Heritage: The tragic circumstances of three fatal wartime train crashes

Police and ambulance services were called to Romford train station this morning.

Romford station in the 21st century - Credit: Archant

This week, historian Andy Grant invites the readers to learn about some wartime train crashes in our area, and how they came about. 

Harold Wood (February 10, 1941)

At around 10.40am, an express train travelling from Liverpool Street to Norwich was unable to ascend the Brentwood bank owing to a shortage of steam.

Less than 10 minutes had elapsed before a Southend Victoria-bound service ran into the rear of the stationary train.

The speed of the Southend train was reported to have been around 30mph.


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The driver did not notice automatic colour light signal DT16B at danger, nor react quickly enough to detonators that had been placed upon the line by the guard to protect the stationary train.

He admitted his responsibility for the collision at the Ministry of War Transport investigation.

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Five men and two women were killed in the collision and 21 were injured, including the driver and fireman of the Southend train

Shenfield (March 3, 1943)

At around 9.10pm, a lone Focke Wulf 190 dropped its 250kg bomb onto the mainline railway and scored a direct hit upon the track about a mile north of Shenfield station.

The signalman instantly knew from his indications and the noise of the blast that likely damage had been sustained on the line and consequently held the 8.45pm  Liverpool Street to Ipswich train in the platform, sending a p-way ganger out to investigate.

After around 15 minutes, the controller instructed the train to proceed along the line at caution and the train set off into the darkness.

Although the train was only travelling very slowly, at around 9.50pm it passed the horrified ganger who watched the engine plunge into the deep bomb crater.

The momentum of the tender and coaches catapulted them over the engine, burying it in coal and wreckage.

Being wartime, the death toll was not generally revealed, but the bodies of the driver and firemen were not recovered for some considerable time, after all the wreckage and coal had been removed.

Official records, held in The National Archives, give details of the accident involving a class B12/3 4-6-0 locomotive, No 8580: "A very nasty incident on 3rd March 1943 occurred near Ingatestone at 21.30, when the 20.45 Liverpool Street to Harwich Express Passenger train fell into a fresh crater, killing the driver and fireman and injuring the guard, another staff member and three passengers.

"Carriages had piled up behind the engine and much hard and intricate work was needed to clear up, not least getting the engine out of the crater.

"For 2½ days all trains had to be diverted via Broxbourne, Braintree and Witham, or Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge."

Romford station (December 29, 1944)

During the afternoon of December 29, 1944, a thick fog and freezing temperatures had descended upon Romford, limiting visibility to a few yards on that dark night.

Shortly after 6.05pm, a goods train from Brentwood to Temple Mills had pulled into the westbound platform, awaiting the clearance of the signal to allow a route into the goodsyard.

At 6.10pm, a passenger train from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street departed Gidea Park station running at caution, approaching Romford station on the same line at around 15mph.

Fog signalmen had been stationed at the outer home signal to mechanically place detonators on the line when the signal was at danger.

Although this was done, the driver and fireman of the passenger train both stated that they never heard the detonator go off as they passed the signal, resulting in a collision with the goods train at 6.20pm, around 20 yards from the platform ramp.

The impact caused the brake van and the empty wagon next to it to rear vertically into the air, destroying both and instantly killing the guard, Arthur Mariner of Marlborough Road, Romford.

Three passengers were also injured in the other train. The board of inquiry established that witnesses heard at least one detonator go off and concluded the accident was caused by driver error.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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