Reply To: Speed Kills: Salisbury, 1906

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Well, to be fair, accidents through excessive speed aren’t all caused by the heat of competition. One curve at Morpeth was the scene of three (count them) derailments within thirty years, all in the BR period: 1969, 1884 and 1994. Fortunately only the first caused any fatalities, six of them. And at Eltham Well Hall in 1972 the driver was drunk.

On the other hand, on one occasion in 1937 the London Midland and Scottish Railway, inheritors of the West Coast main line, gave official sanction to an episode of (as the railway writer W A Tuplin put it) ‘barely credible recklessness.’ And the motive was, yes, prestige and publicity.

On the other side of the country the London and North Eastern Railway had introduced streamlined expresses and there had been several record-breaking runs, which its publicity department had not been slow to exploit. So when the LMS introduced its own streamliner it used the pre-service press demonstration run as an excuse for an attempt to beat the LNER’s maximum speed record. The attempt was made on a downhill stretch just south of Crewe, where the train was, incredibly, scheduled to enter the station via a series of points and crossovers limited to 20mph.

What were they thinking? They were thinking about getting one-up on the LNER. They were not thinking about how long it might take to slow down from a speed never reached in normal service.

114mph had been reached when, less than two miles from Crewe, the brakes were slammed hard on, and the train hurtled down the bank towards the station with flames and smoke coming off the brake blocks. It was still doing over 50mph when it hit the first crossover. Passengers were thrown about and there was a fusillade of breaking crockery from the dining car, but the train stayed on the rails and drew to a halt, more or less safely, in the station. No one was seriously hurt, but it was close, much too close, to being another Salisbury.

  • This reply was modified 3 years ago by RichardB.