October 8 1952 had been a foggy morning, but as the local passenger train from Tring stood at the up platform of Harrow & Wealdstone Station embarking passengers for London’s Euston Station, the fog had cleared, the sun was breaking through and visibility was good. Even so, the driver of the overnight sleeper express from Perth in Scotland passed a distant signal set at yellow (caution) without slowing, possibly because it was momentarily obscured by the smoke from a passing goods train.
Driver Jones would not live to explain the lapse, for he also passed the outer home signal – a high-level semaphore arm set at ‘stop’, perhaps because he was still looking for the low-level distant signal. Only when he saw the inner home signal some 172 m (565 ft) from the station did he apply the brakes. It was far too late to avert England’s worst-ever rail crash. At 08:19 the express ploughed into the back of the stationery Tring local at 97 kph (60 mph), the impact sounding like a massive explosion as wreckage was scattered across platforms and adjacent lines.
Immediately, a fast-moving express pulled by two engines, bound for Liverpool and Manchester, hit debris on the adjacent line and derailed violently, slewing across the down platform and bringing down part of the station’s footbridge. In a few seconds of violent carnage, over 100 people died and nearly 350 were injured. A total of 16 carriages and vans were destroyed, 13 of which were compressed into a heap of wreckage just 41 m (135 ft) long, 16 m (52 ft) wide and 9 m (30 ft) tall. It took several days to remove bodies from the tangled mass of twisted metal. The accident enquiry found the cause of this major rail disaster to be inexplicable driver error.
When was the Harrow & Wealdstone Rail Crash: October 8 1952
Where was the Harrow & Wealdstone Rail Crash: Wealdstone, London, UK
What was the Harrow & Wealdstone Rail Crash death toll: 112 died, 340 were injured.
You should know: Despite taking the full force of both collisions, the steam loco hauling the Perth express – Coronation class No 46242 City of Glasgow – was found to be reparable and returned to service. The other engines involved in this disastrous crash had to be scrapped.