/h), and could not stop in time even under emergency braking.[2]

Alan Bricker, the driver of EWS locomotive 59101, observed the approaching HST and expected it to stop, but was alarmed by its speed and apparent brake application. He tried to accelerate his train out of the path of the HST, but was unsuccessful. The later accident report found that:

  1. At 13:20, the front power car of the HST collided with a 22-tonne (22-ton) hopper car.[3]
  2. Two seconds later, coach H collided with a hopper. The HST power car severed the brake pipes of the freight train, causing the stranded rear hopper wagons to stop immediately. A coupling from one of the hoppers was then severed by the derailed and damaged front power car as it passed by, causing debris to land on the track.
  3. Four seconds into the accident, with the HST still travelling at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), coach H collided with the severed coupling from the freight train, and began to topple away from the freight train onto to its left side. It slid on its side for a further four seconds. Two people died in this carriage, both from falling out of the destroyed coach windows and being crushed under the sliding Coach H.
  4. Eight seconds into the accident, with both the forward HST power car and coach H clear forward of the scene, coach G—the second coach in the HST formation—hit the now stationary rear of the freight train. The freight wagons were driven back and jackknifed.
  5. Both coach G and the struck hopper wagon lifted into the air. The hopper wagon was restrained in its movement, and collided and jammed up against the nearby overhead line stanchions. The front of coach G was flattened as it slid under the hopper.
  6. Ten seconds into the accident, the rear of the HST train led by coach F, collided with the now stationary coach G. The energy release of the still moving rear of the HST bent the structure of coach G into a distinct half-curve at its midpoint. Five people died in coach G, which was almost completely destroyed.
  7. The rear of the HST, led by coach F, collided with the stationary rear of the freight train. Coach F was left derailed.

In total, six people were killed, and a seventh passenger died in hospital.[4]

If the AWS equipment on the 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[5] and he did not see the preceding signals, but AWS would have given him a clear audible warning that the signals were displaying cautionary aspects and that he should start braking. Failure to acknowledge this warning would have caused the emergency brake 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 were qualified to use it.[6]


Following this accident and the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, First Great Western (as GWT had become) required 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.[7] GWT was fined £1.5 million for not having a system to ensure HSTs were not operated for long journeys with AWS inoperative.[8]

View of the aftermath from a passing train

The action of the signaller in stopping a high-speed passenger train to allow a slow freight train to cross in front of it has been criticised. However, this is standard procedure when regulating trains to minimise overall delay; there was no reason for the signaller to expect that the HST driver would not stop at his red signal. At the time there was no requirement for the signaller to have been informed that the HST was in service with its AWS isolated. The rulebook was altered to cover this;[9]

"Driver.....if you become aware that the AWS has become defective when it is required to be in operation, you must.....tell the signaller"

The key point 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. The rulebook was changed,[9] so that if AWS is isolated the train may only run at high speed with a competent person accompanying the driver in the cab. This person must have full knowledge of the route and know how to stop the train;

"If a competent person is provided....proceed at normal permissible speed to the location where the train can be dealt with. During poor visibility, the train speed must not exceed 40 mph (65 km/h)"


"If a competent person is not provided...proceed at a speed not exceeding 40 mph (65 km/h), or any lower permissible speed that may apply, to the location where a competent person is available or to the location where the train can be dealt with"

After the completion of the inquiry, power car 43173 was scrapped at MoD Shoeburyness.


  1. ^ Professor John Uff QC FREn. "The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report" (PDF). HSE Books. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "Seven die as HST ploughs into stone empties'" Rail Magazine |issue 315 8 October 1997| pages 6–11
  3. ^ TheRoute19 (27 August 2010). "Southall Train Crash 1997". Retrieved 12 December 2016 – via YouTube. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report: Annex 08 (Transcript of driver's SPT conversation with signaller at Slough IECC) "I was just putting me stuff away in the bag, like I would normally do, you see and all of a sudden I was whizzing through Hayes with a red at Southall"" (pdf). Retrieved 2017-03-31. 
  6. ^ "The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report: Paragraph 6.26 "ATP not switched on"" (pdf). Retrieved 2017-03-31. 
  7. ^ Rail crash manslaughter charges dropped BBC News 2 July 1999
  8. ^ Record fine after Southall crash BBC News 27 July 1999
  9. ^ a b "Online Rulebook - Module: TW5 Defective or isolated vehicles and on-train equipment - Section 4.5 (If the AWS is defective or isolated)". RSSB. 
  • Hall, Stanley (1999). Hidden Dangers. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7137-1973-7. 
  • Vaughan, Adrian (2000). Tracks to Disaster. Ian Allan. 

External links[edit]

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