Accident at Lawley Street, Birmingham on 22nd March 1864
The following report, dated 22nd April 1864, was commissioned by the Secretary of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade. The report, together with many others, can be found at the Railways Archive website. Captain HW Tyler, Royal Engineers conducted the inquiry into the circumstances which attended the collision that occurred on the 22nd March near Birmingham on the London and North Western Railway.
The 12:20 pm passenger train from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Darlaston left the New Street Station, at Birmingham, punctually on the day in question, consisting of an engine and tender and ten carriages, of which two were breakcarriages. It stopped at the Lawley Street Station, which is about three-quarters of a mile from the New Street Station, for a minute or two, as usual, and then proceeded towards the next station, Bloomsbury (sic) but at rather less than three-quarters of a mile beyond Lawley Street it came into collision with a coal train, which was standing in its way on the down main line. The van and one waggon (sic) of the coal train were thrown off the rails and a second waggon was also damaged. The leading wheels of the engine of the passenger train were also thrown off the rails, but it was only slightly damaged, and all the carriages remained on the rails. The guard of the latter train, whose break-carriage was in the centre of it, was knocked down, and fifteen of the passengers have complained of injury.
The speed of the passenger train was evidently very moderate after it left Lawley Street, and is even stated by the engine-driver, fireman, and guard, not to have exceeded from 5 to 8 miles an hour, and to have been reduced to 2 or 3 miles an hour when the collision occurred. The train was composed of carriages coupled closely together, with short buffers, of the description technically known as "twin carriages" and the shock was no doubt more severely felt than it would have been if carriages of the ordinary description had been employed.
The coal train started from the Curzon Street (Birmingham) Station at 12:14, with an engine and tender, 10 empty and 3 loaded waggons, and a break-van. It proceeded for half a mile to the Vauxhall Bridge, and the guard found 16 empty waggons waiting for him in the sidings south of that bridge. The break-van and the 10 empty waggons were left on the main line while the engine and the 3 loaded waggons were taken into the sidings for these 16 waggons; but after they had been taken out of the sidings it was observed that one of them was disabled; and the waggon examiner would not allow it to proceed, though the goods guard, aware that the passenger train was nearly due, endeavoured to induce him to do so. The disabled waggon was therefore shunted off, and 2 coal waggons with it, to save time; and the engine was returning with the remaining coal waggon to rejoin its train when the collision occurred.
The coal train which thus obstructed the main line was standing in a very awkward situation. It could not be seen by an approaching engine-driver for more than about 130 yards, owing to a curve on the line, and the position of an engine shed. But it was under the protection of two distant-signals, controlled by the signalman stationed at the Vauxhall Bridge. One of these signals was 127 yards from the site of the collision, and 277 yards from the Vauxhall Bridge; and could be seen for a considerable distance towards Lawley Street. The other was 447 yards from the site of the collision, and was visible to the engine-driver of the passenger train before he started from the Lawley Street Station. These signals were worked together, by means of one lever, from the Vauxhall Bridge, and were turned to danger by the signalman as soon as the coal train arrived. That which was nearer to him appears to have been in good order; but the other, which was out of his sight, required adjustment, as the semaphore arm did not go up to the horizontal position when the lever was turned to danger. There were two other semaphore wires attached to the same post, above that which was worked from the Vauxhall Bridge.
The engine-driver of the passenger train excuses himself by saying that he had always been led to understand, that the upper arm of this further signal post from Vauxhall Bridge, which was "at all right" when he started from Lawley Street, was the distant signal from that bridge; that the lower arm on the same post, which he understood to apply to the engines going into the engine-shed sidings, was at "caution; "and that his attention having been taken up with his fire, he did not notice the second signal, nearer to the Vauxhall Bridge, until after the collision. The fireman with the passenger engine, knew that the lower arm of the further post from Vauxhall was worked from the bridge, and saw that it was at "caution" before he left Lawley Street; and he had several times seen it in that position before. He also observed, when he was about 20 yards from the next signal-post, that the arm on that post was between "caution" and "danger" and he " took it to be a caution signal. "It was only when they came in sight of the coal train, and upon his calling the engine-driver's attention to it, that they endeavoured to pull up.
These men have both been dismissed from the service of the company in consequence of this accident. They are both highly intelligent, and the engine-driver, who had served 16 or 17 years in that capacity, bore an excellent character.
The local officers of the company tested 'the signals the same afternoon, and found that the arm of the nearer distant-signal to Vauxhall went perfectly to "danger, "but that the lower arm of the further signal post from Vauxhall rose to a position about halfway between "caution" and "danger" only, so as to make angle of about 22½ degrees with the horizontal line, when the lever was worked by the signalman in the usual way.
I understand that the London and North Western Company are now extending the system of working by aid of the electric telegraph over further portions of their railway, with a view to greater security. I strongly recommend its application on the portion of line here referred to, on account of the nature as well as of the amount of the traffic.
HW Tyler, Captain, Royal Engineers