February marks the 110th anniversary of the overturning of a passenger mail train at Leven Viaduct in 1903.
The area around the Leven Viaduct suffered the effects of a severe westerly gale on the morning of February 28th 1903, which brought down the telegraph wires onto the bridge structure. The early morning mail train, travelling from Carnforth, ploughed into the wires with the result that the vacuum brake pipe was cut on one coach, bringing the train to a halt.
The wind was so strong that, whilst the train was at a standstill, a severe gust blew the passenger coaches onto their sides on the up line. The Board of Trade enquiry report published on 13th March 1903 described the result thus :
"...as the 4.25am down mail passenger train from Carnforth to Barrow was standing on the viaduct all the vehicles on the train, 10 in number, were overturned on to the up line during a terrific gale. All the passengers in the train, 34 in number, were injured, but only one is reported as being in a serious condition. The two guards were also injured, one rather severely, and one Post Office sorting clerk."
Whilst the enquiry accepted that gales of this type did happen only rarely, it pointed out that if the train had been on the up line, then the coaches would most likely have fallen into the river, causing “terrible results”. Therefore it recommended that some means be devised for warning signalmen on either side of the viaduct that strong winds were present. A wind pressure gauge was duly placed at the west end of the Leven Viaduct, which sounded a warning bell in the signal box at Plumpton Junction if a set level of wind pressure was exceeded.
This remained in use until the closure of Plumpton Junction signal box in March 2000.
February marks the anniversary of the final closure in 1933 of the old Solway Junction Railway (SJR) system, which had been taken over by the Caledonian Railway in 1895. This month is also of particular note due to the severe damage suffered in 1881 by the route’s main attraction, namely the Solway Viaduct, which carried the line from Bowness-on-Solway to Annan in Scotland. The story was told by John B. Howes in his article on the SJR Railway in the 1950s:
"A painful unforgettable year in the history of the Railway was that when the Viaduct was severely damaged by ice-floes; the edges of the Solway were frozen, as also were the rivers Esk and Eden. The high tides of the estuary lifted the ice and jammed it into the mouths of the rivers which began to flood as the thaw came, so forcing the packed ice out to sea; ice-bergs 6 to 10 feet and as much as 27 yards square crashed into the stanchions of the Viaduct. The keeper of the bridge, Mr John Welch, together with three stalwarts, remained in the cabin of the Viaduct, whilst the supports creaked and groaned on that fateful night. They stuck to their posts until 3.0am when disaster seemed imminent, whereupon John Welch gave the order "Every man for himself - I'm for Bowness."
The resulting damage was estimated at £30,000, and the re-building took more than three years to accomplish. The structure, although re-built, continued to cause problems. By 1910 there were only three return crossings per day and a 20 mph speed limit was in force. In 1914 the railway was restricted to carrying freight only. On September 1st 1921 the viaduct was closed entirely. After it closed, the viaduct had a guard’s hut and gates installed to prevent its use on Sundays by pedestrians crossing from Scotland into England, where the alcohol licensing laws were less strict. Finally in 1934-35 it was demolished, although its remains can still be seen today.
The following instructions were issued by the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company during the winter of 1937:
"Station Masters and signal men between Hellifield and Carlisle must, during the Winter months, very carefully watch the weather conditions, and in the event of snow threatening keep the District Control Offices (DCOs) at Carlisle and Skipton continuously advised about it.
When heavy snow is considered probable the DCOs must be so told and remain open. They must advise the Motive Power Depots at Carlisle, Hellifield and Skipton, and the snow ploughs must be in readiness for quick despatch.
Should the Control Office at Skipton be closed at the time when such circumstances arise, the Carlisle Control Office must be advised and a telegram must be sent to the Skipton District Controller advising him of the position. The Station Masters and signalmen must suggest the ploughs being sent if they have any reasonable doubt that the line may not continue workable without them. The line should be kept clear, and snow not allowed to drift and cause stoppages.
Drivers, when they observe snow drifting, must stop and report it at the next signal box."
©Cumbrian Railways Association - Registered Charity Number 1025436.