Rail disasters, Railway tunnels, socio-economic effects of railways

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Rail Accidents & Disasters

19/4/2004, Major train crash in North Korea, 2 fuel trains collided and exploded, causing 3,000 casualties.

10/5/2002. 7 were killed and 70 injured in a train crash at Potters Bar station, Hertfordshire. The crash was due to missing bolts at a set of points 200 yards north of the station. This caused the last carriage of a 4 car train to break loose and mount the platform as the train passed through Potters Bar station at 100 mph.

28/2/2001, The Selby rail crash.

17/10/2000, Major rail crash at Hatfield, Hertfordshire.  A faulty rail derailed a Kings Cross to Leeds train on a curve, killing 4 and injuring 107.  Faulty maintenance by Railtrack was blamed.

5/10/1999. A serious rail crash at Ladbroke Grove, outside Paddington, London, killed 31 people. Over 100 were injured. The 8.06 from Paddington to Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, was cut in half by the express from Cheltenham at 8.11 am. The newly-privatised rail companies were criticised for not spending enough on signalling.

19/9/1997, An inter-city express collided with a freight train at Southall, west London, killing 7 people.

18/11/1996. Serious fire on Channel Tunnel train. The train was 12 miles inside the Tunnel, and the open latticework of the lorry carriages may have had a blowtorch effect on the fire which could have started before the train entered the Tunnel. Eight people suffered smoke inhalation injuries and the Tunnel was closed for months.

13/11/1994, The first passengers travelled through the Channel Tunnel.

4/3/1989, Train crash at Purley station, London, killed 5 and injured 94.

12/12/1988. A major train crash at Clapham Junction, south London. 38 died and 113 were injured as two morning rush hour trains collided. An express train ran into the back of a London commuter train that had stopped on the line to report a faulty signal. A third train was derailed and a fourth was stopped in time to avoid a further collision.

18/11/1987. The worst fire in the history of the London Underground killed 31 at King’s Cross. An accumulation of rubbish and fluff under a wooden escalator had been ignited by a cigarette end. Sprinklers had not been installed despite a recommendation in 1984 for them, and administrative errors meant passengers were still disembarking from Piccadilly Line trains as the fire spread. A ‘no smoking’ rule came into force across the London Underground on 24/11/1987.

18/1/1977, The worst rail disaster in Australia occurred when a Sydney bound train derailed, killing 82 people.

28/2/1975. A London Underground train from Drayton Park crashed through the buffers at Moorgate, killing 42 people. The driver, Leslie Newton, was bringing in his 8.37 train when instead of braking he accelerated into a 72 metre blind tunnel. The front 4.5 metres of the leading carriage were crushed into 60 centimetres.

1/2/1970, In Buenos Aires, a passenger train crashed into a parked commuter train, killing 236.

5/11/1967, 49 people were killed at a rail crash at Hither Green, south London.

4/12/1957, Major train crash at Lewisham, south east London, with 92 killed and over 200 injured. In thick fog, the 4.56 steam express from Cannon Street to Ramsgate missed two red signals and ploughed into the back of the stationary Charing Cross to Hayes electric train. The rear of the Hayes train telescoped whilst the tender of the steam train rose up and brought down a bridge carrying another rail line over the tracks. The 350-ton bridge crashed down onto the already-damaged carriages. Two minutes later another train was crossing the bridge; its driver saw the hole in the tracks just in time and stopped his train with the leading carriage leaning over the gap. Trains then did not have automatic warning systems if a red signal was passed.

1/9/1957, A train accident near Kendal, Jamaica, killed 175 and injured 400.

8/10/1952. 112 people were killed in a rail crash in north London. At 7.31 a.m. a commuter train about to leave Harrow and Wealdstone station was hit in the rear by a high speed train from Perth doing nearly 60 mph. A signalman changed all the signals to red but it was too late to stop  a third train travelling north from Euston to hit the wreckage, demolishing a footbridge. Carriages were strewn across six tracks; 112 people died and 200 were injured in the worst rail disaster since 1915 when five trains collided at Quintinshill in Scotland killing 227 people.

25/7/1923, 100 killed in Bulgarian train crash.

26/1/1921, 17 people were killed at Abermule when the Aberystwyth to Whitchurch train collided with a train going the other way on a single track line. The train from Whitchurch (Shropshire) had been allowed to leave with the wrong tablet for this single-line section.

9/7/1918, America experienced its worst train accident.  101 were killed in Nashville, Tennessee.

14/8/1915, A rail crash in Weedon, England killed ten people.

12/12/1917, The world’s worst train accident occurred, at Modane, France.  534 were killed.

22/5/1915. The Gretna Green troop train disaster, the worst on Britain’s railways, took place; 227 died. Three trains had collided at Quintinshill, and 200 of the casualties were Scots Guards on the way to war. The shocked and dishevelled survivors were mistaken for German POWs and stoned by civilians.

1/1/1915, The Ilford rail crash in Essex, England killed ten people and injured another 500 passengers.

4/9/1912, The first tube train collision in London, 22 were injured.

16/7/1908, Fire at Moorgate tube station.

29/3/1907, A train derailed near Colton, California; 26 were killed and about 100 injured.

6/3/1906, An avalanche at Roger’s Pass in the US buried a train. By the time the train was dug out, 62 people had died.

1/7/1906, A train crash at Salisbury, UK, caused by excessive speed. Speed limits were now rigorously enforced and rail speed record attempts now ceased.

5/12/1905. The roof of Charing Cross Station collapsed, killing six people.

12/6/1889, A train crash in Armagh caused 80 deaths and 250 injured. As a result of this accident the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 was passed. This Act made block signalling, continuous brakes and interlocking points compulaory for rail companies.

28/12/1879. The Tay railway bridge collapsed whilst the 7.15 Edinburgh to Dundee train was crossing it. The train plummeted into the icy river below, killing 90 people.  The bridge, between Fife and Angus, was designed by Thomas Bouch.

29/12/1876, 83 passengers were killed at Ashtabula, Ohio, as a 13-year-old bridge gave way under a train. A junior engineer had been fired in 1863 when he protested that the bridge, built by the railway’s chief engineer, was not strong enough.

25/8/1861, The Clayton Tunnel crash occurred on the London to Brighton railway. A train had stopped in the tunnel due to defective signalling, and the next train ran into it.

24/5/1847, A cast iron railway bridge over the River Dee at Chester collapsed as a train passed over it. The bridge’s designer, Robert Stephenson, came close to being convicted for manslaughter.

3/12/1836. Britain’s first fatal rail crash occurred at Great Corby, near Carlisle. Three people died.

17/6/1831, The first railway engine boiler explosion in the USA. A fireman had held the safety valve down.

1650, In County Durham, England, two boys were killed by a railway wagon; the first recorded rail casualties.


Railway tunnels

1/6/2016, The St Gotthard base tunnel opened to rail traffic after 20 years under construction. At 57.5 km, or 35 miles, it was the world’s longest tunnel to date.

6/5/1994. The Channel Tunnel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterand. 50 km long, it had taken  15,000 workers 7 years to complete and cost UK£ 10 billion. Construction of the Tunnel was started in November 1987, and workers met in the middle three years later. An earlier Channel Tunnel proposal in 1907 had been withdrawn after the British military feared it would be used for invasion.

10/12/1993. Builders of the Channel Tunnel officially handed over the keys to the operators, Eurotunnel.

1/12/1990. The Channel Tunnelers broke through to each other, 40 metres below the Channel seabed.

1/12/1987, Digging began on the Channel Tunnel.

12/2/1986. The Channel Tunnel agreement was signed in Canterbury. Britain and France had agreed to build the Tunnel on 24/1/1986.

20/1/1986, Britain and France announced plans to build the Channel Tunnel, after an historic agreement in Lille. The expected cost was £5 billion. Trains were expected to run by April 1993. A Channel Bridge was rejected as too hazardous, but it was hoped to add a road tunnel early in the 21st century.

19/3/1980, The British Government said a private consortium could build the Channel Tunnel, but no public money would be provided.

20/1/1975. The Channel Tunnel project was abandoned by the British Government.

17/11/1973, UK Prime Minister Edward Heath and French President Pompidou signed an agreement to build a Channel Tunnel rail link. However there were delays and construction did not start until 1987.

6/2/1964. Britain and France reaffirmed agreement to build a Channel Tunnel.

19/9/1963, France and Britain agreed to build a Channel Tunnel.

6/5/1957. The British and French revived plans for a Channel Tunnel link, despite fears over security and rabies.

11/11/1955, The Mount Royal Ohara rail tunnel, Japan, 5 km long, opened.

3/11/1955, The Rimutaka rail tunnel, New Zealand, 9 km long, opened.

3/6/1954, The new two-track Woodhead railway tunnel between Sheffield and Manchester, 5 km long, opened, replacing the earlier two single-track tunnels, see 2/2/1852.

17/12/1943, The Haegebostad rail tunnel, Norway, 3.2 km long, also the Kvineshei rail tunnel, Norway, 8.5 km long, opened. The Gyland rail tunnel, Norway, 5.5 km long, opened.

10/11/1937, The Senzan rail tunnel, Japan, 5.4 km long, opened.

9/8/1937, The Lusse rail tunnel, France, 7 km long, opened.

1/12/1934, The Tanna rail tunnel, Japan, 7 km long, opened.

22/4/1934, The Apennine rail tunnel, Italy, 19 km long, opened, linking Florence and Bologna. The Monte Adone rail tunnel, Italy, 7 km long, opened.

14/11/1933, The Biassa rail tunnel, Italy, 5.1 km long, opened.

1/9/1931, The Shimizu rail tunnel, Japan, 10 km long, opened.

5/6/1930, The UK Government rejected plans for a Channel Tunnel.

14/3/1930, The UK Government’s Channel Tunnel Committee approved the building of a Channel Tunnel.

21/7/1929, The Puymorens rail tunnel, France, 5.5 km long, opened.

12/1/1929, The Cascade Tunnel, USA, 12 km, long, was opened.

30/10/1928, The Col de Braus rail tunnel, France, 6 km long, opened.

27/2/1928, The Moffat rail tunnel, USA, 9 km long, opened.

28/10/1927, The Monte Orso rail tunnel, Italy, 7.5 km long, opened. Also the Vivola tunnel, Italy, 7 km long, opened. Also the Monte Massico rail tunnel, Italy, 5.5 km long, opened.

18/7/1927, The Somport rail tunnel, 8 km long, between France and Spain, opened.

4/8/1923, The Otira Tunnel, New Zealand, 9 km long, opened.

16/10/1922, The world’s longest main-line railway tunnel, the Simplon II under the Alps, 21 km long, was completed after four years work.

21/10/1918. The Mount Royal Ohara rail tunnel, Canada, 3.4 km long, opened.

10/3/1919, The UK Government was reported to favour the idea of a Channel Tunnel.

6/12/1916, The Connaught rail tunnel, Canada, 8.5 km long, opened.

8/1/1916. The Lower Hauenstein rail tunnel, Switzerland, 8.5 km long, opened.

1/10/1915, The Grenchenberg rail tunnel, Switzerland, 9 km long, opened.

16/5/1915, The Mont d’Or rail tunnel, between France and Switzerland, 6 km long, opened.

15/7/1913. The Lotschberg rail tunnel, Switzerland, 15 km long, opened.

1/8/1912, The Jungfrau rail tunnel, Switzerland, 7.5 km long, opened.

1/10/1910, The Ricken rail tunnel, Switzerland, 9 km long, opened.

7/7/1909, The Tauern rail tunnel, Austria, 9 km long, opened.

10/6/1908, The Gravehals rail tunnel, Norway, 5.5 km long, opened.

25/4/1907, The UK’s Channel Tunnel Bill was defeated because of War Office opposition and lack of popular support.

1/10/1906, The Karawanken rail tunnel, between Austria and Yugoslavia, 8 km long, opened.

9/7/1906, The Wochein rail tunnel, Yugoslavia, 6.5 km long, opened.

1/6/1906, The Simplon I rail tunnel, 20.5 km long, linking Switzerland and Italy, opened.

8/3/1904, The first rail tunnel under the Hudson River, New York, was completed (it did not open officially until 25/1/1908). The tunnel connected New Jersey with Manhattan.

1/9/1903, The Albula rail tunnel, Norway, 6 km long, opened.

9/12/1902. The Swiss Government agreed to build the Simplon Railway Tunnel.

1/10/1900, The Col di Tenda rail tunnel, Italy, 8.4 km long, opened.

30/7/1894, The San Cataldo rail tunnel, Italy, 5.1 km long, opened.

18/6/1894, The Turchino rail tunnel, Italy, 6.9 km long, opened.

6/11/1893. The Totley rail tunnel, UK, 6 km long, opened.

1889, The Arlberg Tunnel in Austria, 10 km long, opened.

20/6/1889, The Peloritana rail tunnel, Italy, 6.5 km long, opened

4/4/1889, The Ronco rail tunnel, Italy, 8.5 km long, opened.

1/9/1886, In Britain the railway tunnel under the Severn Estuary, 7 km long, opened to regular train services. It was then the world’s longest underwater tunnel.

20/1/1886, The Mersey rail tunnel was formally opened by the Prince of Wales, at James Street station. Begun in 1881, it is 1,100 metres long.

1/8/1885, The Marianopoli rail tunnel, Italy, 6.9 km long, opened.

27/10/1884, The two headings of the Severn Rail Tunnel met under thr river.

20/9/1884, The Arlberg rail tunnel, Austria, 11 km long, opened.

1/1/1882, The St Gotthard railway tunnel, 16 km long, opened to traffic.

29/2/1880, The cutting of the 15 km St Gotthard railway tunnel in Switzerland was completed. The chief engineer was Louis Favre. This linked the French and Italian rail systems.

9/2/1875, The Hoosac rail tunnel USA, 7 km long, opened.

13/9/1872, Work began on the St Gotthard railway tunnel.

17/9/1871, The 14 km Mont Cenis Tunnel, carrying the main railway from Lyons to Turin, was opened.

25/12/1870, The Mont Cenis Tunnel through the Alps, 12.9 km long, was completed (work began 1857)  when the tunnelers met in the middle.

21/2/1863, A pneumatic railway for Post Office parcels under London’s streets began operating.

18/8/1857, Work began on the 12.5 km Mont Cenis rail tunnel under the Alps, linking France and Italy.

2/2/1852, The second Woodhead railway tunnel, between Sheffield and Manchester, opened.  See 22/12/1845, 3/6/1954.

1/8/1849, The Standedge rail tunnel, UK, 5 km long, opened.

23/8/1847, The Higham and Strood Canal Tunnels in Kent were drained and converted into railway tunnels.

22/12/1845, The first of the original two single-track Woodhead railway tunnels, on the line between Sheffield and Manchester, opened to traffic.  See 2/2/1852.

1826, The world’s first railway tunnel, on the Manchester to Liverpool line, was constructed.


Rail; socio-economic effects,

Some socio-economic changes associated with the railways





Food availability




Speed of travel


Popular mobility



Railway New Towns


Road transport

Slum clearance






Universal UK time



28/3/1980. The London Transport Museum opened in Covent Garden, London.

27/9/1975, The National Rail Museum in York opened.

1948, Britain’s railways employed 629,000 people, up from 580,000 in 1938. In 1948, therefore, some 2 million people depended for their livelihood on railway work. Most rail employees were male; women’s work on the railways was (apart from wartime) restricted to office work, cleaning, catering, station announcements, and opening the gates at level crossings.

3/1934, The Great Western Railway began a fast air service between Plymouth, Cardiff and Birmingham. The railway companys’ involvement in air services ceased with the outbreak of World War Two and was not recommenced afterwards.

1928, The London and North Eastern Railway opened the Railway Museum at York.

1924, The last steam locomotive was constructed at Stratford, east London. Most Great Eastern railway locomotives had been built at Stratford since 1878.

1910, Londoners now consumed some 180 pints of milk a year, compared to 48 pints in 1850. In 1850 Londoners generally obtained their milk from some 20,000 cows tethered in the back yard or even kept in a cellar. Milk brought in by rail was initially regarded with suspicion because it would be shaken up, copmpared to the fresh undisturbed milk obtainable locally. However after  an outbreak of cattle disease in London, and by 1870 half of London’s milk was being brought in by rail, from as far as pastures in Derbyshire 130 miles away. By 1910 96% of London’s milk came in by rail, from as far as 300 miles away.

1906, The UK’s rail companies now owned 1,138 miles  of canal out of the total canal network of 3,901 miles.

22/10/1902, The North British Hotel opened at Edinburgh’s Waverley Railway Station.

1892, The South Western Railway Company acquired ownership of the docks at Southampton. The railways of Britain had considerable investments in shipping, for cross Channel traffic. They pioneered turbine power for ships. From 1914 Southampton became the prime troop embarkation point tor Europe, also for war materials, because it was served by five lines from across Britain that all avoided London.

1891, The London and South Western Railway established its railway works at Eastliegh, Hampshire. Originally only carriages and wagons were built there; in 1910 the LSWR transferred locomotive building there from Nine Elms, London.

1884, The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway bought 350 acres of land in Horwich, Lancashire, to establish a new locomotive works.

1883, The Midland and Great Northern Railway established a small locomotive repair yard at its head office at Melton Constable. MGNR locomotives were built there from1896 until 1910; after this, only repairs were carried on, until the entire MGNR closed in 1959. However Melton Constable was greatly expanded by the presence of the MGNR yards.

1877, Fleetwood Docks (Lancashire) opened in 1877, with capital provided by the railways. The fish trade was significant from here, and the railways were credited with reducing the price of fish in Manchester by almost 90%.

1871, Liverpool Lime Street Hotel was built for the London and North Western Railway. It had over 200 rooms, also 37 bathrooms, which was considered a lavish provision at the time.

1870, The social revolution in travel wrought by the railways was evident in the growing importance of third class travel to the railway companies’ revenue. In 1844 they had to be compelled to run ‘affordable’ workmen’s trains’. In 1844 one third of railway journeys, and one eight of revenue,  came from third class; by 1870 third class accounted for two thirds of journeys and almost half of revenue.

17/12/1858, The Geologists Association, London was formed. The newly constructed railway cuttings and tunnels had stimulated the science.

1854, The North Eastern Railway opened its headquarters in York. The NER’s main locomotive works were at Darlington.

1853, The Great Northern Railway moved its engine works to Doncaster, from Boston, Lincolnshire. By 1900 the Doncaster works covered 200 acres and employed 4,500, and had 96 km of sidings.

1852, A rail passenger could travel from Exeter to Newcastle on Tyne on  two days, staying overnight at Manchester (see roads, year 1754, for typical UK journey times by stagecoach, 1700s, 1800s). However this would have involved using the services of five different rail operators; Great Western to Gloucester, Midland to Birmingham, London and North Western to Manchester, then the next day the Lancashire and Yorkshire to Leeds and finally the North Eastern to Newcastle on Tyne. Bradshaws Railway Guide, first published in 1842 and surviving until 1961, was invaluable in planning the trip. However a big issue was through ticketing between railway companies. Through tickets might be impossible to obtain. The Railway Clearing House was established to deal with this issue, and how the ticket price should be divided between companies. But the Great Western did not join the Railway Clearing House system until the1860s.

2/11/1852, The Dean of Exeter Cathedral ordered that the cathedral clock be advanced 14 minutes to conform wth Greenwich mean time. This was a result of the railways spreading across Britain, and operating on a standard time. Nationwide standardisation of time had begun when the horse-drawn Irish mail coaches began running from London to Ireland via Chester and Holyhead; the mail coach guard carried a watch set to Greenwich time, and was required to inform the innkeepers along the way of the correct time. In 1830 the Manchester and Liverpool railway operated on Greenwich time. But there was resistance to this nationwide time in the West Country and Wales.

1/11/1848. W H Smith opened his first bookstall at Euston Station, London, the start of multiple retailing in Britain.

4/8/1845, Thomas Cook organised the first holiday excursion by rail, to North Wales, leaving Leicester at 5am.

1844, Milk reached Manchester (UK) by rail for the first time. Growing urban populations, distant from the countryside, could now receive fresh milk and other produce that was both fresh and cheap. Fresh vegetables, meat and fish supplies were now improved in cities.

1844, The British Government (Gladstone) legislated to force railway companies to run at least one train a day on all of their routes at a fare of more than 1d per mile, at at least 12 mph (overall, including stops); the so-called Workmen’s Trains. The carriages had to be covered and protected from the weather. Chuildren under 3 were to be carried free on these trains, and those between 3 and 12 to be carried at half-fare. Some companies ran such trains at unpopular hours such as 6am. However see 1870 above.

1843, The Grand Junction Railway inaugurated the locomotive works at Crewe. Crewe in 1841 had just 203 inhabitants. By 1851 the population of Crewe was 4,571. In 1840 Nantwich was the main town of the region, but canal interest predominated here and tried to prevent local landowners selling to the railways, saying the steam locomotives emitted dangerous fumes. Crewe, named after the local Crewe Hall, could offer the railway companies cheap land for their large workshops and marshalling yards. In 1861 a mill for rolling rails was built at Crewe. In 1901 Crewe had a population of 42,074.

1843, The London and South Western Railway started locomotive construction at its Nine Elms depot, London. This was also its London passenger terminus until 13/7/1848 when a more central terminus at Waterloo began operations.

1842, The Manchester and Liverpool Railway offered so-called ‘commutation tickets’; these were advance payment tickets for travellers who regularly used the line, for work journeys. The ‘commutation’ was the exchange of payment for long term travel rights. From this derives the term ‘commuter’ for anyone who regularly travels to work, even if not by train.

1841, The Great Western Railway began to develop Swindon as a railway town. From 2,000 inhabitants in 1841, its population grew to 40,000 by 1900, with 14,000 employed at the locomotive works and associated factories. However the usual problems of 19th century urban industrialisation were soon apparent. There was a lack of piped water and sanitation, Life expectancy at birth fell from 36 in Old Swindon in 1929 to 30 in Swindon in 1849.

5/7/1841. Thomas Cook, born 22/11/1808 in Derbyshire, introduced the first Cook’s Tour when 570 teetotallers took the train from Leicester to Loughborough to attend a temperance meeting, using cheap tickets, which he negotiated with the train company. See 1/5/1938.

1838, The London and Birmingham Railway (LBR) opened its workshops at Wolverton. In 1821 Wolverton was a village of 335 inhabitants. In 1854 the LBR buult more houses at New Bradwell. By 1851 Wolverton had a population of 2,070, rising to 3,600 by 1881. By 1901 Wolverton and New Bradwell together had 9,200 inhabitants. The railways created a market in mass personal travel that had never existed before. By 1845 1 million people were using the London to Birmingham line every year. This year the LBR used the word ‘timetable’ for the first time, derived from the maritime ‘tide tables’.


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