A day out by the sea must have seemed an enticing prospect for the 940 passengers who packed into a special excursion train at Armagh station in Ireland one warm summer’s morning. Such had been the demand for places that a further two coaches were added on the day to the 13 already assigned. This caused some concern to the driver, Thomas McGrath, who was by no means convinced his engine had the power to pull such a long train. Knowing in particular that the first stage of the journey down to Warrenpoint on Carlingford Lough involved the formidable climb to Dobbins Bridge Summit, McGrath, who was not an experienced driver, requested the assistance of a pilot locomotive for the 5 km (3 mi) ascent, but he was refused.
As McGrath had feared, the train lost significant speed on the climb until it finally stalled just short of the summit. The crew then decided they would split the train and take the first five coaches to the next station over the summit before returning to pick up the other ten. In those days coaches were not fitted with automatic brakes so as an extra precaution stones were wedged under the carriage wheels. Unfortunately, during the uncoupling of the front five roaches, the engine nudged them backwards, just enough to push the rear carriages over the retaining stones.
One can only imagine the sickening feeling in the stomachs of the passengers as the coaches started rolling back down the incline. On its way up was the regular service from Armagh which had left ten minutes behind the excursion. The runaway coaches crashed into the oncoming train and the first three were hurled down the embankment and completely destroyed.
When was the Armagh Rail Disaster: June 12 1889
Where was the Armagh Rail Disaster: Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK
What was the Armagh Rail Disaster death toll: 80 people died in the crash, including 22 children; 262 people were injured.
You should know: As a direct result of the disaster better braking systems were devised for trains. Within a year it had become mandatory for trains in the British Isles to be fitted with continuous automatic brakes.