In this blog, I will write about the railway accident which occurred on 26th February 1971 at Sheerness-on-Sea railway station. All relevant links to content are at the foot of this blog.
On the evening of 26th February, the 17:16, 10 car train from Victoria to Sheerness entered the station but failed to stop and the first carriage ended up careering into the station, demolishing most of the booking hall. Unfortunately 1 person died and 13 injured, including the driver. A more detailed look at the accident is contained below.
Sheerness-on-Sea station 1971
The train itself was a 2-HAP built for the Kent Coast line between 1958 and 1963. This particular train comprised of 5, 2-car trainsets, all steel construction on standard BR bogies. The power to these trains was via a controller in the cab which requires it to be depressed at all times in order to take power. If this handle is not depressed, the brakes will apply automatically, with around a 2-3 second delay. This so called “dead man switch” still applies today, in various forms.
As noted by various eye witnesses, many of whom were railway staff, the train appeared to slow correctly when entering platform one, but was seen to be going too fast as it ran along the platform. Indeed one eyewitness – railwayman M.Gordon remarked to a colleague “that train is not going to stop”.
A few seconds later, the leading cab ploughed into the platform 1 buffer assembly, at what is believed to be around 10-15mph. The upper portion of the front coach detached from the bogie assembly and carried on over the concourse, demolishing most of the ticket office and taking out a centre beam before crashing though the front of the building and coming to rest, as seen below.
(c) John Gamble – Via KentOnline
(c)Kevin Ali – Sheppey Website
The fatality was a Mrs Joyce Carr, who had just bought a ticket from the office. The 13 other injured were taken to Medway hospital, including a near term pregnant woman who gave birth 2 hours later.
The Official Report states the following conclusions to the accident.
The driver – Mr Rothwell, had suffered a head injury at Holborn Viaduct a year earlier, in which he was unconscious for around 8 minutes. After extensive testing and evaluation, he was passed fit to drive again July 1970, and re-examined in October the same year. Another test was planned for April 1971.
Mr Rothwell when interviewed stated that he remembered applying a slow brake to the train when entering the station, but that the next thing he remembered was being slumped over the cab after the accident. This was in agreement with at least two other witnesses who found Mr Rothwell in the cab afterwards
The overall conclusion is that the driver had blacked out, slumping over the controls, thus still providing the connection with the controllers Dead-Man switch. The train carried on at 10-15 Mph, before connecting with the buffers. This caused immediate application of the emergency brake, slowing the rest of the train. Indeed, only the second carriage was further damaged, most of that ending up on the detached bogie of the leading carriage.
The following pictures show the extensive damage to the station after the wreckage was removed. They are still images taken from 8mm footage, this can be viewed via a link at the bottom of this blog.
(c) Graham White
Following the disaster, the station building was demolished, and a new one built to the side.
(c) David Glasspool
The following are links to the original source for this blog:
Runaway Train – YouTube Video (c) Graham White
Please visit my YouTube channel – Rainham Rail Enthusiast for videos of modern and vintage railway action.
Many thanks for reading – I’ll blog again soon.