Sunday, 15 July 2018

Train Crash

August 8th 1861 and near the canal bridge at Slade Heath the driver of a locomotive shut off steam as they approached Four Ashes. As they slowed the driver felt his engine riding roughly and thought they had broken an axle. Moments later the engine and tender left the track and came down the embankment, bringing with it tons of earth which buried stoker Richard Barnwell to the waist. Luckily the engine, which toppled over on to its right side, missed him by inches. Furthermore, another miraculous stroke of luck saw driver James Harrison thrown clear of the footplate and the remainder of the train, the coaches and passengers, remained on the line.

The driver went to retrieve the lamp and sent two men, including coroner Mr Collins, ahead to stop the mail train from Scotland at the station and prevent a crash. Meanwhile he and men from Standeford Mill, who had come to offer assistance, set about releasing the trapped stoker and convey him quickly to the infirmary. His injuries were severe and both legs had to be amputated, he had been scalded, with bruising and lacerations. Three weeks later, while seemingly on the road to recovery, he died.

At the subsequent inquest the coroner heard how two large pieces of timber, over twelve feet in length and three feet wide, showed wheel marks and splintering and revealed they were the cause of the crash. Evidence from the railway company told how this timber had been part of a load coming from Wolverhampton earlier that afternoon. As usual, they had been tied to the truck with an empty truck behind to catch any which worked loose.

The coroner suggested such practice was completely inadequate and an urgent review necessary.

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