Britains worst Rail Disaster
Britain’s worst rail disaster occurred on May 22 1915 at Quintinshill near Gretna . Many rail crashes occur for complex technical reasons, or because of equipment failures, but at Quintinshill it was incredible negligence on the part of two railway operatives that led to the horrific loss of life.
A little before 7am a crowded troop train was approaching the junction at Quintinshill making for Carlisle , carrying troops of the Leith Battalion Royal Scots Guards. It had been cleared to run through, but in its path lay a local train clearly visible to signalmen; indeed one of the signalmen had just arrived in that very train. He and his colleague were distracted by gossiping and their regular fiddling of the shift system.
The troop train, comprised of old wooden rolling stock, smashed into the stationary local. Shortly afterwards a third train heading for Glasgow on parallel tracks hit the wreckage of the first smash thrown into its path.
Some troops were killed in the collision, the wooden framed coaches with little structural integrity against such force. But more probably died in the flames afterwards, the blaze fed by the recently filled oil-gas lights and tanks in the coaches, and by the coal on the tenders of the locomotives involved. The flames spread to two more trains on loop lines beyond the through tracks – one of these carrying goods, the other coal. The blaze lasted for two days.
The death toll was terrible: 226 died in all; and 246 more were injured. Incredibly the 60 soldiers who survived relatively unhurt were despatched next day to be transported to the fighting – their destination Gallipoli.
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