GCR Crowds look at 46521 courtesy of Phil Marsh

Steam Locomotive totally derailed at The Great Central Railway

Published 07th May 2013

Is this the worst derailment on a preserved railway to date?

LMS ‘Mogul’ 2-6-0 steam locomotive No. 46521 was totally derailed while leaving a siding at Quorn on Saturday April 27 on the preserved Great Central Railway (GCR). As is the way of things these days, the incident was filmed and can be seen at:


Rail.co.uk had two correspondents at the GCR Gala that day and anecdotal evidence supplied at the time can be pieced together as to what may have caused the accident, and possibly confirmed by watching the video clip.

Mail off the rails on Travelling Post Office

The train involved was the Travelling Post Office (TPO) demonstration train which had been recessed in the sidings just to the south of, and in sight of Quorn station platforms. The signalman, for whatever reason, authorised the driver of the steam locomotive to pass the protecting signal while it remained set at danger. This is a fairly common instruction when signals and points fail as does the interlocking between them.

Drivers are instructed by the signalman that they are authorised to pass the relevant signal at danger, and to obey all others. They should also keep a sharp lookout and be prepared to stop immediately if necessary.

Two methods of Protection

Passenger lines have two methods of protection from trains proceeding from siding onto it. One is the signal and the other is the set of catch or trap points. They will derail a train if the signal is set at danger and if the signal displays a proceed aspect, the points swing over and allow the train onto the main line.

So in this incident, the driver sets off and despite going tender first doesn’t seem to be proceeding at extreme caution and only the fireman and driver can answer the question as to were they maintaining a sharp lookout to make sure everything is safe as they proceed.

What we don’t know is if the signaller suspected that the interlocking detection and mechanical interlocking had failed or it was a false indication caused by an electrical failure – both are always a possibility.

Either way, a member of staff should have examined the points, from the engine or the signalbox, to check their setting, which were only a few paces away from the engine before departing to see if it was safe to do so. Any move against a signal should be carried out at extreme caution until the driver is satisfied everything is in order.

The recording suggests that power is still being taken as the tender wheels come off and the regulator is not immediately closed. Even if it was, it will take a few seconds for the steam to work its way through the engine via the regulator valve and pistons.

Private investigations?

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has confirmed that it will not be investigating the incident. This is presumably because it was not a passenger train and was not on a public line but in a siding.

To some railway professionals, this does not seem the right course of action. The GCR is the UKs only double track preserved railway and passenger trains can pass at a combined speed of 50mph. However, the railway is passed for 60 mph train operations for testing purposes and even at the 25mph limit for passenger trains, serious damage can be done in an accident.

So was this accident a result of poor operating practices, or as a result of poor training, or a combination of both. One point made is that during busy Gala events, the maximum amount of trains are run and the TPO can travel at well over 25mph as it carries no passengers.

Who dunnit?

It is a shame that RAIB is not investigating as they always do an extremely thorough job to establish the cause.

So was it down to Signal & Telegraph staff failing to maintain the interlocking of the point and signals?

Was it the signalman not checking what might have gone wrong?

Was it the footplate crew (driver/fireman) not checking the catch points and not proceeding at extreme caution?

Watch it!

The consensus of railway professionals is that the footage of the incident will become mandatory viewing as a training aide for all operational staff on both the national and preserved railways. Fortunately nobody was hurt this time.

Paperchase or safety case?

Railways used to have to write a Safety Case for their operations but in the last five years, this has been replaced with a Safety Management System (SMS) method of safety management.

This describes what the risks are and what mitigational measures are in place to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practicable – known as ALARP. Railway operations are governed by a Rule Book which is largely documenting common sense but does bring a common operating set of procedures for all.

Prosecuting Safety

Railway Safety comes under the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) now, and they have indicated that to the RAIB that its delivery plan for 2012-13 will include greater emphasis on safety management on heritage railways and it will be more likely to bring prosecutions where there are serious errors made.

ORR is therefore likely to take a keen interest in this accident and what repercussions result we will have to wait for.

Lift and separate

The GCR steam crane was sent to the derailment being towed by D123 to lift the locomotive and tender back onto the rails. This no doubt was another learning experience for everyone as it must be decades since a former main line steam locomotive was completely derailed. An unwanted preserved railway first?

Written by Phil Marsh

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