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March 1890 - Accident at Carlisle Station

On March 4th 1890, G.P. Neele (the LNWR Line Superintendent) was to have attended the Forth Bridge opening ceremony. Instead he found himself being called to Carlisle to deal with a serious accident. In this extract from his Reminiscences, he recounts the story as follows:

“The train was the 8pm express from Euston. It appeared that there had been some trouble with the brake, both at first starting from Euston, the Gourock van requiring to have the brake thawed, and then again at Tring, where that vehicle had to be detached. The train was twenty-seven minutes late on reaching Shap Summit; it left there thirty-three minutes late, and the driver appeared to have lost control of the train after descending Shap incline. The train, with its thirteen vehicles all fitted with Automatic Brake, ran through Carlisle Station at about thirty miles an hour, struck a Caledonian engine standing on the line in readiness for the Limited Mail, and drove it by the force of the collision a quarter of a mile onward. Four passengers were killed on the spot by the crushing up of the leading carriages, and eleven injured, besides the drivers and firemen of the engines.”

Both an official enquiry and an inquest took place, the former headed by Colonel Rich, who ensured that the driver and his guards underwent very close questioning. Two causes were suggested: ice in the cylinders of the brake pipes, or possibly the driver mistakenly switching the breaking lever to simple vacuum rather than Automatic (thus preventing the guards from properly engaging the Automatic Brake in the carriages).

Colonel Rich thought the latter, but after hearing from several expert witnesses, the Coroner's jury blamed the ice!

PGW 03/15

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17th.March 1857 - The Flimby Sprinter

March 1857 saw an accident at Flimby on the Whitehaven Junction Railway, which fortunately was not serious, but could have caused loss of life due to sloppy working and poor management of a pointsman.

At Flimby a set of sidings served the nearby Seaton Moor Colliery, and two trains were sent daily to the sidings to collect full coal wagons, or return empties. The sidings were under the control of one Isaac Carr, who lived in a hut at the trackside.

On the morning of March 17th at 9.55am, Mr.Carr had let in and out a coal train from the sidings, and then returned to his hut, completely forgetting to change the points. The next mainline train (the 10.05am from Whitehaven to Maryport) was diverted onto the colliery sidings, the second of which turned right at an angle of almost 90 degrees. Although the driver had spotted that the points were still set for the sidings, travelling at possibly 30mph he was unable to stop, with the result that the engine, although passing through the first set of points, hit the second set too fast and derailed, being unable to cope with the sharp angle of turn.

Fortunately the coupling connecting the engine with the rest of the train snapped, preventing the rest of the carriages being dragged round the curve, with the result that none of the passengers were hurt, although shaken up

Carr was brought before the Whitehaven Magistrates' bench, confessing his guilt and admitting he had forgotten about the passenger train. He was sent to Carlisle prison for two months, with hard labour. There was some scepticism about the quick justice meted out to Isaac Carr as both magistrates, George Harrison and John Spencer, had railway interests, the latter being a sitting director of the WJR. The Board of Trade Inspector made mention of the fact that he was not able to question Mr.Carr before he was sent to prison, and that prior to the incident, he had been considered "a steady man", albeit prone to drink!

The main conclusion was that drivers of trains should stop on approaches to junctions, unless they could see the pointsman in attendance. If not visible, they should report this fact at the end of their journey. Since it was assumed that this was not the first time Isaac Carr had been absent from duty, the railway company was due some blame for its lack of proper supervision of an potentially un-reliable employee.

PGW 03/14 (With thanks to an original article by Mike Peascod in CRA Journal May 1989)

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March 1972 - Closure of Keswick Station

On March 6th 1972, Keswick station formally closed marking the end of the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway (CKPR) that first opened in 1864.

The land on which the station was built had been acquired from General le Fleming, and the contractors, Boulton & Sons, agreed a contract in 1863. The plot was just to the north of the town centre with views of the summit of Latrigg beyond. The original plan had merely a waiting shelter on the Up passenger platform, whilst a two storey gabled stone building was built on the Down side.

Immediately adjoining the station, the CKPR built a hotel in similar vein, which opened in 1864, and had a conservatory connection to the Down platform.

Because the station was the headquarters of the CKPR from the 1860s, a Boardroom was constructed in the upstairs west wing, the Secretary's office under the west gable, the Traffic manager's under the east gable, and finally the Accountant's premises in the east wing. Downstairs were the usual waiting rooms and ticket office. Briefly between 1965 and 1872 there was a refreshment room, but this closed after the Board agreed it would be " desirable" to withdraw such facilities - possibly due to rowdy or drunken behaviour of passengers from the many excursion trains that ran during that period.

From the 1940s increasing car usage caused railway traffic to decline to the point that, in 1960, just 20% of visitors to Keswick arrived by train. The effect on the line was predictable, and although the introduction of diesel multiple-units reduced journey times, the line was losing around £50,000 per annum. Goods traffic stopped in June 1964, and the service between Cockermouth and Keswick was discontinued in 1966, leaving only the line to Penrith open. From December 1967 the signal boxes along the line closed, leaving Penrith to control traffic on a "one-engine" basis, and as a consequence all stations inevitably became unstaffed in 1968. The line staggered on, worked by a diesel-unit shuttle service, until its final closure on March 6th 1972, with mineral trains from Penrith to Flusco quarry west of Blencow continuing until June 19th.

Keswick's 1860s station building survives as a hotel today, and outwardly looks little different from its time as an important station and railway headquarters.

PGW 03/13