Railway accidents: Curve of unintended outcome

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A severe curve on the East Coast Main Line located at the Northumberland town of Morpeth became infamous after two railway accidents within 15 years.

Fraser Pithie reflects on the events 50 years ago in May 1969, and 35 years ago in June 1984, and the significance they subsequently had on the safer operation of the UK’s railway network.

The remains of Mk1 sleeping vehicle No. E2567 (left) and SK Nos. 25847 and 26146. JOHN M BOYES/ARPT

May 1969 – The Down ‘Night Aberdonian’ 

It was an ordinary spring evening at King’s Cross station on May 7, 1969, as passengers joined the sleeper train to Aberdeen, complete with its brakevan loaded with parcels, perishables, flowers and even a live pig in a crate.

The motive power for the train was one of the Class 55 ‘Deltic’ locomotives, No. D9011 The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

The ‘Deltic’, together with its 11 coaches, weighed a total of nearly 506 tonnes, was 262 yards in length, with a reporting number of 1S60.

A view of the 1969 accident site from the east side of the line. JOHN M BOYES/ARPT

The braking power was 382 tonnes or 75.5% of the train’s total weight. The oldest vehicle in the consist was 12 years old.

All the coaches were coupled with the buckeye system except between the ‘Deltic’ and first coach, the corridor brakevan, this being a screw coupling.

Pre-journey checks had taken place ahead of the train’s departure, and these were all clear. The permitted speed of the train was 90mph as there were two brakevans within the consist, each of which were limited to a 90mph speed limit.

The weather was clear and fine as 1S60 headed north, encountering a delay at Grantham of 17 minutes, which by the time the train had left Newcastle had been reduced to seven minutes. The driver was changed at both York and Newcastle.

Upon leaving Newcastle, No. D9011 and the ‘Night Aberdonian’ was under the control of driver L Byers and secondman C Graham, who had relieved the York crew. Byers had 29 years’ service on the railways with more than 20 of those years on the footplate. 

He’d been a driver along the route between Newcastle and Edinburgh for eight years, with six years spent driving the ‘Deltics’, so he was conversant with the motive power. Some 16½ miles north of Newcastle lies the Northumberland town of Morpeth, where a severe curve of around 98° is situated.

Read more and view more images in the September 2019 issue of The Railway Magazine – on sale now!

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