On This Day: More than 100 die in Britain's worst peacetime rail disaster

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: More than 100 die in Britain's worst peacetime rail disaster

OCTOBER 8, 1952: More than 100 people died in Britain’s worst peacetime rail disaster on this day in 1952, after three trains crashed at Harrow and Wealdstone Station during heavy fog.

The 60mph express from Perth ploughed into the back of local passenger train before a third locomotive coming from the opposite direction smashed into the wreckage.

Some of the victims, who included 112 dead and 340 injured, were on a platform as packed carriages were catapulted onto them during the height of rush hour at 8.19am.

Others were killed while walking over a footbridge, which was hit by coaches snaking 30ft into the air at the suburban London station.

A British Pathé newsreel filmed volunteers – including local nurses and American servicemen – searching the twisted wreckage for survivors.

One of the victims was given a cigarette to smoke as was stretchered away from the carnage, whose enormous scale would dwarf modern rail disasters such as Hatfield.

John Bannister, one of the survivors on board the local train, told The Times newspaper: 'It all happened in a second.

'There was a terrible crash and glass and debris showered on me.

'I blacked out for a moment and when I came round I found I was lying on the line with debris on top of me.

'I managed to free myself and drag myself onto the platform.'

Of the 108 passengers killed, 64 were in the Tring-Euston local train, 23 in the Perth-London express and seven in the Liverpool-bound express.

There were around 1,000 passengers on board the three trains, which were all steam locomotives.

Sixteen carriages were severely damaged in the collisions, including three coaches of the local service, three from the Perth train and seven of the Liverpool train.

It later emerged that the driver of the train from Perth, which was running 80 minutes late, had passed two danger signals when he ran into the commuter locomotive.

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Meanwhile, the local train had been moved from the slow to the fast line just before it reached the station to make way for stock movements.

The accident accelerated the introduction of the Automatic Warning System, which if a signal is breached by a driver the train will automatically be brought to a halt. Britain’s worst rail disaster occurred in 1915 during the First World War when 226 people died when a passenger service hit a troop train at Quintinshill in Scotland.

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