Hither Green Rail Disaster
Just a mile from the site of the Lewisham rail disaster that had occurred 10 years earlier, tragedy struck the Hastings to Charing Cross Express at 9.16pm on the night of November 5 1967. Rather than as so often driver error or signal failure the Hither Green smash was the result of sloppy inspection and flawed engineering procedures. Some 49 died in the accident, the sixth highest death toll in Britain’s rail history. Another 78 were injured.
Doubtless the medics at Lewisham Hospital had expected the usual bonfire night casualties. Instead the injured pulled from the wreckage of the 12-car train were rushed to the hospital where for some staff members it became a repeat of events 10 years previously.
The cause of the train derailing at 70mph was a piece of metal breaking away from one of the rails at a point where two rail sections met. A deep and inflexible concrete sleeper at one side of the joint had been replaced by a shallower wooden one with some give, poor packing of the wooden sleeper failing to balance the impact of trains on the two joined rails. A recent speed limit increase on that section of line had probably added to the stress on the joint, and inspection failed to pick up the danger.
Bee Gee Robin Gibb and his future wife (and later still his future ex-wife) Molly were two of the lucky ones on the train. Others spent hours in the twisted wreckage, some of them treated while still trapped by the remains of the mangled carriages. Subsequent inquiries led to changes in inspection procedures and the method of joining track; all of course too late for the 49 who died at Hither Green.
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