Sheerness Train Crash

On the 26th February, 1971, a train travelling from London failed to stop when reaching Sheerness and crashed into the station. The station building was of wooden construction and was sited at the end of the track, after this accident the station was constructed to the side of the end of the lines, possibly to prevent such damage if for some reason a train ran off the tracks again. As the train approached the station it started to slow, but did not stop, it ran into the buffers and straight through the foyer of the station building. This event resulted in the death of a woman passenger and many injuries to passengers and staff. A local paper reported:

Booking Clerk Henry Robinson leapt for his life and escaped with injuries from flying debris as the train from London crashed through the buffers on Friday night, ploughed across the booking hall and smashed the booking office to pieces.

The dead woman was Joyce Carr, 29, of Cliff Gardens, Minster. She had just bought a ticket when she died.

Mr Robinson was detained in Sheppey Hospital.

Five of the eleven injured were detained at Medway Hospital, Gillingham. They were the driver, Mr James Rothwell, of Blackheath, London, and islanders Olive Holloway, 67, of Borough Road, Queenborough, Mrs Christine Collins, 31, of Beckley Road, Sheerness, Malcolm Corbett, 25, of Harps avenue, Minster and Mrs Hazel Sales of Beach Terrace Sheerness.

The train was slowing down to draw up in the station just before 7pm with many home-going commuters aboard when the accident happened, but failed to stop.

One of those involved in the incident and was injured has provided this description of the accident:

At the time of the train crash, I was working in London and travelled daily to Cannon Street by rail. The daft thing about me being involved was that I used to get the train from Queenborough and for me to stay on to Sheerness was very unusual but I intended to meet some friends at Sheemess Station. In fact I was waiting for them as they were on the train in question. The train I 'alighted' from was the one that had arrived about fifteen minutes previously. Upon my arrival at Sheerness station (this must have been about 1840 hrs) I met one friend who was resident in Sheemess. We decided to wait in the station foyer for the next train to arrive

The layout of the station, as it is now, is similar to how it was. The trains buffers are in the same place (I would assume) but in those days there was a wooden fence type thing that separated the trains from the station front area. First of all we sat on bench seats that were directly in front of this wooden fence. About 20 yards from where we were sitting to our front right was a book/paper shop and directly opposite to our front left was the booking office.

Boredom did set in and I said to my friend that I wanted to buy a highway code as I was considering learning to drive. We walked over to the paper shop but for some reason I didn't buy it. I then looked across at the booking office and directly to the left of the window where you bought a ticket was a map of the London Underground. As I was going to go to Q.P.R to see Millwall the next day, we decided to walk across so that I could work out my route. We then heard the train coming in. At this point the wooden fence was to my left and the taxi rank was to my right. I then heard a crash, turned to my left and saw the fence disintegrating and blue electric flashes. I then turned again to my left so that the booking office was behind me. I thought about running and did not actually see the train (thank god) but then lost my balance and heard crashing. I never lost consciousness but as the roaring and crashing continued everything was dark.

When the noise stopped I shouted 'Dave' to my friend. He answered and we both shouted help help (as you do I suppose). I could hear someone digging and then I saw the station foyer. It wasn't daylight but I could still see what was going on. I remember seeing the long electric light that hung from the foyer ceiling swinging and I did see people running and heard screams etc. The man that had dug his way through said very little but put his coat under my head. I don't know who he was but he did save my sanity as being stuck in pitch black for any length of time would have freaked me. I realised that I was under something that was about 18 inches from my head. The rust or dirt from it was getting into my eyes slightly and it was tilted so that to my right it was higher although my view of the outside was to my left, it was this left side that was almost touching the ground. Although I tried, I just couldn't move. My friend was extremely lucky as he managed to free himself and he apparently ran to his home in Regency Close leaving a shoe behind!!. The situation I was in was that I was on my back with rubble up to my waist and whatever was on top of me was 'resting' on the rubble. I did try to move but I was trapped solid. At this point I didn't realise it was the train that was on top of me.

Soon after the fire service arrived and they were brilliant. One of the firemen Jim Bloxham kept talking to me. I kept saying that I think I'm O.K if only you could get this thing off that's on top of me. He basically told me not to worry and I did ask him what it was but he didn't enlighten me!. I had an idea it was a wall as I didn't think that the train would travel that far and assumed that the train had somehow collided with the building and had brought some of it down. Then I heard someone say that the train had gone right through the building and I said 'Jim it's the train aint it'. I didn't feel any more frightened that it was the train (more a sense of bewilderment) but unlike the rescuers, I couldn't see the predicament that the train was in. I was given morphine at this point and still remember the rush it gave me. It was kind of cold and relaxed feeling but have never tried it again!!! I did ask Jim if there were other people trapped and he again said don't worry but I said if there are I will keep quiet but if I'm the only one I won't feel guilty making a fuss.!! And as the morphine kicked in I apparently smacked Jim in the mouth.

I think they made two or three attempts to lift the train up with the fire crew's jacks but they kept giving way and at one point Jim had move his hand very quickly to avoid it being crushed. They did eventually lift the train and found out after that they used a jack from Hollands amusement park. The moment the weight was lifted from me I knew I was O.K and was elated. As they put my legs together and pulled me out, I looked up and saw the green train. It looked so big at that angle and I just had to laugh. From the train crashing to me being freed probably took about an hour. I was taken in an ambulance to Medway Hospital where I was x-rayed and given the once over but there was nothing wrong with me except for a big bruise on my right thigh.

I found out after the sequence of events. The driver had apparently blacked out and had fallen on the 'dead mans' handle. The train hit the buffers and the wheels stayed on the track but the force of the impact pushed the chassis of the train forward. I must have been under the first carriage and what stopped the train falling flat to the ground was the concrete safe in the booking office keeping it tilted. You can see the concrete safe in one of the pictures of the train. This is why I remember the train being further from the ground to my right. The fact that I had lost my balance at the right time saved me although if there is such a thing as a guardian angel they should have encouraged me to get off the train at Queenborough. One woman was killed. She was apparently buying a ticket and must have been standing to my right but didn't have the same luck as I did. The fire crew did ring me a few days later to see how I was and said that there was jagged metal that had passed over me but they didn't know how it hadn't caught me.

During the inquiry, by Lieutenant Colonel I. K. A. Mcnaughton, into the accident it was found that the driver had no memory of the event, and therefore only possibilities of the cause could be discussed. A suggestion was that the brakes had failed on the train; however, this cause was dismissed as if this was the case it was expected that the brake lever should have been found in the emergency brake position, which it was not. In the end the most likely cause was that the driver had fallen unconscious. He had suffered a fall a year previously and had hit his head, and although he had not suffered any adverse symptoms since it was possible that his loos of consciousness could have been a result of this fall. It is believed that after falling unconscious the driver had fallen against the controls and had held the DSD down with his body weight until the train hit the buffers which knocked his body sideways and off the controls and onto the power controller.

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