18 NOVEMBER 1899

[Source: Paul Wright]

On 18 November 1899 an accident occurred at Widnes station when the 2.40pm departure from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester London Road ran into an empty wagon train that was running from Garston to the St Helens line. The accident occurred at 3.30pm and was caused by signalman error. According to a Board of Trade report given by Lieut-Col R.E. P.G. von Donop dated 9 December 1899 a ‘fast’ goods train (the empty wagon train) was signalled through Widnes West Deviation Junction and sent on to Widnes No.7. The signalman at Widnes No.7, John Witter, stated that he was never aware of this goods train but did receive a notification from West Deviation of the 2.40pm passenger which was due to stop at Widnes station at 3.20pm. Accordingly signalman Witter set the signals for the Warrington direction. At this time a bank of fog had descended upon the line between Deviation and Widnes station, probably coming from a nearby chemical works. The driver of the goods train, James Peters, saw that the line was cleared for the Manchester direction. He blew two blasts on his whistle to alert John Witter that he was a goods train and heading for the St Helens line. On hearing the whistles Witter looked out and saw that there was a goods train and that it had started to slow to a stop. Witter reset the line and signals for the St Helens line and the goods train started to accelerate. Just as it was passing No.7 box it was hit by the passenger train, throwing driver Peters and his fireman Thomas Hart into the tender.

The driver of the passenger train, John Walker, stated in the Board of Trade report that he had been given clear signals for Widnes. He explained that because of the fog he did not see the brake van of the goods train until it was only 10 or 12 yards in front of him. Although the passenger train was slowing for its stop at Widnes, and despite applying full brakes and putting the engine into reverse, Walker could not stop his train. It ran into the goods train seriously injuring its guard, who suffered a broken collar bone and two broken ribs. Four passengers reported being hurt.

The Widnes West Deviation signalman, John H Norton, stated that he had entered into his log book that he had passed the goods train on to Widnes No.7 but he could not swear that he had actually sent the message. Lieut-Col von Donop was clear that the crash was caused by signalman error and that it was most likely that Norton was to blame.

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The east end of Widnes station looking east in 1957. The view shows the junction between the deviation main line and the St Helens line spur. The signals to the left of the locomotive control the junction. At xx on 18 November 1899 the signal arm to the left was off indicating that the route towards Manchester was clear. The goods train driver was expecting to take the St Helens spur. on seeing the signal he blew his whistle and applied the brakes. the passenger train then ran into the rear of the goods train.
hoto by H C Casserley




[Source: Paul Wright]

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