Ewell West
The 1139 London Waterloo to Guildford via Epsom service calls at Ewell West, May 2014
Photo by Nick Winfield

Railways are an extremely safe form of transport, but accidents do happen. In this article we look at incidents that have taken place in the Borough, and the subsequent actions taken to avoid a repeat. The 24 hour clock is used throughout. The 'Up Line' (or platform/siding) is towards London, the 'Down Line' (or platform/siding) is from London.

Up to 1923, the railways were arranged into separate companies who each had their own line. In some places, the lines would be shared by a number of companies. In our area, the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR) ran from London Victoria/London Bridge via Sutton and Ewell East and had its own station at Epsom Town in Upper High Street (then 'Station Road'), opening in 1847. The rival London & South Western Railway (LSWR) ran from London Waterloo via Wimbledon and Ewell West and used the current Epsom station, opening in 1859. LBSCR services ran through this station non-stop. Beyond Epsom services were operated jointly. The LBSCR also ran to Epsom Downs, whilst the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SECR) ran to Tattenham Corner. In addition there was an internal railway system serving the Epsom Hospital Cluster between 1905 and 1950.

20 February 1874

This accident took place on the Down Line east of the former Epsom Town station. It involved the 0800 London to Brighton via Epsom and Dorking LBSCR passenger train service (a route noteworthy for not being possible now) colliding with an empty train from Sutton.

One passenger received slight injuries and three carriages of the Brighton train were damaged, as was the buffer beam of the locomotive hauling the empty train.

The empty train was formed of three coaches and a brake van and arrived on the Down Line a little late, at 0847. The engine and first two carriages were to form a portion of the 1018 service to London, which would depart from the Up Line. The third carriage and brake van were to be detached. However, as the Brighton train was due at 0853, the head porter decided there was not enough time for the empty train to complete the shunting manoeuvres needed to get the locomotive onto the other end of the train, the carriages onto the opposite platform and the spare carriage and brake van detached; instead, it was decided to recess the empty train out of the way in a siding adjoining the Down Line whilst the Brighton train passed.
Epsom Town 1874

Simplified Track Diagram of the Down Lines east of Epsom Town at the time.
An empty train was being recessed into the Down Siding but the locomotive was left fouling the Down Line,
subsequently colliding with the following train to Brighton.

The points to this siding were hand-worked and operated by the shunter. As soon as the shunter thought the engine had cleared the points, he went to attend other duties. A few minutes later he was met by the head porter who pointed out that the locomotive looked as if it was still partly on the Down Line.

The signalman, meanwhile, on receiving the message from his counterpart at Ewell (now Ewell East) that the Brighton train had just departed, cleared the signals without checking that the empty train was not fouling the Down Line. Unfortunately it was; furthermore, the approach to Epsom is on a curve, and an overbridge obscured the view for the driver of the Brighton train until it was too late. No blame was attached to this driver - besides, the signal was set in his favour.

The fireman of the empty train stated that as their train was backing into the siding, the shunter shouted "Whoa" and the driver promptly stopped the train. The driver and fireman both anticipated the shunter would then detach the locomotive as was normal practice; in the meantime, their attention was drawn by fitting a new gauge glass to the locomotive as the existing one was faulty. The shunter, however, had walked away.

Ultimately, the collision was down to the driver of the empty train for standing on the crossing, the shunter neglecting his duty and the signaller for not checking the line was clear before releasing his signals for the Brighton train. They were dependent on each other - if only one of these three had done their job properly, the collision would not have occurred.

The driver was discharged while the signalman was demoted to porter and subsequently left the company.

From a historical perspective, this accident was before the siding points had been brought under the control of the signalman. It was also before 'interlocking' between points and signals became common place; had this been installed, the signalman would have found it physically impossible to give the Brighton train the signal to proceed with the points to the siding set against it.

12 November 1879

This was also at Epsom Town (LBSCR) and coincidentally also involved a collision between a Brighton train and an empty train, in this instance the 1705 Brighton to London Bridge and an empty train which was to form the 1940 Epsom Town to Victoria. Fortunately there was only one slight injury and no damage to stock.

The London Bridge train arrived at 1935 and the engine positioned by the water crane on the Up Platform to take on water. Two minutes later, the empty train, which had been recessed in the Up Siding west of the station, was signalled onto the Up Line; the platform was long enough to take both trains. Unfortunately the driver of the empty train ran into the back of the London Bridge train, the speed at the time of collision being about 4 mph.

Epsom Town 1879

Simplified Track Diagram of the Up Lines west of Epsom Town station at the time.
The platform could accommodate both the London Bridge train (taking on water)
and the empty train coming out from the sidings;
however the empty train collided with the London Bridge train.

The conclusion was that fault lay with the driver of the empty train for not keeping a proper look- out. Despite the curve of the line, the tail-light of the London Bridge train would have been observable from a distance of 120 yards, 30 yards before he would have left the siding.

Ten years later the LBSCR became one of only 5 railway companies using 'Calling On' signals as a subsidiary signal where such moves within a station area took place; they (exceptionally) gave a driver permission to proceed (with caution) into a section of line in which another train was already standing.

28 September 1899

This accident took place at 2125 at Epsom (LSWR) and involved the 1910 Portsmouth to London (LBSCR) passenger train and wagons in the process of being shunted from the 1915 Guildford to Nine Elms (LSWR) goods train.

9 passengers were injured. The 8-coach passenger train became separated between the second and third coaches; the locomotive lost its chimney and suffered damage to its dome casing plus other minor damage. Of the carriages, three windows and a coupling were broken. The locomotive came to rest 60 yards from the collision. Of the goods train, two wagons were derailed and badly damaged, a third wagon slightly damaged and the brake van had its windows broken.

Epsom 1899

Simplified Track Diagram of the Up Lines at the west end of Epsom (LSWR) at the time.
The train from Portsmouth was on the Up Line heading for the Up Through Line.
The wagons were en-route by gravity between the Up Siding and the Up Platform Line
but stopped short as shown, colliding with the Portsmouth train.

The goods train, running on the Up Line, arrived at 2111 and as usual recessed into the Up Siding west of the station to enable various shunting and marshalling manoeuvres to take place. This included letting the first five vehicles - consisting of four wagons and a brake van - run to the Up Platform by gravity, as this section of line is on a slight gradient. They would be under the control of the guard in the brake van and was common practice at the time.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, the five vehicles did not gain sufficient impetus to reach the Up Platform and came to rest on the junction of the Up Platform and Up Through line.

The signalman, without properly checking and bearing in mind it was dark at the time, assumed the wagons had cleared the junction and set the signals to allow the Portsmouth train to pass on the Up Through line. Fortunately this train had already slowed to approximately 20 mph, as there is a speed restriction due to tight curves after the station. Meanwhile the guard in the brake van, realising they had not cleared the points, ran towards the Portsmouth train and vigorously waved a red light; the driver immediately applied the brakes but collision was unavoidable.

It is not known for sure why the wagons never reached the safety of the platform; the guard described them as 'bad runners', however it may be a case that he applied the brakes too early.

Although there were no objections to the practice of shunting by gravity, blame ultimately fell to the signalman. It was further resolved that in future a red tail light should be attached to the rear of these wagons and that a second man should be present to indicate to the guard and signalman once the wagons had cleared the Up Through Line.

In later years, track circuiting was introduced which gave a visual display to the signalman the location of a train. With interlocking, the signalman would have been unable to clear the signals for the Portsmouth train whilst the wagons were fouling the Up Line.

14 October 1902

On this day 13 year old George Treays committed suicide. Last seen at 2000 the night before, his body was found the next day between Epsom Station and Hook Road Bridge on the LSWR line. For more information, see "The Death Of George Treays".

27 February 1906

Another fatality occurred on this date, this time not intentional and not on the main line - this was on a temporary contractors line built by Mssrs. Foster & Dicksee between sidings south of Ewell West and the site of Long Grove Hospital, then under construction. A local woman, Mary Tobin, was run over by a train at Hook Road crossing, located just north of the junction with Horton Lane.

The locomotive was propelling 12 wagons from the rear and was en-route to Long Grove. The propelling movement to site was standard practice as there was no facility for the locomotive to run round its train at Long Grove; it would be trapped at the end of the line. As a consequence, with the driver's forward view restricted, a lookout was therefore employed who should have been on the first wagon.

Against regulations, and not for the first time, the gates had been left open at the crossing. The lookout was on the fifth truck as the first four were sheeted over. Despite the train whistling as it approached the crossing, Mary was slightly deaf so might not have heard it.

Foster & Dicksee were found guilty of neglect. It was resolved that the gate was to be placed across the road, as the existing gates opened onto the field and did not seal off the road even when closed. Trains would be required to stop before crossing and should be preceded by a man with a red flag. Trains should not cross Hook Road at speeds greater than 4 mph and the gates were to be closed immediately after a train had passed. When the London County Council later bought the line, the crossing was replaced by a bridge just to the north.

In memory, a nearby part of Horton Country Park was named 'Tobin's Copse'.

For further details of this line, see 'Railways Serving The Epsom Hospital Cluster'.

In 1923, the many individual companies were grouped into the 'Big Four', with the lines in our area all becoming part of the Southern Railway and electrified. Epsom Town Station was shut to passengers and the present Epsom station redesigned. In 1948, further re-organisation took place when the railways were nationalised - the local lines became part of the Southern Region of British Railways.

28 July 1949

At 0728 on the 28 July 1949 two 8-coach electric passenger trains collided to the east of Epsom Station, these being the 0710 Effingham Junction to London Bridge and the 0707 Wimbledon to Effingham Junction.

Three passengers and two railway employees were slightly injured. The train from Wimbledon was heading for platform 2 at about 20 mph whilst the London Bridge train was leaving platform 3.

Epsom 1949

Simplified Track Diagram of the east end of Epsom.
The collision occurred where the Up Line to Sutton crosses the Down Line from Raynes Park.

The second and fourth coaches of the Wimbledon train were derailed, causing the third coach to overturn. Of the London Bridge train, the off-side of the first coach was badly damaged and derailed. There was damage to the track and signalling, but this was mainly confined to the diamond crossing where the trains collided.

On investigation, the London Bridge train was running about a minute late. It was booked to leave at 0726. Platform staff, located about half way down the platform and keen to make up time, promptly gave the 'Right Away' once all doors had shut, which was repeated by a carriage cleaner who had been talking to the driver. Even then, two passengers subsequently joined the moving train. The driver didn't notice that the signal was against him.

The train from Wimbledon was a little early; this was booked to arrive at 0728 but the signals had been set to allow this train to enter first. For the London Bridge train, passing the signal at danger immediately caused a warning detonator to explode, but the driver couldn't stop his train in time before collision.

The driver admitted that he hadn't seen the signal and was in conversation with the cleaner (who he took to be a porter). His attention was subsequently distracted by the two latecomers. He assumed that by being given the 'Right Away' he was clear to proceed. Only when he heard the detonator did he come to his senses.

However, being given the 'Right Away' is only confirmation that platform duties had been completed and that all train doors had been shut. In any case, neither the station porter nor the guard could see the signal properly because of the station verandah. Ultimately it was the driver's responsibility to check the signal first and the collision was due to his failure to do so.

Following this incident, it was felt that further steps needed to be taken to avoid a repeat. It is common practice at sites of potential conflict to provide a trap siding interlocked with the signal, which will safely derail a train should it be passed at danger. This was not practical at this location due the position of the road underbridge. Instead, the signal was moved 60 feet nearer the platform stopping mark. This improved sighting of the signal from the platform and increased the over-run distance to 100 feet. Should another over-run occur, the shorter distance from platform to signal and its warning detonator should result in the driver being able to stop the train before reaching the crossing.

4 March 1966

A minor derailment was recorded at Epsom station, fortunately with no injuries. Peter Gray, who was a local resident at the time, witnessed the event and recalls: "I was awaiting a train to Waterloo on that morning. The empty train came quite slowly out of the siding and derailed as it came into Epsom Station. No injuries as it was going so slowly, and only the driver and guard was on board." Unlike a derailment in 2006 (see below) the incident did not warrant further investigation.

The railways were subsequently privatised again, but this time although the services were operated by individual companies, the infrastructure was the responsibility of Railtrack, later Network Rail.

1 December 1993

On this date the 0616 from Victoria run by the then-operator Connex South Central went through the buffers at Tattenham Corner, a terminus. The leading vehicle mounted the concourse and came to rest in the booking office and train crew accommodation. Fortunately there were no passengers on board. The driver and a member of staff were taken to hospital suffering from minor injuries and shock. The 92-year old listed wooden station building was subsequently demolished.

The driver was found to be three times over the alcohol limit and was subsequently jailed at the Old Bailey for nine months. Following this incident, the current Drugs and Alcohol Policy on the railways was introduced.

Pictures by Andy Gibbs appear here.

12 September 2006

At 1942, the fourth coach of an 8-coach South West Trains service, the 1909 Waterloo to Effingham Junction, derailed at the eastern end of Epsom Station. Travelling at about 17 mph, the train managed to stop partly in the station where the 300 - 400 passengers were able to alight. There were no injuries and only slight damage to the train and track.

On investigation, it was found that the train was not being driven at excessive speed, and was in good condition. Attention therefore focussed on the condition of the track and maintenance regime.

The derailment took place on a crossover installed to allow trains that had terminated in Platform 2 to return in the Raynes Park direction. At the time, only one daily passenger service made this move. However, the points were heavily used in the trailing direction as they were crossed by every Down Train from Raynes Park and beyond.

Epsom 2006

Simplified Track Diagram of the eastern end of Epsom Station.
The train, heading towards Epsom from the Raynes Park direction,
derailed over points installed to enable trains Down trains to reverse in Platform 2 and return via the Up Line.

Under Network Rail, the maintenance regime consists of a variety of Track Recording Trains operating on a regular basis depending on how heavily the line is used. The Raynes Park to Epsom line is classified as 'Class 3' and as such requires a yearly track inspection. The line is also scheduled to be patrolled by foot on a weekly basis.

Track Recording Trains are locomotive-hauled. It had been scheduled to run on the line the previous February, but a temporary weight restriction over a bridge on the line had been imposed which precluded the use of locomotive hauled trains. It wasn't until 30 August 2006 that it was cleared to run, and at that time identified a total of 365 defects between Raynes Park and Effingham Junction. 5 defects were found around the points concerned.

Depending on the severity, some defects fall into a category that require repair within 7 days, others have to be repaired within 3 days. All of the 3-day repairs were addressed, but unfortunately none of the 5 defects at Epsom were dealt with before the derailment due to the amount of repairs needed in the short space of time. Had the Track Recording Train run in February as scheduled, it is likely that there would have been less defects to deal with and these could have been dealt within the specified time frames.

Network Rail were also suffering from staff shortages - falling under Wimbledon's area of control, there should have been 51 members of staff but only 37 posts were filled. The foot patrol planned for the preceding 25 August was postponed, as only one out of the seven staff was available.

A further issue was the failure of the Flange Lubricator located up the line at Motspur Park, which had been reported as long ago as October 2005. Lubrication of the track reduces the risk of derailment and wear and tear. At the accident site there was very little evidence of lubrication.

Although ultimately this was a case of Track Defect, this was as a result of inadequate maintenance and inspection. Following the incident, the Lubricator at Motspur Park was immediately replaced and Network Rail reviewed the management of the track maintenance in the area, particularly with regard to the retention of staff.


Early track and signalling related issues were addressed as technology improved and experienced gained.

In 2003 the Rail Safety and Standards Board was set up. In the same year the Department of Transport published a "relative fatality risk" for different modes of transport - with zero signifying no risk - according to the number of deaths compared to the number of people using each mode. Motorcyclists are at the greatest risk (with a factor of 358), followed by pedestrians (143) and cyclists (95). Car travel has a risk factor of nine, while rail travel has a risk factor of one.

Considering that over 10 million trains have passed through the area since the railways arrived, it is remarkable that only been 9 incidents have occurred, with 2 fatalities (one intentional). No incidents have been recorded at the Borough's other stations (Ewell East, Ewell West, Epsom Downs and Stoneleigh). Not only is rail the safest form of travel, the number of incidents in our area is well below the average.

Nick Winfield
May 2014

Links to other Railway related topics on this website:

Goods Trains In The Epsom & Ewell Area July 1926, Parts 1 - 3
Railways Serving The Epsom Hospital Cluster
The Railway Comes To Epsom

Since this article was written, more incidents have come to light. Thomas Bilsdon lost both legs in an accident in 1858, and others can be found here.