Britain’s first major train crash occurred in August 1868 in North Wales. The Irish Mail was a daily express service from London Euston to Holyhead in Anglesey, where many passengers embarked on the ferry to Ireland. The train, which was known for its speed and efficiency, frequently carried some of the country’s wealthiest and most influential people on the way to their country estates in Ireland. On this particular day the Irish Mail arrived as usual in Chester, where four extra carriages were added to the front of the train, doubling it in size. Chester was an important junction and many more passengers joined the train at this point.
An hour or so later the express was approaching the small town of Abergele on the North Wales coast and preparing for the haul up towards Colwyn Bay. Some 5 km (3 mi) further up the main line at Llanddulas, a goods train was busy with a scheduled shunting operation which involved moving its wagons into sidings. Normally this would have been completed in good time before the express passed through. On this occasion, however, six goods trucks and a brake van which had been left secure on the main line during the operation somehow came free and started rolling down the incline towards the oncoming Irish Mail.
A sweeping curve in the track prevented the driver of the express from seeing the trucks before it was too late; nor could he have received any warning of the impending disaster as there was no telegraph connection between the local stations. Although he slammed his engine into reverse, a collision was inevitable, and made infinitely worse by the fact that two of the goods wagons were loaded with barrels of paraffin which exploded on impact.
When was the Abergele Rail Crash: August 20 1868
Where was the Abergele Rail Crash: Abergele, North Wales, UK
What was the Abergele Rail Crash death toll: 33 died. The bodies were so badly charred in the inferno from the exploding paraffin that only three could be positively identified; the remainder were buried in simple numbered coffins.
You should know: After the crash it became standard practice on the railways for steep gradients to be fitted with runaway catch points so that any vehicle which was out of control on the line could be derailed and stopped before there was a chance of it colliding with another.