Clapham rail disaster
Clapham Junction is one of the busiest in Europe, a highly complex system handling huge volumes of traffic. On December 12 1988, at 8.10am, poor maintenance carried out there, and supervision of that work, led to the deaths of 35 people, and injuries to almost 500.
The 7.18 Basingstoke to Waterloo train was almost up to a green light when it suddenly changed to red. The driver carried on, stopping at the next red light and reporting the event. Seconds after he put the phone down another train, a service from Poole running late, slammed into the back of the Basingstoke train in a cutting a little way to the south of the station at Clapham Junction, running through false 'proceed signals'. Shortly after that an oncoming train hit carriages of the Basingstoke service that had been shoved across its path by the impact of the first collision. All of the 35 dead were in the first two carriages of the Basingstoke train.
The inquiry carried out by Anthony Hidden QC into the tragic events was published on September 27 1989, a remarkably rapid unravelling of the complex problems surrounding the crash. Sadly the government reaction to the recommendations was not so prompt: While procedures were put in place to improve the supervision of maintenance, and limit the hours worked by staff involved in such work (one significant figure in the work had only had one day off in 13 weeks), other actions suggested as necessary by Hidden took many years to be completed, or have in some cases not been implemented yet.
The 1950s rolling stock which proved flimsy under such a huge impact - the body sheering from the chassis, then crumbling - was still running in certain places on the network more than 15 years later; and the Automatic Train Protection System which might have prevented the accident has only been installed patchily, a cheaper but to some minds less effective system being adopted instead.
As ever the emergency services were praised for the speed of their response, and the professionalism shown - some badly injured passengers had operations on the scene when delays would have been life-threatening. Pupils at nearby Emanuel School who were on the scene before the ambulances and fire crews arrived were also singled out for their assistance to injured passengers. There is a memorial on the embankment at Windmill Road Battersea which marks the site of the crash.
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