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LMS Route: Birmingham New Street to Lichfield

Sutton Coldfield Station: lnwrsc2339

Ex-LMS 2-6-4T No 42421 travels slowly through the accident damaged remains of Sutton Coldfield station

Ex-LMS 2-6-4T No 42421 travels slowly through the accident damaged remains of Sutton Coldfield station on Wednesday 26th January 1955. The Sutton Coldfield train crash took place at about 16:13hrs on 23 January 1955. Headed by ex-LMS Class 5, 4-6-0 No 45274, the 12:15 York to Bristol express which consisted of ten carriages had approached Sutton Coldfield station at about 55-60 mph. The speed, however, was not reduced at Sutton Coldfield in accordance with the permanent 'Appendix' restriction of 30 m.p.h. which is in force through the station on account of the severe left handed curvature, with the result that when it reached the sharp curve immediately before the station, the train derailed, colliding with the platforms.

There were about 300 passengers in the train, and 17 persons lost their lives, twelve passengers, the conductor driver and the fireman were killed outright, and two passengers and a driver travelling on duty subsequently died of their injuries in hospital. In addition, 40 passengers were taken to hospital, 17 of whom were discharged the same afternoon after treatment; 23 passengers were detained, some with very serious injuries, also the regular driver of the train, who was not on the engine at the time, and a goods guard, who was travelling on duty. Twenty four others complained of minor injury or shock."

The train had been booked to run between Wichnor Junction (South of Burton) and Birmingham on the secondary line via Lichfield and Sutton Coldfield, owing to routine permanent way renewals on the usual main line route to Birmingham via Tamworth; the train driver, who was stationed at Gloucester, was unfamiliar with the Sutton Coldfield route, so a local driver had joined the engine at Burton to act as 'conductor' as far as Birmingham. However, the driver, complaining that the rough riding of the engine was tiring him, left the footplate and took a seat in the train, leaving the pilot driver in charge. This action was later criticised by the Inspecting Officer, who commented that even though he did not know the route, the safety of the train was still his responsibility.

Possible causes
Although the excessive speed was the major factor in the accident, the exact cause was never fully established. The accident occurred in broad daylight and with a driver who knew the line well. There was no evidence of mechanical failure on the train. The driver and fireman died in the locomotive, so the reason for the excessive speed was never established. Investigators identified several factors that could have contributed to the excessive speed:
       · The train was making up some time, running late.
       · There was a gradient to climb after the station which was best approached at full speed
       · The steam locomotive (like most at the time) was not fitted with a speedometer
       · The engine was riding roughly, which may have contributed to the driver's misjudging the speed.
It seems therefore that the driver knew he was exceeding the speed limit but did not realise the extent of the danger (similarly to the Salisbury rail crash of 1906).

Emergency response
The number of casualties was prevented from rising as a result of the actions of two local people who rushed up the railway line to stop a train heading towards the crash site. Two railway employees also raised the alarm to other stations, changed the signals to danger and placed detonators on the tracks to warn oncoming trains. One of the two had been injured and shocked by the accident, and both were awarded with gold watches for their work. The scene was attended to by a mobile surgical as well as forty additional ambulances from surrounding districts. RAF servicemen from Whitehouse Common provided aid to the emergency services.

The above information is derived from the report supplied courtesy of Railways Archive.