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The modern railway is an extremely safe mode of travel but this has not always been so. In the early days of railways they were also relatively safe, mainly because of the low level and slow speed of rail traffic. However, as they became busier the lack of adequate braking and signaling, and the lack of discipline amongst many staff led to increasing casualty rates - and especially for railway workers.

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 signaling 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 Grayrigg early in 2008, 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.

1836, December - Corby (Newcastle & Carlisle Railway)
Points not reset, train derailed, 3 fatalities

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, 29 November - Griseburn (British Railways - S&C)
Runaway breakdown crane collides with structure, 1 fatality

1950, 23 October - Kirkbride (British Railways - Silloth branch)
Passenger train derailed by faulty track, 2 fatalities

1952, 18 April - Blea Moor (British Railways - S&C)
Express derailed as result of engine fault

1952, 16 August - Carlisle Etterby Junction (British Railways - Cal)
Collision consequent on signal passed at danger

1955, 21 December - Hellifield (British Railways - Mid)
Collision after driver error

1960, 21 January - Settle (British Railways - S&C)
Loco failure, track damage, collision

1965, 20 May - Hest Bank (British Railways - L&C)
Passenger train derailed by broken rail

1968, 30 October - Selside ( British Railways - S&C)
Rear end collision

1970, 24 December - Nether Denton (British Railways - N&C)
Dmu in collision with car on crossing

1971, 10 September - Hayfell, Oxenholme (British Railways - L&C)
Derailment of motorail train at engineering works

1995, 31 January - Mallerstang (British Railways - S&C)
Cutting slip, derailment, collision, 1 fatality

2004, 15 February - Tebay (Network Rail - L&C)
Runaway engineer's trolley, 4 fatalities

2007: 28 January - Armathwaite (Network Rail - S&C)
Runaway engineer's train in rear end collision

2007, 23 February - Grayrigg (Network Rail - L&C)
Train derailed by faulty pointwork, 1 fatality

2008, 28 February - Wraysholme Crossing, Cark (Network Rail - Fur)
Collision with road vehicle at crossing

2008, 1 March - Hardendale, Shap (Network Rail - Fur)
Containers blown off train

2008, 3 November - Wraysholme Crossing, Cark (Network Rail - Fur)
Collision with road vehicle at crossing

Further reading on accidents generally:

Red for Danger, L T C Rolt (Various editions and publishers, 1955 to 1998)
Historic Railway Disasters, O S Nock (Ian Allan, various editions from 1966)
Railway Accidents, Stanley Hall (Ian Allan, 1997)
Railway Detectives, The 150-year Saga of the Railway Inspectorate, Stanley Hall (Ian Allan, 1990)
Danger Signals, An investigation into modern railway accidents, Stanley Hall (Ian Allan, 1987