A spectacular runaway occurred on the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith line on Saturday October 28th 1916, at about 8pm. The Up goods was heavily loaded and hauled by two engines ascending the bank to Troutbeck, when the rear coupling parted on an LNWR wagon - the second vehicle in the train. The brake-van at the rear could not hold the train, which ran away wrong line down the bank. Guard Kirk, of Tebay, jumped for his life at Highgate Platform.
The train, including 14 wagons loaded with steel shell cases from Workington, destined to be filled at the huge Ministry of Munitions factory at Gretna, derailed at the catchpoints in the cutting west of Highgate and an almighty pile-up resulted, partly on the lands of Highgate Farm.
Mr Tyson, the farmer, ministered to the shocked guard with tea, and his schoolgirl daughter, Jessie, later clearly remembered the dramatic scene of the crash. It occurred close by the distinctive la'al pikey hut - her superb Cumbrian description of the lineside cabin, which resembled a sentry box.
This part of the line continued to cause problems and just over a year later, in December 1917, another runaway occurred. A Caledonian Railway gunpowder van (containing powder for use at the Greenside lead mines) ran away down the bank, but stayed right line as it was not derailed by the catchpoints. It continued to Threlkeld, where the stationmaster attempted to stop it by placing sleepers across the line. Even then it managed to push them through the station for a distance, stopping just short of the overline bridge carrying the Penrith-Keswick road.
This month marks the 55th anniversary of the ending of passenger services on the Coniston Branch on October 6th 1958. Copper ore found near Coniston led to the sinking of a number of mine shafts in the area, and a means of transportation was required. This led to the Coniston Railway Act of 1857 authorising a railway from Broughton to the mines above Coniston. Opened in 1859 and worked by the Furness Railway, it passed through delightful scenery and soon became an attractive tourist line of about 10 miles in length.
At its height post-1923, the line boasted eight trains daily, all well-used by local people and in summer by tourists, giving rise to excursions from Blackpool and Morecambe twice weekly.
However, by 1957, annual losses were claimed by British Rail to be running at over £16,000 per year, and a passenger survey was carried out to demonstrate its lack of use. The main problem was a typical one for the area - bus competition from Ribble Motors, which operated a service form Ulverston to Coniston.
The inevitable closure notice was issued, and protests were loud and numerous, ranging from Local Authorities, Friends of the Lake District, to individual residents and users. The volume of objections delayed closure by a month, the original date being September 15th, but it still went ahead, conditional on a replacement bus service.
The last passenger train arrived at 9.20am on Saturday October 4th, and then returned to Barrow for the final time. Closure caused widespread inconvenience and bitterness. Had the accounts been falsified? Why was there no attempt to cut operating costs? What were the estimated costs of the replacement bus service, road improvements and loss of trade? None of these questions were answered satisfactorily, and predictably the replacement bus service did not last long either, ceasing in 1968.
On 27th October 1984 some 23,000 people arrived in Barrow to express their opposition to the horrors of nuclear war in general and to the building of the Trident submarines at Barrow in particular. In spite of the dilemma faced by those dependent upon the Vickers Works for employment (in effect the entire population of Barrow), the day passed without any unpleasantness and with the running by British Railways of six charter trains.
|IZ26: Commenced at Swansea and was diesel hauled throughout, running via Shrewsbury, Crewe and Preston, arriving at 10.50, and returning at 16.25.|
|IZ19: Originated at Banbury, and followed an interesting route initially running away from Barrow towards Oxford using the GWR up main-line towards Paddington. It then turned north again, with the diesel locomotive exchanged at Willesden for an electric for the run to Carnforth.|
|IT05: This was a Diesel Multiple Unit from Wilmslow and stations around Manchester, on to Preston, and then non-stop to Barrow.|
|IZ43: The longest haul from Lewes in Sussex, and thence to Clapham Junction and on to Willesden, where again an electric took over from a diesel locomotive. The return journey started at 18.05, reaching Clapham Junction at 22.42 (of which more later).|
|IZ11 & IZ12: Two trains were chartered from South Yorkshire, starting from Sheffield. For reasons which cannot be explained, both trains ran into Carnforth station on the outward and return journeys, necessitating the running round of the locomotive.|
Postscript: Displayed later at Barrow station was a letter from the CND Group Secretary, South London branch which, whilst thanking the Barrow staff for their unstinting help on the day, also related that after changing at Clapham Junction, their local commuter train failed to stop as booked at their local station and stranded them further down the line without public transport. The letter suggested that Barrow rail staff could teach their Southern Rail colleagues something about train operating and "customer primacy"!
PGW (with help from the CRA Journal of February 1985)
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