From the early 1840s a Rail Inspectorate has existed to investigate the causes of rail accidents and to make recommendations for improvements to the design of equipment and operational methods to reduce future risk - and this process continues today. The advent of increasingly sophisticated signalling and other systems have come about through this process - with the railway operators at times having to be forced by legislation to adopt and implement new safety systems. Accidents resulting in passenger fatalities are now exceeding rare, but some risks remain for track workers and especially to those members of the public who trespass on the railway or disregard the basic rules for using level crossings of various types. The safety of the railway is emphasized by the fact that prior to the unfortunate accident at Lambrigg early in 2007, there had not been a single passenger fatality on the West Coast route between Mossband, north of Carlisle, and Winwick Junction, near Warrington, for well over 100 years.
The reports of the railway inspectors into all types of accidents on the railway provide detailed insights into the realities of railway operation at the time - and of the people involved. The older reports give an eye into a world which is very different from our own, not just in the methods of railway operation, but also into the social environment and attitudes of the period. As such they are very significant historic documents.
The list below does not pretend to be a complete listing of all accidents on the railway in Cumbria - though we intend to extend it in due course. It does include, however, the more significant events which have occurred, some of which have had important influences on subsequent railway operation and management. Many of these are discussed in the publications listed in the "Further Reading" section at the foot of the list.
Clicking on the links will take you to the appropriate page of The Railways Archive website from where the full report may be downloaded. Where no link is given no report is available from The Railways Archive but details will almost always be found in local newspaper reports dating from a few days later. On any accident these reports will probably give additional information not included in the railway inspectors reports and will be found in the Cumbria County Council local studies library for the relevant part of the county, or - for researchers from further away - in the British Library Newspaper Archive.
1844, 1 May - Carlisle (Newcastle & Carlisle Railway)
Boiler explosion, loco No.22 Adelaide
1845, 25 January - How Mill (Newcastle & Carlisle Railway)
Boiler explosion, loco No.25 Venus
1849, January - Maryport (Maryport & Carlisle Railway)
Boiler explosion, loco No.1
1849, 10 February - Rockcliffe (Caledonian Railway)
Derailment caused by broken axle, 5 fatalities
1861, 29 August - Bowes (Stockton & Darlington Railway)
Excursion derailed by bridge subsidence
1870, 10 April - Grayrigg (Lancaster & Carlisle Railway)
Broken wheel, passenger/postal train derailed
1870, 0 July - Carlisle St Nicholas (London & North Western Railway)
Collision at crossing on level, 6 fatalities
1872, 27 November - Shap Summit (London & North Western Railway)
Derailed wagon run into by passenger train
1874, 3 January - Shap (London & North Western Railway)
Collision between passenger and goods trains after SPAD
1876, 28 January - Loups Fell, Tebay (London & North Western Railway)
Banking loco collides with passenger train, 1 fatality
1881, 10 November - Carnforth (Furness Railway)
Insecure points caused derailment
1903, 27 February - Leven Viaduct (Furness Railway)
Passenger train overturned in gale
1903, 5 December - Penrith (London & North Western Railway) Divided train, rear end collision
1910, 24 December - Hawes Junction (Midland Railway)
Passenger train collides with light engines, 9 fatalities
1912, 22 July - Hest Bank (London & North Western Railway)
Signaller error, rear end collision
1913, 2 September - Ais Gill (Midland Railway)
Passenger trains in rear end collision, fire, 14 fatalities
1915, 22 May - Quintinshill (Caledonian Railway)
Passenger trains in double collision, fire, 227 fatalities
1918, 19 January - Long Meg (Midland Railway)
Cutting slip, express derailed, 7 fatalities
1918, 20 November - Millom (Furness Railway)
Broken coupling, rear end collision
1933, 10 July - Little Salkeld (London Midland & Scottish Railway - S&C)
Express in collision with shunting loco, 1 fatality
1933, 19 December - Hellifield (London Midland & Scottish Railway - S&C)
Collision after shunting error, 2 fatalities
1940, 5 November - Gretna Junction (London Midland & Scottish Railway - Cal)
Goods train hit by express on junction, 3 fatalities
1944, 16 May - Mossband (London Midland & Scottish Railway - Cal)
Passenger train derailed after track work, 3 fatalities
1945, 22 March - Bootle (London Midland & Scottish Railway - Furness)
Explosion of ammunition wagon
1947, 18 May - Docker Viaduct, Grayrigg (London Midland & Scottish Railway - L&C)
Express ran into light engine on viaduct
1949, 29th. November - Griseburn (BR – S&C)
A breakdown crane standing on the Down line had not had the hand brake secured by the guard and when the remainder of the train tried to couple up it ran away on the falling gradient for nearly 21 miles before coming to a stand north of Lazonby and then rolling back into the station to be secured. 1 fatality and 2 injuries (all staff).
1950, 23rd. October - Kirkbride (BR – NBR Silloth branch)
An afternoon Carlisle – Silloth passenger train became derailed between Drumburgh Jn. and Kirkbride with the locomotive turning over. The driver and fireman were killed and 3 passengers injured. The cause was put down to a ‘track defect’.
1952, 18th. April – Blea Moor (BR – S&C)
The Up ‘Thames-Clyde Express’ became derailed, at speed, on the facing points into the Up loop. Due to poor maintenance some of the brake rigging on the leading locomotive (46117) came adrift and ‘bounced’ for a considerable distance before it struck the stretcher bar of the points and moved them under the following loco. which derailed. 34 injuries.
1952, 16th, August – Carlisle Etterby Jn. (BR – Caledonian)
The 11.40 p.m. Newcastle – Stranraer was awaiting the signal at Etterby Jn. when a ‘light’ engine travelling tender first from Citadel to Kingmoor MPD passed the Caldew Jn. starting signal at danger and collided with the stationery train at 15 – 20 mph. The train was buckeye coupled and there was no derailment but 22 passengers were injured due to the severe shock of the collision.
1955, 20th. May – Smardale (BR – NER, SD&LUR)
A Tebay – Kirkby Stephen empty mineral working became derailed with both locomotives falling down an embankment. The locos were LNER type Q6 63355 & 63373 and were running tender first. The cause was put down to a broken tender spring, speed and condition of track.
1955, 22nd. December – Hellifield (BR – Midland)
The 9.05 pm St. Pancras – Edinburgh night express was performing station duties in the Down platform when it was struck in the rear by the 9.15 pm St. Pancras – Glasgow night express which was not booked to call at Hellifield. The second train had reduced speed to 25 – 30 mph but 2 passengers and 3 staff were injured and the 2 rear passenger brake vans were destroyed. Irregular working by the signalman was the cause.
1960, 21st. January – Near Settle (BR – S&C)
An Up express was being hauled by a BR Britannia locomotive on which the right hand motion became displaced and eventually dug 6ft. down into the 6ft. way and damaged the Down line where a freight train became derailed and collided with the passenger train. There were 5 fatalities and 9 injured and the cause was ‘inadequate maintenance’ of the locomotive.
1960, 2nd. March – Penrith, Eamont Jn. (BR – L&C)
A Camden – Carlisle fitted freight on entering the Down Loop became derailed with the locomotive LMSR Black 5 45197 becoming buried up to 12ft. in the ground. Most of the 34 wagons were smashed up and the rest derailed and 4 staff were injured. The likely cause was speed on entering the loop.
1965, 20th. May – Hest Bank (BR – L&C)
The 22.10 Glasgow – Kensington Olympia express sleeper became derailed at approximately 70mph. The rear 9 coaches of 12 were strewn over both lines and, fortunately, only 11 of 114 passengers were slightly injured. The cause was a track defect.
1967, 6th. December – Calthwaite (BR – L&C)
7S73 Hardendale – Ravenscraig lime train derailed blocking both lines of the WCML until the evening of the 8th. Dec.
1968, 30th. October – Selside (BR – S&C)
5P28 20.19 Warrington – Carlisle freight train was awaiting clearance of the Down home signal at Selside when it was run into by the following freight train 5P31 22.15 Preston – Carlisle. 5P31 had passed both home and starting signals at danger at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The loco. and 24 out of 36 wagons of 5P31 and 14 wagons of 5P28 were derailed and badly damaged along with the track. Only the driver and guard of 5P28 received minor injuries and the cause was down to the driver of 5P31 being intoxicated.
1968, 21st. November – South of Ravenglass (BR – Furness)
4L25 Heysham – Corkickle oil train derailed at speed with 16 out of 18 loaded tanks coming off the line. There was much damage and thick oil spread all over the site and the line was closed for nearly a week. The cause was a wagon defect.
1971, 10th. September – Hayfell near Oxenholme (BR – L&C)
Single Line Working (SLW) was in operation between Oxenholme & Lambrigg, over the Down line, for WCML electrification work. 1M91 Stirling – Sutton Coldfield Motorail, an Up service, was running along the Down line and became derailed on catch points with the loco. and leading coaches careering down a steep embankment resulting in 4 injuries. The cause was inadequate communication between Movements Supervisors with one unlocking the catch points prematurely and against Rule Book instructions.
1973, 27th. November – Whitehaven Bransty (BR – LNWR)
The 07.00 Carlisle – Whitehaven DMU collided with the rear of a freight train on the approach to Bransty station resulting in 2 injuries. The Parton signalman’s error was the cause.
1976, 16th. March – Eastriggs (BR – G&SWR)
1S06 Euston – Stranraer express sleeper was travelling over the single line between Gretna and Annan (controlled by Carlisle PSB) when it hit a lorry (HGV) which had crashed off the road through an overbridge blocking the railway. There were 2 fatalities and 1 injury.
1977, 4th. July – Braystones (BR – Furness)
6E32 Corkickle – West Thurrock consisting of 100T Sodium Tripolyphosphate bogie tanks derailed on the single line with some of the tanks turning over on to the beach demolishing 2 bungalows, luckily with no occupants. The cause was a collapsed underbridge which the 2 x Class 25s and leading tanks managed to clear.
1984, 1st. May – Carlisle Dentonholme (BR – Goods Lines)
4S55 Garston – Glasgow Freightliner became divided near Southwaite and the Carlisle PSB signalman routed the leading portion into Citadel station and the rear ‘runaway’ portion on to the Goods Lines at Upperby Bridge Jn. This portion then derailed on Dentonholme River Caldew bridge where it piled up and damaged the bridge beyond repair. This effectively closed the Through Goods Lines. The cause was that an air brake continuity test was not carried out after problems at Preston.
1990, 26th. February – Kirkby-in-Furness (BR – Furness)
A Barrow – Carlisle Class 108 DMU passenger service became derailed due to the high tide and flooding and a wooden sleeper becoming foul of the Down line.
1993, 18th. December – Carlisle London Rd. Jn. (BR - NER )
6E46 Hardendale – Lackenby derailed on the junction with 12 PGAs, loaded with lime.
1995, 31st. January – Ais Gill (Mallerstang) (Railtrack NE – S&C) TOC – RRNE
A Class 156 Sprinter DMU ran into a landslip in a cutting on the Down line and derailed towards the Up line where it was hit by another Class 156 with 1 staff fatality and passenger injuries.
1995, 7th. August – Workington Siddick Jn. (Railtrack NW – LNWR) TOC – RRNW
The 14.25 Carlisle – Barrow, a Class 142 Pacer DMU, derailed after the gear box fell from under the unit into the 4ft. of the Up line.
1997, 27th. February – Carnforth South Jn. (Railtrack NW – L&C)
3 out of 4 Class 31s derailed at speed on the Up WCML causing massive track and signalling damage but no injuries. The WCML was blocked for over 3 days with many S&C diversions. The cause was binding brakes causing wheel flats.
1998, 15th. July – Denthead (Railtrack NW - S&C)
7Z32 Carlisle Yard – High Marnham loaded coal train derailed with 33 out of 36 HHA (Merrygoround) type wagons ploughing up both lines and damaging an underbridge but with no injuries. The cause was put down to lack of maintenance and renewals of the track and instigated the eventual full renewal of all track on the S&C.
1999, 15th. January – Crosby Garrett (Railtrack NW – S&C) TOC – Northern Spirit
A Leeds – Carlisle passenger service worked by a Class 156 Sprinter derailed towards the Up line on a landslip on approach to the tunnel and was in collision with an Up loaded coal train. There were no injuries.
1999, 22nd. October – Shap (Railtrack NW – L&C)
Not a rail accident but an RAF Hawk jet crashed into the A6 bridge at the north end of Shap village killing both pilots and seriously damaging OHLE, signalling equipment etc. on the WCML with numerous cancellations and delays.
2002, 17th. June – Quintinshill (Network Rail – Caledonian) FOC – EW&S
4M63 Mossend – Warrington freight train derailed at speed on the approach to Quintinshill (under Carlisle PSB control) causing extensive track damage on both lines. All 14 loaded OTA timber wagons on the train were destroyed but the electric locomotive, 92039, was undamaged and the WCML was closed for a week. The cause was a hot axle box and defective hot axle box detectors.
2003, 19th. April – Shap (Network Rail – L&C) FOC – EW&S
An engineering train collided with the rear of another one within an engineers possession and became derailed. There was one injury.
2004, 15th. February – Tebay (Network Rail - L&C)
Whilst being unloaded within an engineers possession a Road Rail Vehicle (RRV) trailer, loaded with scrap rail, ran away from Scout Green down the 1:75 incline for over 3 miles and collided with a group of men maintaining the track at Tebay South. There were 4 fatalities and 5 injuries. The main cause was the illegal tampering with the brakes of the trailer by the sub-contractors.
2006, 6th. February – Carlisle North Jn. (Network Rail – Citadel JC)
A ballast train returning from a worksite at Barrow became derailed. Only the plough brake was derailed due to the plough not being secured correctly and gradually lowering on to the track.
2007, 23rd. February – Lambrigg (Network Rail – L&C) TOC – Virgin WC
1S83 17.15 Euston – Glasgow Pendolino derailed on the ground frame controlled facing crossover, at speed, and careered off the line wrecking the train and much of the infrastructure. There was 1 fatality and 28 serious injuries including the driver. The WCML was closed for 2 weeks with many S&C diversions; the cause was poor maintenance of the points.
The scene of carnage at Lambrigg on the morning after the derailment, with Pendolino 390033 ‘City of Glasgow’ lying wrecked down the bank.
2008,28th. February – Wraysholme (Network Rail – Furness) TOC – Transpennine Express.
The 08.27 Manchester Airport – Barrow collided with a car on the automatic level crossing and both driver and passenger were injured. The cause was down to ‘road vehicle driver error’.
2008, 1st. March – Hardendale, Shap (Network Rail – L&C) FOC- Freightliner
4S83 Tilbury – Coatbridge had 5 containers blown off the train causing extensive damage. The cause was high winds and poor container retention design.
2008, 3rd. November - Wraysholme (Network Rail – Furness) TOC – Northern
The 09.37 Carlisle – Lancaster collided with a car on the automatic level crossing and there was 1 fatality. The cause was down to ‘road vehicle driver error’.
2009, 1st. June – Cummersdale (Network Rail – M&C) TOC – Northern
2C31 13.05 Whitehaven – Carlisle, a single car Class 153, derailed on distorted track. The weather was extremely hot which caused the track to buckle but there were other safety issues involved.
2009, 4th. July – Penrith (Network Rail – L&C) FOC – DRS
Probably as a result of criminal activity, 2 container doors came open on 4M16 Mossend – Daventry and were struck by a TPE Class 185. After recessing in Eden Valley loop, a Virgin Pendolino and Voyager were also damaged, all with no injuries.
2010, 17th. August – Tebay (Network Rail – L&C) FOC – DB Schenker At 02.04 a Down (northbound) freight train slowed to a halt and then started to run back down Shap incline. It ran back for 2.2 miles and reached 51mph before the driver braked it to a halt but Carlisle PSB had already made emergency preparations. Luckily there were no other trains in the area. The cause was down to driver error.
2012, 30th. August – St. Bees (Network Rail – Furness) TOC – Northern
2 Class 153 DMUs forming an early morning Maryport – Lancaster service derailed on the single line between St. Bees and Nethertown. Extreme rain over the previous few days caused a land slip from the steep slope above the line. No injuries.
2014, 12th. January – Kitchen Hill north of Penrith (Network Rail – L&C)
On a weekend Engineers Possession of the WCML a works train collided with the rear of another and became derailed. One driver was injured.
2015, 7th. March – Scout Green (Network Rail – L&C) FOC – Freightliner
4S83 Crewe – Coatbridge had one container blown off the train on the Down line; the container crossed the Up line coming to rest on the Up embankment. There was little damage, and it was a similar incident to that on 1st. March 2008, with the same causes.
(Page last updated February 2018.)
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