It’s the middle of summer and on a sunny Saturday morning 64 passengers start a train journey they will never forget. 9 people would lose their lives and the industry would find itself questioning the safety of an everyday feature.
Find out what happened in this episode of Signals to Danger.
Find Richard Jone’s fantastic book, Lockington: Crash at the Crossing at the link below;
Signals to Danger
Season One – Episode 15 – Lockington 1986
Hello and welcome back to episode 15 of Signals to danger.
As I always do, I’ll start by thanking all of you for downloading and listening, I appreciate all of it so thank very much! If you could take the time to like, share and review this podcast we’ll keep growing.
Over the last few weeks I’ve tried to look at ways of expanding the content that I create, and if you get over to the youtube channel you’ll see a few videos I’ve put together, including one which is a brief review of an RAIB report released last week into the death of a man struck by a train at Eden Park station in London last year.
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Speaking of signalstodanger.com, the brand new website is now up and running, with episode notes, news and updates as well as a few other bits and bobs, feel free to go and have a look see!
I did mention last time the Steam and Steel Podcast, the podcast is growing at leaps and bounds and it offers a great opportunity to hear from those with a passion for railway heritage. Plus, I recorded an interview with Matt a few days back which will be airing in a few weeks, so if you don’t get enough of me here, you know what to do.
With all of that out of the way, it’s time for Episode 15.
Weekends, especially in the summer holidays are a time for fun. Families on their way for a day out, others headed to the shops or visiting friends. Trains are just as crowded as on a weekend, briefcases replaced with shopping bags and Lunch boxes making way for coolbags and buckets and spades.
This is what was going through the mind of rescuers as they looked upon the sight of four carriages of a passenger train scattered over the tracks of a branch line on a Saturday morning in East Yorkshire.
The year is 1986, and this time we’re in Lockington.
This is Signals to Danger, A podcast where we look at major rail disasters which have occurred in the UK, explain what happened, how the investigation was carried out, and how each of these accidents shaped the industry going forwards.
I’m Dan, I’m work within the rail industry in my day to day life but today I’ll be the one taking you through this podcast.
In a bit of departure from normal, before we get any further into this episode I just want to say something. Quite often when I write these scripts, I can pull the information from the reports and tell the story of the train. It’s very factual and detailed and it means I can bring you the detail but it’s sometimes a little thin on the human aspect. Often there is some additional information I can gather from contemporary news articles, if they’re available, but there’s a bit of a limit. This time round however I’ve had access to another brilliant source, and I want to give it the credit it’s due because it’s been really helpful to tell this story and do it the justice it deserves.
Lockington – Crash at the Crossing is a 2014 book by Richard M Jones, and it tells the story of this accident, including some incredible details about the people who were involved and how their lives were turned upside down.
I read it before and during writing the script, and if you have a bit of time to spare, I really would recommend a little look yourself. In the world of digital delivery and so on it’s available on Amazon both as a paperback and Kindle, and the price is incredibly reasonable. If you want to learn more about Lockington, that’s where I’m going to point you. In the meantime, let’s start to tell their stories and get into the episode proper.
Let’s start this episode as we do every time, by looking at what the world looked like at the time of the accident. Lets have a look at 1986.
In January, an institution of British broadcasting was born. The 12th sees the first Episode of Roy Walker fronted Catchphrase hit the screens on ITV. This was closely followed by the announcment that the Channel Tunnel would be built, and Britain and the continent would receive a rail link, allowing direct trains between London and Paris.
April saw the opening of the underground station at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4, and the first stage of the Metro Centre in Tyneside was opened. Over the course of year the rest of the complex would open, making it the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe at the time.
In September we said goodbye to O levels, with GCSEs coming in to replace them, and the first episode of Casualty dropped on to our screens, 35 series later, it’s still there to watch, although the cast has rotated around a little.
Novemeber saw the appointment of Alex Ferguson as the manager of Manchester United, a position he held until 2013. The month also played host to a helicopter crash in the Shetlands which claimed the lives of 45 oil workers.
A very busy year as ever to be sure, but we’re going to focus on the summer, specically July 23rd. So I hope that you’ve managed to get your head firmly into the 80’s, as we move into the story.
The east coast of the UK is home to many towns and cities essential to the economy and identity of the country. Some are incredibly well known industrious cities such as Hull, historic home to fishing fleets and extensive docks, and others such as Scarborough, are eponymous resort towns where people flock in their hundreds over the weekends and summer seasons. There are others that a slightly less well known, or a mix of the two. Towns such as Bridlington.
Around about halfway between Scarborough and Hull, Bridlington is an East Yorkshire icon. Nicknamed the Lobster capital of Europe, the port sees 300 tonnes of the creatures landed each year, but the other main trade of the town is tourism. At the same time as other seaside resorts were growing, Bridlington began to build hotels and resorts to cater for the landlocked West Yorkshire workers in need of rest and recouperation in the sea air. In order for these visitors to make their way to the coast, the town was served by a good sized railway station.
At 0930 on the Saturday morning, 2F21 sat in the platforms at the station. A four car diesel multiple unit, it was formed of a class 105 and a class 114, both 1st generation Diesel Multiple Units. The train was booked to run southbound towards the city of Hull, passing through various East Yorkshire villages and towns such as Driffield on the route southbound. Passengers started to make their way to the train, headed that way for their various weekend plans. Some had spent the week holidaying in the resort town, such as Elsie and Herbert Marsters. They had enjoyed their time at the coast and were now travelling home with their daughter and son in law, Christine and Peter Quinn. Joining them were sisters Joan and Lorna Wilson, off to visit the market town of Beverly for the day, and a whole host of others with their various missions for the day. This was a normal train, loaded with normal people.
This service was starting at Bridlington today, so this was the point that the traincrew joined the service. Guard Peter Sturdy, based out of Hull was one half of the team, and at the leading cab of train was his counterpart, Driver Harry Brown. Brown would be responsible for guiding this train down through the countryside on this sunny clear morning, all the way through to Hull Paragon Station.
At 0933 Sturdy gave the signal and Harry put the power in, the train beginning it’s perfectly normal journey, headed out of Bridlington and out into the surrounding countryside on the Yorkshire coast line.
We have covered mostly main lines before on Signals, and it’s clear that these are the high speed routes with many many trains passing over them, both passenger and freight. The key arterial routes around the country form the core of the network, but much like the arteries in our bodies, they can’t do the job on their own, they need the support of the smaller vessels taking the blood out away from the arteries into the rest of the body. The railway network is the same. Each main line branches out into smaller, quieter routes which dierectly serve the smaller communities around the country. Lines such as the Yorkshire Coast Line. These lines which branch out are known as, very unsurprisingly, branch lines.
As the line leaves Bridlington, it follows a generally South Western direction until it reaches the smaller market town of Driffield. This is a town which nowadays provides a relatively large number of commuters into the city of Hull, and in 1986 the passenger numbers were still high. On a weekend it wasn’t uncommon to find people headed into the city to visit shops and businesses. On the 26th this was no different. One young man, 16 year old Wayne Telling was stood waiting with his friend Darren White. The friends of many years were off to spend his hard earned cash in Hull. Telling had earned a nice little purse working a part time job at a local farm, and so he decided to turn some of that money into a reward for himself.
Also boarding the train at Driffield, another 16 year old, Greg Addison. He and his friend Jason Schofield were headed into the city, going to return a pair of tennis shorts and pick up a motorcycle helmet. Driffield wasn’t just a town of teenagers with pocket money though, and 23 year old Annette Stork was headed into the city with her fiance and one year old son to spend the young mans birthday money.
With the passengers on board, the service departed, and continued down the branch towards Hull, it’s next stop the village of Hutton Cranswick where it arrived about 5 to 10 in the morning. Like most stations at this time there was a signal box at Hutton, and when the train drew into the platform the signalman, Chaz Walker came down to say hello to Brown, exchanging pleasentries and tales of Grandchildren. When the time came the train departed, and Walker sent the signal to the next box, to inform them that the Hull bound service was on it’s way towards Beverly. Around the same time he received bells back to tell him that the service too Bridlington, from Hull, was on it’s way up as well. With the stations only ten minutes apart, it would only be a matter of minutes until they passed each other on the line, waving as drivers do. 2F21 increased its speed to 60 miles an hour, and continued on through the morning sun, 64 passengers and crew on board.
Three miles south of the station at Hutton Cranswick, was Lockington Level Crossing. I’m very confident that everyone listening here has come across a level crossing before but just in case, I’ll go back to what I’ve done in the past, and cover a bit of a 101, it’s been a little while!
Level crossings are where a road, and a railway line intersect, but for various reasons this isn’t done by grade seperation, such as a bridge, or a tunnel, but the two physically share the same space, or cross at the same level. Hence the name. This could be due to the fact there’s limited space, nearby buildings or structures prevent building a separated crossing, but more often than not, cost is a factor.
To build these earthworks and structures costs money, inevitably. If you have a busy railway line, with trains every few minutes, it probably isn’t feasible to hold up traffic for 3 or 4 minutes out of every 5, so you would build a bridge, or a tunnel.
Conversely, if you have main trunk road, such as an A road or even a motorway, and a line with very limited service you would still build a bridge. Because even if the traffic is only stopped for a few minutes every hour? Can you imagine the knock on that would have on say, the M25? Not to mention the danger of putting a traffic light on a road with a 60 or 70 mile an hour limit.
There’s a great video on youtube taken outside of Higashi-Yodogawa station in Japan, during the morning rush hour this crossing, which has 7 tracks by the way, can be closed for up to 40 minutes at a time. It’s fascinating. But, it’s obviously a minor route through the area and has probably only been maintained as a right of way or whatever the Japanese equivalent is. If that was the main route through the city centre? You would build that bridge. The cost is justifieable.
Take this situation out of city centres, and away from main lines however, and the maths changes.
Between The market towns of Driffield and Beverly there are ten miles of railway track. In those ten miles, the track intersects with a crossing of some type 17 times. That’s nearly twice a mile, can you imagine the cost of building a bridge for each of them, and then multiplying that out across the country? Even the industrious Victorians, charging out across the countryside and laying down the permanent way would have thought twice about that.
And that is why we are left with crossings.
They can be split into some categories, with different levels of protection. In fact if you open up the wikipedia article for level crossings in the UK, it’s going to tell you that there are 17 different types, but I’m not going to get into quite that much detail. Just a basic rundown of the key players.
The simplest form is a User Worked Crossing, or UWC. These are either a basic footpath crossing; a crossing with gates and instructional signage; or a crossing with a telephone to the nearest signalbox. In order to cross safely, users must read the instructions and comply with them. What those instructions are will vary based on some factors, but they all rely on the people using the crossing to do so safely. Quite often these are found on routes between farmland, or to remote, lesser used areas.
The next varient we can look at would be the MCB crossing, or one with Manually Controlled Barriers. This is what people think of as a traditional level crossing. An MCB crossing is controlled by an adjacent signalbox where the signalman can view the road closure and determine that the crossing is clear before releasing the protecting signals. Normally an MCB crossing either has two full road width barriers or four half road width barriers that fully close the road. This type of crossing is also often provided with standard road-lights and alarms. See what I mean? Your traditional level crossing.
The provision of lights and alarms allow drivers to be notified from a distance away from the crossing that a train is coming, and stop safely, while the barriers provide a physical, well, barrier to the track.
We do know however that local signal boxes are being phased out in favour of centralised rail operating centres, so Manually Controlled Barrier crossings can also be monitored through CCTV, or even radar obstacle detectors, removing the need for a local signalman.
But cost is still a consideration, and when we move out of busier areas and faster lines, there are other options available. Quite often this becomes an AHBC. Where there are only two lines to cross, and the speed is less than 100mph, and Automatic, Half Barrier crossing were installed. The crossings have two half-barriers that only close the entrance lanes to the crossing, standard crossing road-lights and audible alarms. At the maximum rail line speed, the crossing warning time is typically about 27sec from the Amber light first showing to the train arriving at the crossing. These crossing were originally designed for use on roads with infrequent traffic.
And there are a load of other variants with some slightly different acronyms that I won’t get bigged down with now.
What we need to talk about, is Lockington Level crossing.
Until it’s modernisation in 1985, Lockington Level crossing had been controlled by lifting barriers. These were manually controlled and managed from the adjacent signal box. With a signaller in place the crossing was controlled by signals at either side which wouldn’t be cleared until the line was clear and the gates closed, which was ideal, but required a member of staff at the crossing to control.
When modernisation took place, Lockington Level Crossing was changed from a manually controled crossing to what is known as a AOCR. This is a different tupe of crossing to the ones we’ve already mentioned because the acronym stands for Automatic Open Crossing, Remote controlled.
These crossings are very similar to the Automatic Half Barrier ones. They don’t interlock with protecting signals but do have lights and alarms which are automatically triggered when the train is a set difference away. The key difference, and the one of real relevance to our story is the O. Open.
AOCR Crossings don’t have any barriers. They rely on lights and alarms to warn of the oncoming train, but lack the physical barriers. When Lockington was modified this is what was put in place of the manual barriers. Knowing this allows us to understand what happened next in 1986.
As 2F21 left Hutton Cranswick and continued southbound it occupied a specific track circuit and triggered a treadle. The set up of the automatic crossing meant that this was what commenced the sequence at the automatic crossing. An electronic alarm started at the crossing, and a yellow light showed on the crossing lights. Three seconds later the red lights started to show. These lights are arranged side by side and flash alternately, known as Wig wags. The automatic crossing was giving it’s warning to road users to stop, and wait. A train was on it’s way.
Around 35 seconds after activating the sequence, 2F21 approached the crossing at a speed of around 60 miles an hour. Metres away from the crossing a flash of blue shot out from the right hand side. A van had entered the crossing from what seemed like nowhere. There was no time, no advance warning, and a reaction was impossible.
The left hand buffer of the train struck the near side of the van behind the passenger seat, ripping it into five pieces. The left hand leading wheel of the train ended up trying to run up and over the van’s axle and both leading wheels of the train were derailed to the left as they departed from the crossing.
Directly after the crossing there was a small embankment, and the leading end of the first carriage ran down this. It jack-knifed and was turned onto it’s right hand side, dragged along backwards while the leading end of the second coach was forced over the adjacent track.
For those on board the train normality had dissipated into chaos no time at all. Passengers sat in the rearmost carriage told of how they heard an almightly bang, felt a shuddering and how they could see the train snaking along the track ahead of them as the derailment took place. The guard, Peter sturdy who was in the cab of the third carriage was instantly aware that things had gone wring. His experience will have meant that he knew what felt normal. This did not. This was reinforced by the brake gauges in front of him.
Those in the second carriage of the train were were thrown from their seats to the floor of the train as the collision took place, but as Richard Jones writes in his book, If the people in cars two, three and four were scared, then the occupants of the first carriage were in hell itself.
As the leading carriage slid along the dirt track which was next to the track the windows shattered. Gravel and stones were thrown into the cabin and cuts grazes and other injuries were sustained by the occupants. This was alongside some much more catastrophic results.
Seconds, and only seconds, elapsed between the initial collision and everything coming to a stand. A cloud of dust rose into the air above the countryside and everything just stopped.
There were a few houses located directly next to the crossing at Lockington, and they instantly knew something was up, the emergency services were called almost immediately. Humberside police was called, with officers from Beverly arriving around 10 minutes after the accident took place, followed minutes later by both fire and rescue and ambulance services.
The scene at Lockington was horrific, but it could have been so much worse. As Chaz Walker signalled Beverly to tell them that F21 was on it’s way, he received bells from Beverley telling him that another train was headed towards him. Sturdy knew the timetable, and he knew that this was around the point where the two trains would pass. As soon as he realised the train was off the line, and especially that the second carriage was blocking both lines, he started to run towards the track towards Beverly. When he saw it he waved his arms frantically to get it stopped.
The driver of the Northbound train had seen the dust and already start the process of stopping his train, so it passed Sturdy, braking heavily, and came to a stand before colliding with the wreckage. At least a second disaster had been averted, but it didn’t decrease the tradegy that had already taken place. Once rescue and recovery work had taken place, the toll of a sunny Saturday morning could be counted.
Eight of the passengers on the train had not survived the accident.
Gregory Addison, the 16 year old who was headed to buy a motorcycle helmet and been thrown from the first carriage and trapped beneath the carriage, where he succumbed to his injuries.
A 15 year old, Helen Lodge also lost her life in the lead carriage.
These two were joined by Elsie and Hebert Marsters, who were returning from a family week away at the coast were also added to the talley, alongside their daughter Christine Quinn.
16 year old Wayne Telling, who had just wanted to reap the benefits of his part time job didn’t survive, nor did 73 year old Joan Wilson, people at different ends of life, but dealt an equally grim hand on this morning.
The last passenger to be added to this awful list was new mother Annette Stork, who had left the house this day on trip to buy presents for her son.
This is an awful list, which fills a heart with sadness, of the 64 people aboard the train, these eight paid the ultimate price and it’s hard to write this down, I imagine you’re listening to this with a heavy heart too.
The worst part is that I can’t even stop there. Because the eight passengers were joined by one other. The van which caused the derailment had been driven by a 42 year old called Malcolm Ashley. He survived the accident, with severe injuries, but somehow he survived.
He hadn’t been alone in the van though. He’d had a passenger, somebody with him sat there in the front, who hadn’t survived the collision.
The ninth victim at Lockington, his 11 year old foster son, Wayne Harman.
Sad Musical Swell
The tragic loss of life, and the obvious failings of the method of work at the crossing at Lockington meant that it was essential for a full and detailed investigation. Her Majesties Rail Inspectorate arrived at the scene to start the process in earnest. At the time of the accident there were around 10,000 crossings across the country of various designs, so if there were inherit design flaws with any of them, it was crucial to find out.
As ever, there was a sequence of questions that investigators needed to answer.
First – The AOCR crossing at Lockington was supposed to give a visual and audible warning to stop traffic for a train to pass. Had this taken place as designed, or had something failed and caused Malcolm Ashley to drive out into the crossing unaware of the dangerous situation he was entering.
Secondly – If the crossing had been functioning correctly, what led to the van being there in the first place. Why hadn’t the van obeyed the signals?
Thirdly – Why did the collision with a relatively light vehicle lead to such a devastating accident. They may have found out that it had been unavoidable, but it was certainly worth gaining an understanding of the mechanics involved.
Investigations into the first question started instantly, indirectly, by those who approached the crossing directly after the accident. We know that when a train was approaching the crossing vehicles on the road should have seen the flashing red wig-wag lights, a clear visual cue that a train was on the way. This should have also been accompanied by a load electronic warning siren, known as a Yodalarm. That is a yodel alarm, the alternating tones clearly recognisable to anyone who has come across a level crossing before. So what did those first on the scene find on arrival?
From the opposite side of the railway to where Ashley had come, two vehicles had been approaching the crossing at the time of the accident.
One was a haulier driving a 3-axle rigid vehicle with a high cab. He left the a nearby farm shortly before 10.00 to return to the main road over the crossing and noticed the red lights at the crossing flashing on and off more than a mile away. He could see them because the countryside was flat and the cab of his vehicle was high up. Seeing the lights he naturally looked either side of the crossing for the train, which he managed to locate, seeing it coming from his right, from Bridlington. He watched it as he continued along the road, behind some trees and over the crossing. He continued on towards the crossing, noticing a cloud of dust to his left which he thought was unusual, but it was not until he drew up at the crossing with the lights still flashing and the yodalarm sounding that he realised there had been a serious derailment. He had not seen the lights go out and come on again and he thought it was about 3-4 minutes from the time the train passed over the crossing to his arrival there. This was at least one person who saw that the crossing was funtioning correctly, and he wasnt the only one. A postman had been driving along the road ahead of the lorry, and while he didn’t have the same vantage point, he was closer to the crossing as the accident took place.
He he noticed the train, which was now on the Hull side of the crossing, with what he thought at the time was an engine on fire. What this actually was was the black ballast dust being thrown up. He saw the front carriage rear up and fall hack on itself so he immediately accelerated and got to the line as quickly as he could. The red lights on the his side were flashing when he got there.
Both the lorry driver and postman saw the lights from the direction that Ashley had entered the crossing, and on this side too the lights were working, and the alarm was clearly audible.
This account was backed up by British Rail staff as they arrived on scene. A manager from Hull, responsible for the line, arrived around 40 minutes after the accident. He arrived, approaching from the same direction as the incident vehicle, and everything seemed in order. Signalling and Telecommunications staff arrived shortly after, and they tested the equipment locally and found nothing wrong.
It is clear that the signals appeared to be functioning correctly at the point everyone arrived on scene, and it sounded as though the evidence of road users showed that they had worked throughout, it was important to understand whether there was a history of failures, perhaps the light at the other side, where Malcolm Ashley had approached from had malfunctioned? There is a factor that encourages the possibility that this might have been the place. Malcolm Ashley lived in the railway cottages, 150 metres away from the crossing. This section of road, and this crossing were incredibly well known by him, in fact the road which led out of where his home was emerged only 23 metres from the crossing itself. When BR had looked to modernise the crossing Ashley had been involved in the conversation, and this particular journey was more or less a weekly trip for him, ever Saturday morning. How could he have gotten this so wrong? Perhaps the lights had failed, and he had no warning at all that he was in danger.
There was a history of failures at the crossing, not a particularly long or colourful one, but the crossing was only a year or so old in this guise, and there were incidents. On the 27th June, just under a month before the accident, the Beverley signaller received numerous calls from a number of telephone calls from road users to say that the red lights were flashing for a long time with no train coming. He replied to each call saying that he knew of the failure and that the technical staff were on their way to correct it. If they asked he was only permitted to tell them whether a train was or was not approaching. This was a failure of the system, but a right side failure.
You’re probably aware of the concept of a right side fail, but by a different name. Fail-Safe. Right side failure is when a piece of railway equipment fails, but this failure does not create a dangerous situation. The lights had broken, but these broken lights were warning road users a train was coming, even if it wasn’t. The opposite of this? A wrong-side failure.
In a wrong-side failure this situation would be left in an unsafe state, so say for example lights that didn’t light and an alarm which didn’t sound despite the fact that a train was bearing down on the crossing.
There was one occasion which the signaller could recall when a BR employee, on 13th May that year had called that box to report that a train had passed over the crossing and that he thought the crossing lights had not operated. On that occasion there was no indication on his control panel of any failure at the level crossing however, just the anecdotal comments of that report, which were investigated.
Other people also accounted for times they had seen the lights malfunction. A local butcher claimed that in the period between December 1985 and the accident there were six or seven occasions when he had approached the crossing with the lights operating and no train had passed over before the lights were extinguished. He also told investigators that on the 23rd he had witnessed a train passing over the crossing with no lights at all. A similar tale was told of another occasion, but this time by a local woman who had crossed with her children in the car shortly before a train crossed itself.
These stories are scary, and very concerning, but most of the people involved and who gave testimony to this effect failed to report the faults to BR. They only shared this information following the accident for one reason or another.
If these faults had been reported, then records would have been made and available to the enquiry. What was available were the records of the maintenance teams responsible for the equipment. In much in the same way as the actual tracks are inspected weekly, the crossing equipment was as well, and the records showed that these inspections were all carried out. The most recent, 3 days before the accident had also taken place on the 23rd, the same day the butcher stated he had seen the lights fail. However the equipment had shown no issues during inspection and testing and the staff were adamant they wouldn’t have left the crossing in an unsafe condition.
The report into Lockington explained how the contrary opinions were considered as part of the investigation. These were the conclusions that they reached.
The several right side failures before the accident had given local residents a feeling that the equipment was unreliable, but the causes of those failures had been understandable and assignable. The causes of these failures that had been ascertained included the passage of agricultural machinery over a crossing, the testing of crossing equipment at another crossing, work on the permanent way, and the failure of an electricity supply nearby. All were far from ideal, but attributable and a right side, safe failure.
The report also noted that after the accident, the Police received a smaller number of reports of danger-side failures that had occurred before the accident alleging that trains had passed over the crossing without the red lights flashing or with the lights only flashing for short period. This is the response to those queries, verbatim from the report because I don’t want to mistranslate it;
“Where the lights are said to have flashed for a short period there is no mention of the yellow aspect being seen, and I believe that the report has arisen because the attention of the person making it has only been drawn to the red flashing lights part way through the sequence. Where the report is that the lights have not flashed at all, I think that the person on the road may not have been in a position from which the lights were visible or that the lights have in some way been obscured or, as in Mr Wright’s case, the person has only been in a position to see the lights correctly when the train has actually just struck-out (left the area of the crossing).
The analysis and design of the signalling circuits, the results of the use of the recorder, the tests conducted after the accident, and the evidence, leave me in no doubt that the red traffic-light signals were flashing as the train approached and were operating correctly at the time of each of the alleged danger-side failures. The fact that so few of these failures were reported at the time to British Railways or the police, despite the obvious danger to road users, reinforces this opinion although I am equally sure that those making the reports honestly described what they saw.”
It was fairly categorical. Her Majesties Rail Inspectorate is not in the business of taking the side of the industry, or blindly defending British Rail. Any decisions and conclusions reached are always made on the empirical and quantifiable evidence of the found facts. The answer to question one was that yes, the lights had worked correctly, but this clearly left question two. If the crossing had worked correctly, why did Malcolm Ashley drive out into the path of a passenger train.
A really very simple way to answer both the first and second questions would have been to ask Mr Ashley following his recovery. This was not an option. After his discharge from hospital for the various injuries it had become clear that he had no recognition of the accident at all. He was unable to answer any of the questions and wasn’t even interviewed as part of the enquiry.
In lieu of a definitive answer, the enquiry needed to rely on the other evidence they could find. It was clear that the van hadn’t broken down on the crossing and become stranded because it had been seen to pull out by witnesses into the crossing. However, if you like empirical and physical evidence, the remains of the car showed that it had been in gear at the time of the crash. So the likelihood is that it was moving, as supported by witnesses.
There were four possibilities considered for why Mr Ashley drove out on to the crossing;
One. Mr Ashley might have seen the lights flashing but concluded that he could cross before the train arrived. Considering his experience and reputation, plus the fact his child was in the car this seems unlikely. Bear in mind Ashley will have known the short time frame the warning provides, 24 seconds of red lights is all you get. Which leads us to two;
Because he was in some way preoccupied, he did not look for the lights but for the barriers that up until December 1985, had been lowered to close the crossing. This was deemed unlikely, we know that he had been involved in the discussions about changing the crossing, and he did this journey every week. So that was deemed unlikely.
Which left two possible solutions to the question why.
Because there was no other traffic and he was able to drive straight out into the lane and over the crossing he gave the lights only a cursory glance which was not sufficient, with the sun behind them, for him to realise that they were flashing. It was only 23 metres between the exit to the lane and the crossing, so not a great deal of time to reassess the lights if proper attention wasn’t paid inititally. This was deemed to be a possible reason.
The most likely reason as ascertained by the investigators was that in the few seconds available between approaching the lane from his house and reaching the Stop line, Mr Ashley was in some way distracted and just did not look at the road traffic-light signals. He had both his foster-son and his dog in the car as possible sources of distraction. In addition, as he pulled out he needed to look to the right for traffic in the lane and to turn carry out the manouver to turn left. A lot going on, in a very short time frame… the thing Malcolm should have focussed on most, the signals at the crossing must have skipped his attention, with fatal consequences.
The third question, the physical mechanics of how the collision with the car had led to the crash being quite so catastrophic was now looked into.
Investigators were able to look at the damage and reconstruct the sequence of the actual derailment using the wreckage itself, as well as marks to the road surface, track and vehicles involved. This was the sequence as ascertained by the gathering of the evidence as it was found;
Firstly, the near-side buffer entered the side of the van just to the rear of the cab. Then a considerable impact occurred as the near-side corner of the train struck the van at the rear end of the driving compartment cleaving through that side of the van. This was shown by the damage to the passenger seat. Almost simultaneously the left-hand leading lifeguard snapped the rear near-side wheel off the axle and the DMU wheel immediately behind it began to compress the flooring of the van against the axle thus wearing a groove in the metal over the axle.
There were rips in the flooring beyond the groove which corresponded with the position of the lifeguard in relation to the train wheel. These would account for the flooring and axle not being completely overridden by the train wheel because the lifeguard, embedding itself in the flooring, held the debris away from the train wheel.
The lifeguard in this context is a metal bracket, designed to deflect an obstacle out of the path of a train, although they only work to a degree, The force of the collision, combined with the compression of the floor and axle of the van had lifted the wheel from the tracks. The wheels then started to derail to the left towards the Cess.
The reason this accident was so severe came down to the unfortunate placement of some fairly minor earthworks. As the line leaves the crossing to the south it rides along the top of a slight embankment, only a metre or two tall, but there non the less. If the line had been level, or even bettter, in a cutting, the lead vehicle may well have managed to stabilise and sit upright, saving people from the what did happen. As the lead wheels derailed to the left they slid down the embankment and the cab dug in to the soft ground at the bottom and pivoted around it. This opened the door to the violent roll to the right, and made holes in the ground of the windows.
It was this violent throwing around of carriages which turned a derailment into a disaster.
Each accident report includes a section comprising recommendations to the industry to prevent reoccurrences of the disaster, and this one was no different.
The report notes three points about the Automatic Open Crossing utilised at Lockington.
(i) Under certain circumstances some motorists either do not notice the red traffic-light signals flashing or, if they see them, do not comprehend or understand the message that is given by them. This is not described as an act of wilful disobedience but as the fact that the message given by the signals is inadequate for some.
(ii) Some motorists after seeing the red lights flashing, act in a most irresponsible manner at the crossings. This results from stupidity, impatience, or a lack of appreciation of the hazards.
(iii) BR have fallen short of what they should do to record and explain unusual occurrences, to deal with safe-side failures, and to encourage reports of such incidents.
The most important recommendation to come out of this report was that AOCRs in this area should be turned into Automatic Half Barrier crossings, with a physical barrier to enhance both the visual and physical protection of the line. A wholesale Safety review of the Automatic Open Crossing was also undertaken following the accident, leading to a set of criteria being recommended. The Stott report, named for it’s author concluded that no more AOCRs should be built, and those already in existance should be changed to either AHBs, Automatic Half Barriers, or AOCLs, Automatic Open Crossings but Locally monitored, not uncontrolled out in the sticks. As an aside, in 2009 a fatal collision at an AOCL in Halkirk led to recommendations to install barriers at a number of them as well.
Unsurprisingly, Lockington Level crossing was one of the many up and down the country which now didn’t make the grade. And it was converted to an automatic Half Barrier version, which it still is today.
The legacy of the crash didn’t just wait for the publication of the report however, days after the incident British Rail themselves suspended the installation of new unmanned automatic crossings.
Following the recommendations of the Stott report and the passage of time, only one AOCR remains, at Rosarie in Moray, Scotland.
A number of other recommendations were leveled in the report, these included that British Rail should undertake a national campaign of advertising stressing the significance of the road signs, the requirement to stop when the lights show, and the need to report any difficulties. This was intended to educate the great British public on safe use of crossings in general and was recommended alongside an improvement in the way that crossings were represent pictorially to, and I quote, to improve the educational value of the document.
It’s interesting to note that Professor Stott, the author of the report into AOCRs, was of the opinion that a special programme of public education is not to be expected to be effective in improving the safety performance of crossings. He had significant road safety experience and you can’t help but feel he had a point. The rise of speed cameras and tickets is well known, yet people drive faster than the limits, we still get accidents at traffic lights despite the knowledge that red means stop, and level crossings? You only need to take a cursory scroll through Network Rail’s twitter feed to see that some, and I stress some, people still can’t be trusted to use them appropriately.
For a small minority of road users you can put up all the signage in the world, but there might as well be nothing there. Even just 6 months after the accident there was a further occurance on the Yorkshire Coast Line. On the 27th June 1987 a train failed after colliding with a snowdrift, but where it was meant that the Lockington level crossing and the another were both showing as a train approaching for around 2 hours. The signaller received a number of calls on the crossing phones from people telling him that the lights were broken. Nobody requested permission to cross, yet the investigators were informed that a number had done so. One being involved in a near miss with a locomotive sent to assist the failed train.
While I struggle with the concept of people doing this, especially with Lockington so fresh in the collective mind of the area, it became clear that the advice given by signallers probably needed a review as well. Amended instructions for signalmen in a monitoring signalbox were drawn up and were issued shortly after the report was published, emphasising the need for road users to be told to stop at the red flashing lights and not to cross if they continue to flash.
The last piece of the puzzle to drop into place was the issue of blame, and whether or not there was to be any charges levied against a “guilty party”, probably for want of a better phrase. Despite the fact that Ashley received the full blame as the outcome of the report, Humberside Police made the decision not to prosecute him on any charge, and the matter was left to Coronors court.
Over a few days evidence was given by local residents, who again claimed failings at the crossing, and those at British Rail who had been involved in both the running of the service and the line. Alongide them evidence was given by the emergency services, sharing their experiences of responding on the morning of the accident.
After everything had been read and considered, the coroner decided that neither British Rail, nor Malcolm Ashley were in a position to carry the blame, and reached a verdict of 9 counts of death by misadventure. Echoing the opinion of many, the coroner gave his opinion that had the barriers still remained, the accident would most likely never have taken place.
With most episodes you will know I like to close by discussing the memorial that has been left for people to remember and to pay respects. Sometimes these are erected shortly after, take the form of plaques, or gardens or sculptures.
Sometimes they are conspicuous in their absence. And Lockington was one of those times.
I say was. At the start of this episode I mentioned the book Lockington: Crash at the Crossing by Richard Jones. I’ll recommend it again, as not only does he tell the tale of the accident more elequently than I, he includes a section at the end of the book where he recounts the lasting effect on the victims and those involved in the accident. I couldn’t even begin to do that information justice without tagging another hour on the end of the episode, so I really think it’s worth a read! But the bit I wanted to focus on is the epilogue.
In 2009 when he started work on the book he became aware that there was no memorial to the accident, and started working with the Lockington Support Group to set about getting one arranged, after a bit of a saga, back and forth with local churches and various other bodies, there was success. 24 years after the accident, in July 2010 a permanent memorial to the disaster was unveiled to in the memorial garden at Driffield. Paid for by public donations, the memorial is a grey stone, dedicated to the memory of the nine lives lost and recognising the bravery of the emergency services. The memorialisation of the accident, even at this late stage, brought a sense of closure and a place of rememberance to those who’s lives had been significantly altered by the events of July 1986.
Musical Swell into Credits
As part of my research into this visit I visited Lockington and the crossing there. I live close enough that it was reasonable to do so. I’ve watched as the lights and alarm sound and seen how short 30 seconds can seem in those circumstances.
I also walked along the dirt track to the east of the line, where the leading carriage ended up and spent a bit of time thinking on the events of this episode.
This is normally a busy commuter line, which swells to be even busier over the summer months, hundreds of people an hour sometimes sweep over the crossing and past the field, barely even noticing any change in the level East Yorkshire countryside. I can’t help but wonder how many even know happened to people just like them, 35 years ago.
Thank you as for tuning into episode 15, Once again, please like, share and review, come interact with us on social media, twitter or facebook, just search for Signals To Danger or Daniel Fox Rail.
If you do want to support the podcast, get yourself over to signalstodanger.com, and either look at the support or shop pages. You’ll also find episode notes, a transcript and episode sources there, as well as a link to Richard Jones’s book Lockington, Crash at the Crossing.
Until next episode, Travel Safe!