100 year anniversary of disaster at Abermule

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Waldgrun

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Tomorrow 26th of January is the 100th anniversary of the Abermule collision. As far as I know there will be no events to mark this event.


https://spellerweb.net/rhindex/UKRH/GreatWestern/Narrowgauge/Abermule.html

Owing to a shocking mix-up, involving blatant breaking of the rules by several people and the careless handing of the wrong electric tablet to the driver of one of the trains, a westbound stopping train from Whitchurch and an eastbound express from Aberystwyth collided head on just west of Abermule at a combined speed of more than 60 mph.

Signalman Bill Jones, Relief Stationmaster Frank Lewis from Montgomery (who was deputizing Stationmaster John Parry, who was on leave) were principally responsible for the mix-ups, though the crew of the stopping train were at fault in failing properly to examine the electric staff. The accident highlighted the outdated and sloppy way in which some railways were operated on the eve of the Railway Grouping.

Details of the collision can be found here, https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/docsummary.php?docID=103 and the report here, https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_Abermule1921.pdf both are worth reading, as lessons learnt the hard way, still have worth today, I feel.
 
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Llanigraham

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There quite obviously can't be an "event" since we are in a fairly strict lock-down here, but normally there is a floral memorial left at the site by people from the village, and I believe in the past a MOM has laid a wreath as well on behalf of the railway staff locally. Unfortunately I don't know anyone who lives in the village so can't check.
 

Taunton

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The two locos, Cambrian 82 and 95, both 4-4-0s, were never replaced as such. The grouping was close and the GWR lent two of their 4-4-0s to cover. The wrecks of the two locos were apparently behind Oswestry works for years afterwards. These was possibly some accounting issue of the asset value of the locomotives that the GWR was absorbing.
 

matchmaker

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It was a wake up call. Edwards Tyers apparatus was technically idiot proof. Except for the human factor. The only other instance in the UK of a head on collision on a line controlled by his apparatus was also on the Cambrian - and the inspecting officer could not figure out how it had occurred.
 
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I think the previous accident was almost exactly a year before the Abermule tragedy. It involved two good trains colliding at slow speed, on a snowy night, near Oswestry, in the Oswestry - Ellesmere section. The Cambrian management were baffled at how it could have happened, and invited the Chief S&T Engineer of the Midland Railway to investigate. The cause, as I recall, was snow on the pole route wires bringing some of them into contact, allowing a false feed to one of the tablet instruments permitting a tablet to be withdrawn when that should have been impossible as one was out for the opposite direction. Matters were not helped by one of the signalmen failing to enter one of the trains, or the correct times (I forget which), in his register. I think one of the trains was an additional working that had been arranged at short notice.

John Prytherch.
 

bkhtele

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I have a friend who‘s great uncle Harold Owen-Owen died in this accident & is trying to find out if this anniversary is being marked in any way? Does anyone know?
Bryan
 

Dr Hoo

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The critical weakness at Abermule, subsequently rectified, was that the starting signals were not interlocked with the token instruments. It was possible to dispatch the train even though no 'movement authority' existed.

(I realise that a lot of rural and secondary lines didn't have this refinement at the time.)
 

ChiefPlanner

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In the 1970's , it was possible to get illegal cab rides Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury , and it was noticeable that the drivers always carefully checked the key tokens , in the dark putting the cab light on to do so. One driver just mentioned that they always had Abermule in mind.
 

Taunton

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The GWR certainly had interlocked the starting signal with the release of the appropriate token. I'm not sure when they developed this but think it was well before Abermule. The key tokens were also painted different colours for the different adjacent sections, which I think the traditional brass tablets did not ever do.

The real issue was that the token machine was not in the signalbox but in a room in the station building, so the working of the signals and tokens could get quite un-coordinated. To have the interlock you need the two together. You would have thought that even 100 years before risk assessments someone would have spotted the potential for errors.
 

Waldgrun

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I have a friend who‘s great uncle Harold Owen-Owen died in this accident & is trying to find out if this anniversary is being marked in any way? Does anyone know?
Bryan
With the "Lock down" in Wales, it would have been very difficult to mark this event. I live fairly near to Abermule, but didn't feel safe to travel, reports of Police , stopping people buying milk from a farm, make one think, " Bora dda, officer I was marking a Railway accident on its 100th anniversary!)" and the likely reply " A likely story, Breaking covid rules, here's a £200 fixed penalty notice!"
The only thing I have found is in the "County Times" https://www.countytimes.co.uk/news/19031160.abermule-rail-disaster-remembered-100-years-fateful-day/ The biggest local paper , the Shropshire Star, has no mention! Nor does the local community council website.
 

Llanigraham

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From the above link:

Plaque unveiled in memory of Abermule train collision victims on 100th anniversary​



A memorial plaque to remember the 17 people who died in the Abermule train collision, which happened 100 years ago today, has been unveiled.

On January 26, 1921, two trains collided head-on on the Cambrian line, killing 17 people in what remains one of the biggest rail collisions in the UK.

To mark the centenary, wreaths have been laid in the village on behalf of Network Rail, Abermule with Llandyssil Community Council, Powys County Council and Machynlleth Town Council.
READ MORE: The story of the Abermule rail disaster remembered 100 years on
A commemorative plaque, sponsored by Network Rail, Transport for Wales & Abermule with Llandyssil Community Council, has also been donated to the community, remembering those who lost their lives.
The plaque, made by local stonemason M.E & A Hughes Monumental Masons, is the first permanent and physical reminder of the collision in Abermule. It will be stored in a safe place in the village before it is installed in a permanent location which has yet to be revealed.

A memorial gathering had been planned by the community council and events were due to be held at the local school, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this could not go ahead and will be rearranged for a later date.
Instead, representatives from Network Rail and Abermule Community Council attended the site, near to the old Abermule Station to lay the wreaths, in compliance with social distancing measures and government guidance.
County Times: A representative from Network Rail at the Abermule railway collision memorial.
A representative from Network Rail at the Abermule railway collision memorial.
Bill Kelly, route director for Network Rail Wales and Borders, said: “Learning from past accidents is fundamental to the way we operate the railway today and it’s vital we remind ourselves of what happened in the past - how far we’ve come - and areas where we could still improve.
“This new, permanent memorial in the community of Abermule will serve as a reminder to future generations of those who tragically lost their lives.”
Councillor Gareth Pugh, on behalf of Powys County Council, said: “As part of the Abermule community, I would like to express both my personal condolences and the deepest condolences of the local authority, Powys County Council, to both the victims and families of the railway disaster.
“It is part of our history and entirely appropriate that 100 years on we mark that tragic event in which 17 people lost their lives.”

Jane Rees Chair of Abermule with Llandyssil Community Council, said: “The Community Council welcomes the joint venture with Network Rail and Transport for Wales to create a lasting memorial to the 17 passengers and railway workers, who lost their lives in the train crash near Maeshafren on 26th January, 1921.
“Our thoughts are with their surviving relatives, many of whom were local to Montgomeryshire.
“It is a shame that we could not have a memorial event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
‘The memorial plaque will be sited in the village at a later date, when we can arrange an event with the opportunity to view the project work by the local school children.”
Terry Wain, a Trustee of Abermule Community Centre said: “We are all very grateful to Network Rail, Transport for Wales and Abermule with Llandyssil Community Council for jointly funding the memorial plaque.
“The events of 100 years ago were tragic in the extreme and sympathy for the victims is still very real.
“After all, they had survived World War 1 and the 1918 global pandemic only to perish in such a devastating and completely avoidable disaster.
“This plaque will serve permanently as Abermule’s memorial to the victims.”
 

6Gman

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S4C is showing a drama documentary to mark the centenary tonight at 23.00

Can be viewed on Freeview, Freesat, Sky (channel 134) and Virgin. Subtitles are certainly available on Sky and probably on the others.

The GWR certainly had interlocked the starting signal with the release of the appropriate token. I'm not sure when they developed this but think it was well before Abermule. The key tokens were also painted different colours for the different adjacent sections, which I think the traditional brass tablets did not ever do.

The real issue was that the token machine was not in the signalbox but in a room in the station building, so the working of the signals and tokens could get quite un-coordinated. To have the interlock you need the two together. You would have thought that even 100 years before risk assessments someone would have spotted the potential for errors.
But Abermule wasn't GWR at that date was it?
 

ChiefPlanner

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I understand that NR dedicated a plaque very nicely done in slate , somewhere in the area today. Seems a very sound gesture.

(I confess to always having a look out at the accident site , when passing - and always with a thought for those involved) RIP.
 

Lucan

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This prompted me to read an account of the crash (although I have read it before) and one of the factors was that the token machine was in the station building rather than the signal box. By what logic was that arrangement? The token machine was operated by the porter or the ticket clerk (or any station staff apparently), and the passing loop points were operated by a porter from a ground frame. There was a signal box at the station, but I'm wondering what the signalman had left to do.
 

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This prompted me to read an account of the crash (although I have read it before) and one of the factors was that the token machine was in the station building rather than the signal box. By what logic was that arrangement? The token machine was operated by the porter or the ticket clerk (or any station staff apparently), and the passing loop points were operated by a porter from a ground frame. There was a signal box at the station, but I'm wondering what the signalman had left to do.
The general aim would be to have the instruments in a (single) permanently staffed point - the main station building. The porters would have a range of duties. The 'ground frames' approach saved money on lengthy rodding runs and an expensive 'signal box'.

The 'logic' was economy in a remote rural area. Not unique to the Cambrian.
 

ChiefPlanner

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One wonders - only the SM and the signalman were authorized to work the tablet machine , but as we know the custom was for anyone handy.

Very odd system in place with a split of signalling functionality , which led to a lot of traipsing around from signal box to station buildings etc.

There is some mention of the SM and the signalman unloading wagon sheets , so perhaps it was a case of the s/man helping out generally , whether that was him being useful and doing something not generally expected of him (I suppose there were no job descriptions issued in those days !)
 

D6130

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One wonders - only the SM and the signalman were authorized to work the tablet machine , but as we know the custom was for anyone handy.

Very odd system in place with a split of signalling functionality , which led to a lot of traipsing around from signal box to station buildings etc.

There is some mention of the SM and the signalman unloading wagon sheets , so perhaps it was a case of the s/man helping out generally , whether that was him being useful and doing something not generally expected of him (I suppose there were no job descriptions issued in those days !)
A very similar system was used on the West Highland line until the introduction of RETB in 1988. The token instruments were located in the back room of the booking office, where the porter/signalmen and stationmasters spent most of their time....selling tickets, dealing with parcels, chatting with their colleagues up and down the line on the bus line telephone and drinking tea. When a train was offered, one of them would withdraw the token and wander up to the signalbox further along the platform to set the road.
 

Taunton

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Instruments had generally been installed in the stationmaster's office. This went back to the telegraph, located likewise, where the stationmaster might be the only member of staff capable of using it, and telephones subsequently. I presume before tokens were introduced the Cambrian used the telegraph and train orders. Of course, on the majority of overseas railways (Europe, USA), even nowadays, there is no separate signalbox at wayside passing points and its all done in the station building office.

The Abermule signalbox doesn't seem to have done much, and only did the points for half the station, with the west end using a series of ground frames - I wonder how much these were properly interlocked, rather than just hand point levers.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Instruments had generally been installed in the stationmaster's office. This went back to the telegraph, located likewise, where the stationmaster might be the only member of staff capable of using it, and telephones subsequently. I presume before tokens were introduced the Cambrian used the telegraph and train orders. Of course, on the majority of overseas railways (Europe, USA), even nowadays, there is no separate signalbox at wayside passing points and its all done in the station building office.

The Abermule signalbox doesn't seem to have done much, and only did the points for half the station, with the west end using a series of ground frames - I wonder how much these were properly interlocked, rather than just hand point levers.

Almost a covered ground frame ! - the west end GF's were released from the signal box.

Methods of working were slack to say the least , by all accounts before this catastrophic tragedy , the previous movement was an Abermule - Newtown direction goods , and the signals were left "off" for it and the points in the trailing position , after it had departed. Sheer laziness really , and the acceptance of the up Whitchurch was therefore not in accordance with the proper method of working.

(not that sort of working was rare on the Cambrian - a collision at Tylwch on the Moat Lane - Brecon line between the booked passenger and a special excursion in 1899 , was partly due to the excursion having a SPAD at the home signal , but the points were set to lead into a head on at slow speed with the passenger , which caused a fatality and injuries)
 

Taunton

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Gross slack working does seem to be something which the smaller independent companies just let go - the S&D head-on collision at Foxcote near Radstock in 1878 showed that procedures were likewise just stupidly ignored. One would have thought that the Abermule stationmaster, with a Cambrian Railways senior director travelling in the accident train, would have been fully on his mettle when it passed through, with all his staff turned out spot on. But no.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Gross slack working does seem to be something which the smaller independent companies just let go - the S&D head-on collision at Foxcote near Radstock in 1878 showed that procedures were likewise just stupidly ignored. One would have thought that the Abermule stationmaster, with a Cambrian Railways senior director travelling in the accident train, would have been fully on his mettle when it passed through, with all his staff turned out spot on. But no.

Spot on - the entire Abermule staff were summarily dismissed as a result - and one hopes there was a massive tightening up of performance and safety afterwards - it seems so. RIP the victims and those who survived.

Off topic - the Foxcote collision was awful - read Rolt's commentary on the unfortunate semi-llterate "signalman" - the shambles of the operations of that day and the SM ,who after a hard day (but by means over from a traffic position) , went down the town "chiefly for pleasure"
 

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S4C is showing a drama documentary to mark the centenary tonight at 23.00

Can be viewed on Freeview, Freesat, Sky (channel 134) and Virgin. Subtitles are certainly available on Sky and probably on the others.


But Abermule wasn't GWR at that date was it?

Did anyone end up watching this?
 

ChiefPlanner

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Did anyone end up watching this?

Yes - pretty good - we lost the subtitles , but I have "O" level Welsh. Credibilty given by author G Briwnant-Jones who is a a veritable expert on Welsh railway matters and associated with , if not the owner of a publishing company which is renowned for quality. (Gomer Press , Llandyssil)
 

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Yes - pretty good - we lost the subtitles , but I have "O" level Welsh. Credibilty given by author G Briwnant-Jones who is a a veritable expert on Welsh railway matters and associated with , if not the owner of a publishing company which is renowned for quality. (Gomer Press , Llandyssil)

Ok I might give it a go then. Thanks for that.
 

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A very similar system was used on the West Highland line until the introduction of RETB in 1988. The token instruments were located in the back room of the booking office, where the porter/signalmen and stationmasters spent most of their time....selling tickets, dealing with parcels, chatting with their colleagues up and down the line on the bus line telephone and drinking tea. When a train was offered, one of them would withdraw the token and wander up to the signalbox further along the platform to set the road.
And the Highland too - I still remember Achnasheen with 2 boxes and 1 signalman! Barrhill on the Stranraer line still has the token instruments in an office on the platform, but there's no other staff to interfere.
Slightly OT, but in Central Europe AIUI the equivalent of the Stationmaster - ie the senior person - is responsible for dispatching trains.
 
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Taunton

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Barrhill on the Stranraer line still has the token instruments in an office on the platform, but there's no other staff to interfere!
How do they interlock token release with the starting signal?
 

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How do they interlock token release with the starting signal?
Assuming it is done, the signaller has to be fit! I don't remember more than that he had to walk between the two locations which is fortunately not very far.
There is only one booked crossing a week (Sunday 1312) and I notice the down train is booked 6 minutes stop which is consistent with that.
(The box is at the north end, which explains it being done that way round.)
 
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Assuming it is done, the signaller has to be fit! I don't remember more than that he had to walk between the two locations which is fortunately not very far.
There is only one booked crossing a week (Sunday 1312) and I notice the down train is booked 6 minutes stop which is consistent with that.
At Nairn, which was (I think) the last place with two boxes and instruments in the booking office, they were provided with a bicycle. Makes a change: cycling at work, rather than to work. I wonder if they were provided with company bicycle clips.
 

Taunton

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On ex-GWR installations in the signalbox there was, if I recall correctly, a wire which ran from the "issue" side of the token machine, under the floor to the locking handle of the relevant starting signal lever. As you issued the token it gave one electrical release on the starter. No token issued, can't pull the starter off. Used to hear the starter lever click as the token came out.
 
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