A question of visibility?

This view of the old L&NWR station was taken from High Street, a suffix applied to it’s name between 1924 and 1930. It is looking north-east. The station would continue to operate until 1965. Image from the Peter Shoesmith collection.

I have an interesting one here for people interested in the history of rail in Brownhills and rail accidents in general – while diving in the Railway Accident Report Archive for something else, I found this remarkable document from 1873.

On the 29th August 1873, a Derby-bound train shunted into the rear of a waiting goods train just outside of Brownhills Station, at a site I assume to be adjacent to the Pelsall Road.

Thankfully, any injuries were minor and there was limited damage to the rolling stock, but the story this report tells – startlingly familiar if one delves through the language – shows how little had changed in these matters in 145 years.

I’d be interested on comments from local rail buffs on this – but one thing that occurs to me here is just how thorough and modern the enquiry is here, and it shows the railway was far less Heath Robinson and more formalised than I would have expected for the time period.

If you have anything to add, please do: Comment here or mail me – BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com of tug my sleeve on social media.


Shrewsbury, 14th November 1873.


In  compliance with the instructions contained in your minute of the 4th instant, I have the honour to report, for the information of the Board of Trade, the result of my inquiry into the circumstances connected with the collision that occurred on the 29th ultimo [Last. month – Bob] at the south end of Brownhills station on the London and North-western Railway.

There are sidings at both sides of the line at the south end of this station, which is protected by home signals that are placed at the north end of the platform, and by distant signals in each direction. The distant-signal at the south end of the station is 500 yards from the home-signal, and about 60 yards beyond a through crossing to one of the sidings. This through crossing to the siding is pro­tected by another distant-signal  placed 500 yards outside the station distant-signal. The distant-signal which protects the crossing is worked by a lever placed near the crossing, and is only used at such times as the crossing is occupied by trains shunting into the siding. The station distant-signals are worked from the station platform, and are not interlocked with the points. The block system is in operation on the down line over a section of railway about one mile in length to the north of Brownhills, and it is also in operation on the up line, for a section about a mile and a half in length at the south side of Brownhills station. The collision however occurred on the down line at, the south side of the station, and therefore on a part of it which is not worked on the block system.

A goods train from Dudley arrived at the south side of Brownhills about 8 o’clock. Tho goods train was not timed to stop at Brownhills, but the station was blocked by a coal train, and the goods train came to a stand with the break-van[sic], which was at the tail of the train, about 145 yards inside the station down distant-signal. This goods train consisted of an engine and tender, 41 waggons, and the break-van. The distant-signal stood at danger, aud the breaksman of the goods train considered that his train was sufficiently pro­tected by tho distant-signal which was burning brightly, and which he considered could be plainly seen by a driver approaching from Walsall. The goods train had been standing for about 15 minutes at the place where it was stopped, when it was run into by the 7.10p.m. passenger train from Birmingham to Derby. This passenger train consisted of an engine and tender and five coaches, the last coach being a third-class carriage with a break compartment and a guard in it. The engine ran into the van at tho tail of the goods train at a speed of about four or five miles an hour. No damage was done to the goods train, and the breaking of the buffer castings of the passenger engine was the only damage tliat was done to any vehicle of the passenger train. No vehicles in either train left the rails and no damage was done to the permanent way. The engine-driver of the passenger train was an experienced man, and bears a good character. He was perfectly acquainted with the nature of the line over which he was travelling. He stated that he did not see the Brownhills distant. signal, which was at danger, until he was close to it.

The passenger train was timed to stop at Brownhills, and it was only running about ten miles au hour, with steam shut off, at the time that the engine-driver noticed the distant-signal to be at danger. He at once reversed, put on steam, applied sand, and whistled for the guard’s break, but could not stop his train before the engine struck the van at the tail of the goods train. The side lights and the tail lamp were all burning brightly on the van at the tail of the goods train which was run into, and the breaksmen in charge of this train was inside his van, engaged in making out a time bill, at the time that the collision occurred. Neither this man or the driver and fireman of the passenger train were hurt; but two passengers in the passenger train have complained of slight injuries.

South of Brownhills Station, from the collection of Peter Shoesmith: This is a nice view of Class 8F, 48514 from Bescot Shed pulling a mineral train. This site is now surrounded by a large roundabout that forms the junction of Pelsall Road, Chester Road North, Lichfield Road and High Street. To put the scene in context today, to the far left can be seen the clock and chimney of the old Council House that now forms part of the Park View Centre.

The accident was caused by the engine-driver of the passenger train neglecting to keep a proper look out as he was approaching a busy station. This man pleaded in excuse that tho night was foggy, and that he thinks the distant-signal must have been obscured by the steam of two engines that were standing in the siding, inside the down distant-signal at Brownhills. From the evidence of the station-master at Brownhills and of the breaksman of the goods train it appears that although the night was a little hazy there was nothing to prevent the engine-driver of the passenger train seeing the distant-signal in sufficient time to stop his train and avoid the collision. The regulations of the London and North-western Railway Company provide that if drivers cannot see a signal, they are to consider such signal as being at danger, and con­sequently if the driver did not see the distant-signal as he was approaching Brownhills he ought to have reduced the speed of his train so as to be able to stop before he reached it.

The guard of the goods train excused himself for not going back to protect his train as he should have done in accordauce with the company’s rules, by stating that he thought that his train was sufficiently far inside the distant-signal to ensure its safety. I think, under the circumstances, that the train ought to have been safe in the position in which it stood, but the breaksman should have gone back and taken further means to protect his train instead of remaining in his van during the fifteen minutes that he stopped at the station. More siding accommodation should be pro­vided at Brownhills station, so that the main line shall not be kept blocked by goods trains; and the sooner the points and signals are interlocked, aud the block system introduced, the better, as this part of the line consists of heavy gradients and sharp curves where the view is very limited. The distant-signals at Brownhills should be moved farther back. The com­pany have arranged for this to be done, and for the points and signals to be interlocked, and also for the permissive block system to be introduced at once, for which latter they have bad men in training for some weeks back.

I would suggest that the absolute block should be adopted instead of the permissive block system.

I have, & c.
F. H. Rich
Col. R. E.

The Secretary,
(Railway Department)
Board of Trade.

Printed copies of the above report were sent to the Company on the 8th December.

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2 Responses to A question of visibility?

  1. andkindred says:

    Very interesting! Presumably, like other incidents of this type, it is a symptom of the network being overloaded? As I understand it, these days trains are programmed to stop automatically if a signal is at danger, which was not available back then.

    There is a lineside metal post, which I always thought was a signal post, near to the pool just south of Clayhanger. Would that be the more distant signal mentioned in the report? Doubtless, Ian Pell will know.


  2. Pingback: The permissive society | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

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