Blogs > Cliopatria > One of the worst train disasters in Britain

Mar 21, 2006 9:08 pm

One of the worst train disasters in Britain

MODERN commuters often complain about the disastrous effects of heavy snow on Britain's railways but are thankfully spared the catastrophes that befell earlier passengers in these conditions. Days of heavy snowfall laid the foundation for the worst train disaster in Britain for nearly ten years on 10 December 1937. Thirty-five people died and 179 more were injured after frozen equipment and railway staff frozen by indecision caused two trains to collide at Castlecary station, Lanarkshire.

By that afternoon some six inches of snow caused a tailback of trains on the line about five miles west of Castlecary, a town about midway between Falkirk and Glasgow. Castlecary signalman Andrew Sneddon set his signals against the 2pm Dundee express due next at the station and which at two minutes behind schedule was approaching at speed. The express ran through the danger signal. The signalman panicked.

Sneddon gestured to the driver by hand as it passed, and, fearing it would crash into the train held back ahead, phoned to warn the next station. But the express had indeed seen the signal and safely stopped in time. Sneddon, distracted with relief when a fireman from the train appeared to sign the train register, then made the error of accepting the 4.30pm express from Edinburgh.

The station staff and fireman ran out to attach detonators to the track to warn the oncoming train that the Dundee express lay dead ahead - but they were too late. The men managed to lay one detonator before the Edinburgh express Grand Parade came thundering out of the snow and darkness at 70mph. David James Anderson, the 42-year-old driver of the train, applied the vacuum brake but, weighing 150 tons, the Grand Parade helplessly crashed into the Dundee train travelling at about a mile a minute.

The collision was devastating....

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