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Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Hull rail crash, 1927



This is an account of a fatal rail accident in Hull, England, in 1927. Despite all the fail-safes built into the signalling system, one sequence of events allowed disaster to occur.

The crash at Hull Paragon station in 1927

The rail crash that occurred at Hull on 14th February 1927 was one that really should not have happened. That might be said of most accidents, of course, but in this case it would appear that all the systems were in place to prevent two trains meeting head-on on the same track, but there was one small chink in the armour of railway safety and that was enough to lead to the deaths of twelve passengers.

Hull Paragon is a terminus station, from which the lines run westward for about half a mile before branches lead west and north. There are fewer routes from Hull now than there were in 1927, and one of the lines no longer in existence led to Withernsea on the east coast. A train from Withernsea was running into Hull on the morning of 14th February, the engine being driven by Robert Dixon.

Meanwhile, Sam Atkinson was leaving Hull in charge of a Scarborough service. The two trains should have passed each other without incident.

However, as Driver Atkinson ran under the signal gantry at Park Street, still within sight of the station, he had the strange feeling that his train had been switched on to the wrong track. He checked on both sides of the footplate and, once he was certain that this was so, he slammed on his brakes. However, this was not enough to prevent a collision with Driver Dixon’s approaching train.

Once Driver Atkinson had picked himself up and taken stock of the situation, he ran up the steps of the nearby signal box and demanded to know what had happened.

There were three signalmen on duty, and their aim that morning had been not to allow the approaching Withernsea train to delay the departure of the Scarborough train. They therefore set their signals and points in conjunction so that everything should run as smoothly as possible.

What clearly happened at some stage was that a set of slip points was activated that allowed the Scarborough train to get on to the wrong line. These were controlled by lever 95 in the signal box. The systems in place made it impossible for the lever to be moved unless lever 171, which controlled the signal faced by the Scarborough train, was also moved.

While one signalman was dealing with the Scarborough departure, another was controlling the Withernsea arrival. The levers he needed to operate were 96 and 97.

Lever 171 should not have been returned to danger until the whole train had passed it, by which time it would have cleared the slip points, but, in his hurry to speed things up, the signalman in question moved the lever after only the engine and the first few carriages had passed it.

The other signalman then moved what he thought were levers 96 and 97 but must have been 95 and 96. The slip points controlled by lever 95 were therefore moved during the few seconds between lever 171 being moved and the train reaching the points. Disaster was then inevitable.


Both signalmen were therefore to blame, one for moving lever 171 too soon and the other for moving lever 95 in error. This was therefore a classic case of being too hasty, such that the correct procedure was not followed. Had the signalmen taken more care, even if that meant a train being held at a signal, the accident would not have happened.

© John Welford