The 1910 train error which killed 12 people sees historic signal box given special status

The Westmorland Gazette: The signal box today The signal box today

THE legacy of one of the worst train disasters in Britain has been recognised as part of a drive to safeguard the nation’s railway heritage.

On Christmas Eve 1910, a signalling error at Hawes Junction led to the death of 12 people – a tragedy which would lead to a revolution in safety on Midland Railways, one of the largest train companies during the 19th and 20th centuries.

And now the government-backed Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced that the station’s signal box, which was renamed Garsdale in 1932, has been awarded Grade II listed status alongside 13 others.

“Hawes Junction played a major role in one of the biggest railway disasters in the Edwardian period and had major ramifications across the country,” said John Minnis, senior architectural investigator for English Heritage, who were involved in the two year project with Network Rail.

“The company installed a new state-of-the-art signal box just six months earlier but they did not have anything that would stop human error occurring.”

The fatal collision was caused when signalman Alfred Sutton had forgotten about a pair of light engines waiting for the all-clear to continue on their journey to Carlisle. They were still waiting there when Mr Sutton set the track down for a midnight sleeper heading to Glasgow.

When the signal cleared, the light engines set off in front of the faster express train into the same block section. The Scotch Express ploughed into the back of the trains around one mile down the track.

As a result of the disaster, the rail operator changed signalling practices across its 900 services to prevent similar accidents occuring.

In the accident report it was recommended track circuits, designed to detect the presence of a train on the main lines, should be installed and the Midland Railway company immediately rolled them out across its expansive network.

Signal boxes numbered around 10,000 at the peak of their use in the 1940s but today fewer than 500 are still in use by Network Rail.

This week’s announcement marked the last stage of the project and brings the total number of listed signal boxes in England to more than 100.

Arnside’s signal box was also listed. Mr Minnis said: “This is a handsome box which is aesthically pleasing and was selected because we are trying to protect a selection of different designs.”

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