Penistone rail accidents

Over the latter years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries Penistone in Yorkshire gained a name as an accident black-spot on Britain's railway network, indeed it could be said to hold the title of the worst accident black-spot in the country. The main line through the town was the Woodhead route of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway between Sheffield Victoria and Manchester, London Road. The line was heavily graded with a summit some 400 yards inside the eastern portal of the Woodhead tunnel.

The Bullhouse Bridge Accident, 1884.

The first Penistone rail crash, which occurred on July 16 1884, did not occur in the town but a few miles to the west, near Bullhouse Colliery. The accident is often referred to as being at "Bullhouse Bridge", where the road to Huddersfield passes below the line. An express passenger train, the 12.30 p.m. from Manchester, London Road to London, Kings Cross, with through carriages for Grimsby Docks in connection with the evening steamer sailing, had left Woodhead tunnel and was gathering speed on the downhill gradient towards Penistone. As it entered the curve at Bullhouse, the driver felt the engine develop an uneasy roll, but before he could apply the brakes, he heard a crack. A driving wheel axle on the locomotive had snapped, and the resulting spread of the driving wheels distorted the track. The axle fracture was probably caused by metal fatigue. A horsebox coupled behind the engine was derailed but remained upright. The coupling between the horsebox and the following carriages failed, and they ran off the rails and down the embankment on the outside of the curve. In total 24 passengers were killed with a high proportion being women.

The Barnsley Junction Accident, 1885.

The second unfortunate incident took place on the other side of Penistone station, between Huddersfield Junction and Barnsley Junction, within six months. On January 1 1885 a special excursion train from stations in the Sheffield area to Liverpool (9 coaches) and Southport (9 coaches) was climbing towards Penistone. At the same time a train of empty coal wagons travelling in the opposite direction to return the wagons to collieries in South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire was descending the gradient and had just passed Huddersfield Junction signal box when one of the wagons derailed. The driver of the locomotive applied his brakes and this wagon, Shireoaks No.218, jumped forward and became buffer-locked with the wagon in front, Shireoaks No.1. Pushed by wagon 218, No.1 also came off the rails, and struck the locomotive of the excursion. The wagon was brushed aside by the locomotive but rebounded after the first four of the excursion's carriages passed. The fifth, sixth and seventh carriages were wrecked and the following three were brought off the track. One person was killed in the accident and two others died as a result of amputations.

On examination Shireoaks No.218 wagon was found to have a fractured axle with two flaws in the metal, a problem again caused by metal fatigue. Unexpected catastrophc failure of axles (and wheels) was an ongoing problem on all railway vehicles owing to the lack of understanding of the causes, especially fatigue crack initiation and growth. Crack initiation was usually caused either by defects or poor design, with stress concentrations raising the local stress to failure. The small crack so created would then grow slowly under repeated loading from usage until the axle could no longer withstand imposed loads. (It was noted that day of the accident was very cold and the ballast under the railway sleepers was frozen, increasing the loads on the wheels and axles.)

Although the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln railway could not be held directly responsible for this accident, the enquiry recommended more thorough inspection of all rolling stock.

The Huddersfield Junction Accident, 1889.

It was over four years later when Penistone and rail crashes came together again. On the morning of F.A. Cup Final Day, 30 March 1889, with Preston North End due to play Wolverhampton Wanderers at Kennington Oval and the University Boat Race taking place over the Thames Tideway between Putney and Mortlake,in London, the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway ran an excursion with portions from Liverpool, Southport and Wigan to London, Kings Cross. Although not intended as a football excursion many from the area took advantage to see the team, then considered the best in the country, play. The Southport portion of the train was joined to the main train from Liverpool at Warrington Central and the Wigan portion was picked up at Glazebrook. The completed train made its way over the Cheshire Lines Committee tracks to Godley Junction where a stop was made for Railway Clearing House checks and departure was 55 minutes late. The locomotive was class 23 No.188, a six coupled locomotive, which although usually to be found on goods workings, was regularly used on excursion traffic. The train ran down the gradient towards Penistone station when the locomotive, having no leadings wheels to guide it, jumped the points where the goods line diverged from the main line on the approach to Huddersfield Junction signal box. The locomotive crew stood by their posts and applied the brakes, the coaches following the locomotive into the 'six-foot' ripping up some 25 yards of track; the tender capsized and became entangled in signal wires, the locomotive dug in the ballast and the front coach totally smashed. Coaches two and three toppled onto their sides and the following three which were pulled round in different directions were left standing broadside against the first pair. One person was killed and many injured. Those with minor injuries were treated at Penistone station, those with more severe injuries were taken to the Wentworth Arms Hotel, opposite the bottom of the station approach road, where the billiard room was turned into an operating theatre.

A further crash was averted by the prompt action of the signalman in Huddersfield Junction box. Having witnessed the crash he sent the message to Barnsley Junction, the next box on the Sheffield side, to "Stop the Mail", but the 10.40 p.m. King's Cross to Manchester Mail had already passed by. He set all his signals against the train, the driver applied his brakes but it could not stop before hitting the tender of the crashed locomotive, but it was enough. Buffers penetrated the plating of the tender, the bogie wheels were thrown off the track but the mail engine did not reach the crashed coaches.The Railway Inspectorate found that the leading axle of the locomotive had fractured and questioned both the use of a 'goods locomotive' on passenger work, where they would travel at speeds above their usual and the locomotive having no leading bogie wheels.

More 19th century accidents

6 October 1845. Main line train hit a cow. Locomotive and all coaches derailed and passengers "given a thorough shaking up". Cow "almost cut in two, killed on the spot". Driver's negligence.

8 December 1882. An accident in Penistone station during shunting operations. Two passengers injured.

1 September 1886. The through coach to Huddersfield, conveyed on the 5.30 p.m. King's Cross to Manchester (London Road) express was detached at Penistone and placed to await collection by the local train. The M.S.& L. locomotive and the leading brake backed onto its train, the impact sending the six coaches, dining car and rear brake into the 'ticket platform'. Twenty passengers were slightly injured.

September 1887. Just one year later and an almost identical accident. 10 October 1897. An accident in Penistone station when a light locomotive collided with a carriage. Three people were injured, one later died of concussion.

20th century accidents

2 February 1916. Probably the only accident to take place on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line, at the Penistone end of the viaduct which takes the tracks northward from the station. A Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway 2-4-2T locomotive was standing when the end of the viaduct and the embankment subsided below it. The collapse was slow and the crew jumped to safety before the arch fell down.

27 February 1927. An avoidable accident blamed mainly on signalman's error, in which an L.M.S. locomotive, Aspinall Radial tank No.10760, from the Huddersfield line, arrived, discharged its passengers and needing to clear the line to allow an empty coaching stock train from Bradford to enter the station, shunted its stock into the other L.M.S. platform to prepare for the return working. The locomotive needed to be turned (unnecessary but usual practice on the line) and worked to the opposite end of the train, a move needing quite a few backwards and forwards shunts. The final move to reach the front of his train was via the L.M.S. 'up' line, a wrong line movement which started on the L.N.E.R., as this was the only route available to reach his train. The driver made this last movement on his own, the fireman being sent to 'mash' the tea in the porter's room. The last move was controlled by a hand signal but having given the signal the Huddersfield Junction signalman, new on shift at 6 p.m., forgot to set the points for the L.M.S. line and the locomotive went along the main line into the station platform. The driver, realising something was wrong stopped and on seeing the signal at the east end of the platform go 'off', thinking the signalman had realised his error and it was for him, moved off to regain his right line. The signal was, in fact, for the Manchester - Marylebone express, loaded to five coaches and hauled by class D10 "Director" No.5437 "Prince George", which was approaching. Because of the speed restriction in force at Penistone the train was easing up and an impact speed of around 20 m.p.h. was experienced. The L.M.S. driver was the most seriously hurt, his fireman jumped clear and the L.N.E.R. crew were shaken.

Responsibility for the accident was that of the Huddersfield Junction signalman although the L.M.S. driver did receive a mention in the report for his breach of rules. The Inspector also referred to Rule 55(b) which provides that the fireman should go to the signalbox and remain there to remind the signalman of the presence of his train, standing on a running line.

Effects on the railway

The stretch of line where all these accidents occurred is in some of the bleakest scenery in the Pennines, and as none of the early accidents could be conveniently ascribed to human error, the superstitious had a field day. Penistone was reckoned to be an unlucky place to cross the hills. (Other folklore concerned the dangers of asphyxiation if a passenger train were to stall in the Woodhead Tunnels.) All these irrational beliefs hit the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway hard.

After another accident near Mexborough in South Yorkshire in 1886, the workers of the M.S. & L. Railway offered to contribute a day's wages to help cover the costs resulting from the accident. The Board of the Railway declined this generous offer, considering it unfair to their workers.

The trans-Pennine rail route of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln Railway is now part of the central section of the Trans-Pennine Trail.

ee also

* List of British rail accidents


*"Red for Danger", L.T.C. Rolt, Pan, ISBN 0-330-25555-X
*"Bullhouse - A Centenary", Roger Milnes & Christopher Corroy, "Forward" - The journal of the Great Central Railway Society, No.48, November 1984. ISSN-0141-4488
*"Penistone: Rail disaster coincidence & 100 years on", Roger Milnes & Christopher Corry, "Forward" - The journal of the Great Central Railway Society, No.52, July 1985. ISSN-0141-4488

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