Collision 1905

Saltash Station Collision 1905

The 5.40am down workman’s train from Plympton to Saltash due to arrive at Saltash at 6.06am left Plympton 22mins late due to being held at a signal at Tavistock Junction. The train consisting of six four-wheeled coaches was to terminate at Saltash and then form the 6.15am workman’s train from Saltash to Devonport.

Due to the delay at Plympton the train arrived at Saltash down platform 16 minutes late at 6.22am. In order to save time arrangements were made to start the train in the up direction from the down platform, which was properly signalled for this purpose.

The engine was therefore uncoupled from the west end of the standing train , sent forward in charge of a shunter clear of the crossover road, then came back over the up loop line onto the single track at the east end of the station. The signalman reversed the east end loop points and the engine set back onto the coaches on the down line.

In the meantime to passengers for Saltash had alighted and those for Keyham and Devonport had taken their seats in the coaches.

(There were between 180 and 200 passengers on the train, 162 tickets had been issued at Saltash ticket office plus there were some return ticket and season ticket holders).

The collision then occurred by the engine, in setting back, striking sharply the coaches, with the result that twenty seven passengers were injured, none were of a serious character.

The enquiry heard evidence from:

George Edwin Courtney - passenger guard stated.

He had worked for the GWR for 14 years, the last four as a passenger guard.

The train consisted of 6 four-wheel coaches, a brake third being at each end of the train. Vacuum brake was fitted on all wheels of the train.

On arrival at Saltash workmen alighted, the engine was detached and sent round the train. The workmen who were ready to go from Saltash to Devonport were on the platform when we arrived, as soon as the train stopped and after passengers had alighted they took their seats and I assisted in closing the doors as I passed down while the engine was backing on to the train. I was about half way down the train when the collision occurred. I had my back to the engine and the first thing I new of anything being wrong was when the engine struck the coaches. The contact being more violent than usual, caused me to look round. I went back then and found the workmen getting out of the train and found that the only coach damaged was the one at the end which was a brake third with the brake compartment next to the engine. So far as my observations went, all the people injured were in this coach, there were five passenger compartments as well as the brake compartment. All the passengers who were hurt alighted and one lay down on the grass.

Frederick Stephens – checker at Saltash stated,

He had worked for the GWR for 14 years, 9 at Saltash and was acting Stationmaster at Saltash.

I was at the west end of the train walking towards Royal Albert Bridge at the east end of the station. When the engine was approaching the train at a distance of about 14yds it was moving at a higher speed than usual and I became afraid there would be something the matter. The collision was very sharp, but it did not seem to me that the train moved much as all the brakes were acting. Immediately afterwards I saw some of the men getting out of the compartments in an injured condition, one named Charles Hooper, was helped out and laid down on the embankment alongside the platform. There were several with cut faces and I at once ran for Dr Meadows, but before he could get to the station the men injured had gone to his surgery. I took the names and addresses of those injured and found the signalman had arranged for the St. Germans train to take forward the uninjured men.

Richard Rowe – signalman at Saltash stated,

He had worked for the GWR for 28 years, 26 years as a signalman at Saltash.

On arrival of the train the engine was cut off and sent ahead over the crossover road and came back on the up line onto the single line on Saltash Bridge. I had a signal from the shunter Thomas who was on the engine to show that the engine was over the points and ready to come back to the coaches standing on the down line. The coaches were standing inside the starting signal. I then turned the points. When the engine was about 15yds distant from the train I saw it was coming back faster than usual. I would say the engine was going about 7 or 8 mph. I would say that the train was pushed back about 2ft. After the accident the workmen did not travel by this train but by an empty workmen’s train that left Saltash at 6.43am.

John Thomas – porter at Saltash stated,

He had worked for the GWR for 5 years.

When the workman’s train from Plympton arrived at 6.22am I uncoupled the engine, got onto the footplate, sent the engine ahead over the crossover and travelled with the engine to a point on Royal Albert Bridge. When we were over the points I gave the signalman a signal to indicate that we were clear, The driver then reversed his engine and commenced to run back, I travelled on the engine from the points to the place where the accident occurred. The engine started in the ordinary way, and on reaching the east end of the platform I noticed that we were going faster than usual. I said to the driver "Steady up, driver," but at that time we were only about six yards from the coaches. I was standing on the six-foot side, next the fireman, looking westward. I cannot say what the driver was doing, but he was on the driver's side of the engine, and I was close to the fireman, who was putting on the hand brake. Just before the collision occurred I could see what was going to happen, and I held tight, when the engine struck the coaches I should say it moved the first coach about two feet. After we started to come back the engine did not seem to slacken speed although the fireman was applying the hand brake. I saw the driver open the regulator at the points and shortly afterwards close it again. After the collision I saw the men getting out of the coaches, and found some of them were cut badly about the face and I assisted them as much as I could. We wanted to be as quick as we could on this occasion because the train arrived late and the Dockyards men have only just time to get to their work when the train is running to time. I said nothing to the driver to induce him to hurry on this occasion. There was a slight mist falling at the time and the rails were wet. Prior to the arrival of the train I instructed the workmen who were waiting, to cross to the down side. This I did on the suggestion of signalman Rowe, and it is the usual practice when the train is late. I have often been on an engine running round this train, but have not known a driver have any difficulty in backing on to the train. The engine in running clear of the west crossover points did not run further than usual.

Alfred Williams – passenger fireman, stated,

He had been in the Company's employ 4½ years and a shunting fireman for eight months.

I booked on duty at 2.50 a.m. on the 27th March for 3 a.m. engine turning. At 4.15 a.m. I started to prepare engine No. 835 to work the 5.15 a.m. workmen's train. It would be about 4.55 a.m. when I was engaged in filling the tanks. To make sure both sides were filled I had a lamp, and in addition put my hand in each side and felt the water, which was to the top of the tanks. My mate asked me if both sides were full and I replied "Yes." On the journey to Plympton we were detained 24 minutes at Tavistock Junction signals. When at Plympton I noticed the engine wasted a considerable quantity of water by priming; this, however, ceased when we left with the 5.40 a.m. workmen's train. On arrival at Saltash our engine was detached and run back over the points, when I applied the hand brake and checked the engine without difficulty. We then ran ahead over the up line points; after these points had been turned we started back at a speed of about eight miles per hour towards the train. My mate only put on steam whilst the engine made a few revolutions, and as be shut off steam I applied the hand brake; the rail was slippery and consequently the brake took but very little effect. Seeing this my mate applied the steam brake; the wheels then picked up, but the speed had been reduced to about four miles per hour, and at this rate we struck the train, causing damage to coaches and injuring several passengers. Whilst at Saltash, by the injectors failing to work, we discovered the tank was empty, the water must have all been used up on the journey as I am positive that both tanks were full just before we left Plymouth shed. I cannot explain why the hand brake should not have acted efficiently in stopping the engine at the east end of the station.

John Charles Launder – passenger fireman stated,

He had been in the companies’ service 8 years and passed inspection to take charge of a locomotive in 1902

I found no difficulty stopping the train at any station before arriving at Saltash. My engine was detached from the train, a porter then got onto the footplate and rode back over the points. I then ran ahead on the up line over the points and touched my whistle to let the signalman know I had cleared them. It was daylight and the porter who was still on the footplate, seeing the points turn gave me “Right” to go back onto the train. The road is on a decent so I only put on sufficient steam to give us a start, the distance to be covered being not more than 50yds. I should say we started back at 5 -6 mph. Almost immediately after, before reaching the footbridge, I shut off steam and my mate applied the hand brake. Shortly afterwards, seeing this took no effect, I applied the steam brake fully—this would be about 10 to 15 yards from the coaches—with the result that the wheels picked up. The rail was very slippery, as a shower of small rain was falling at the time. I had no time to apply sand before we struck the train, at a speed of about 3½ miles per hour. I did not notice any difficulty on stopping the train on arrival with a gradual application of the brake. The contact caused damage to some of the coaches, and as passengers had entrained, several of them were injured. Shortly after, my mate went to work the injector, the water in the glass just showing, but it failed to work, the one on my side acting in the same manner. I could not think what was amiss, but on looking in the tank it was found to be empty. I was at a loss to account for this, as my mate assured me that both tanks were full just before we left the shed; if such was the case the water must have been used up on the journey, extra being used by the delay at Tavistock Junction and priming at Plympton. No damage whatever was done to my engine. The passengers intending to go with my train were taken on by the 6.10 a.m. ex St. Germans. I have worked this train before and the same process of running round was gone through. I was aware that the coaches to which I was backing contained passengers. This is the second time I have worked this particular workmen's train. I have worked other passenger trains on the Yealmpton Branch six or eight times a year since 1903, whenever the services of additional men were required. I know the line between Plympton and Saltash well, both as regards gradients and signals. My engine, No. 835, was a four-wheels-coupled, with trailing axle, side tank engine. The coupled wheels are fitted with single blocks worked both by steam and by hand. The brake was in good working order both as regards steam and hand power. I have worked with the engine previously and had no reason to complain of any of the fitments. There are no water gauges for the tanks. I have had no previous accident of any sort. I heard the shunter say "Steady" when I was at the east end of the platform, before I applied steam power to the brake. I did not apply steam ahead, thought I put the reversing lever in forward gear.


Acting-drive Launder and fireman Williams stated that at the moment of collision the speed of the engine was from 3½ to 4 mph. Porter Thomas who was on the engine as shunter, and checker Stephens, who was on the platform, stated that on nearing the coaches the speed of the engine was greater than usual, that they foresaw a collision was inevitable. Signalman Rowe estimated the speed of the engine at from 7 to 8 mph at a point 15yds from the coaches.

Owing to the fact that the vacuum brake was holding the coaches, the shock of the collision was no doubt more violent than it would otherwise have been.

Both before and after the collision the enginemen admit that the brake power on the engine was in good order and that the had experienced not difficulty in stopping. The rails though wet, do not appear to be in an uncommon condition and five trains hade passed over the same track in the past two hours.

Under the circumstances I do not see that the conditions were so exceptional as to excuse the enginemen to properly set back on to the carriages.

I come to the conclusion that acting drive Launder and fireman Williams are responsible for the collision.

JW Pringle

Major RE

About the engine involved

GWR Locomotive No. 835 was a member of the very successful 517 class of 0-4-2T locomotives

It was designed by Joseph Armstrong, built at Wolverhampton, and entered service in December 1873

It was withdrawn in February 1935 after 62 years of service

GWR engine No. 835 was built as a standard gauge loco although early members of the class were built as board gauge loco’s and converted to standard gauge later. They were a very successful class with many being modified, updated and changed over the years, some were converted for push pull operation and others to tender engines. 835 remained mainly unaltered throughout its life. They were eventually replaced by the 1400 class of loco, the design of which was based on the 517 class. The photograph of 835 above was taken at Swindon