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Fatal Railway Accident at Oakley in 1938

The wrecked express [Z1305/85]
The wrecked express [Z1305/85]

On 21st January 1938 there was a fatal railway accident at Oakley Junction. The late Fred Cockman wrote a piece on railway accidents in the county for the Bedfordshire Magazine. It appeared in Volume XIV pages 319 to 326, published in Spring 1975. The following article is a transcription of what he wrote about the Oakley crash.

"On the Friday in question a train of empty stock from Bradford [Yorkshire] arrived at Oakley Junction drawn by engine Number 2893 with driver Cox in charge. The instructions from "Control" were that the stock was to be stabled on the Way and Works siding of the Northampton branch, but as some vehicles were already standing there the signalman J. Finnerty, found that only one half of the train could be accommodated, A further movement onto the main line would therefore be necessary to enable the coaches to be shunted onto an adjoining siding. This movement had to be delayed until the clearance of an up express at 14.46. In the meantime guard Turner of the empty train had gone to the signal box to discuss the matters with Finnerty. After spending some time in conversation Turner departed to find a scotch to place against the wheels of the stabled section of his train. So far all was well, and it only remained to await the 14.10 Saint Pancras to Bradford express which was due to pass the junction at 15.00. For some reason Finnerty then decided to bring out the empty stock onto the up main line, and from that moment things began to go wrong. The movement of the train, if unwise, would have been in order if Finnerty had blocked back to signalman Neale at Bromham signal box to explain the position, but he did not do so. He then displayed a green flag to Cox permitting him to emerge from the siding, but Cox moved forward only a few yards as guard Turner was missing, and then stopped. The movement of a few yards was decisive as the engine now stood on track circuit TC 886 which had the effect of locking the points in position and also the main line signals at danger. Neale now offered the Bradford express to Finnerty who accepted it thus breaking Regulation 4(f) which ruled "permission for a following train may be given only if the points are set for the train to pass". Finnerty now went to lower the main line signals but found the levers locked; he tried to reset the points but these levers were also locked. He vainly tried to get Cox to move back, but he could have broken a seal and released the grip of TC 886".

"Driver H. J. Hudson of the Bradford express was in charge of a powerful engine Number 5568 named Western Australia. He passed Bromham box with a clear road at 75 mph and then saw Oakley Junction distant signal at caution. He accordingly made a partial application on the brakes, and when he saw the home signal at danger he made a full application. But even with modern powerful brakes an express travelling at high speed requires some distance to stop, and the express was still travelling at 25 mph when the engines collided. The leading coaches of the Bradford train were thrown all over the place and three persons died and eight were injured".

"The Ministry of Transport enquiry was presided over by Colonel E. Woodhouse who arrived at the following conclusions:

  1. Finnerty had lost his head; he could have blocked back to Bromham box as the express was still four miles away.
  2. Driver Hudson should have made an earlier application of the brake.
  3. Guard Turner wasted too much time. He could have telephoned the box from the siding, but instead spent 23 minutes away from his train".

The Bedfordshire Times of 28th January 1938 recorded the following three fatalities:

  • Albert W. Jones, aged 51 of Carlyle Road, West Bridgford [Nottinghamshire]. A native of Taunton [Somerset] he worked for Boots the chemists and left a widow and four children;
  • Charles Reed Allensby, aged 56 of Hertford Avenue, East Sheen [Surrey], who died in hospital on the night of the crash. He was director of a firm of kitchen and heating engineers and was on his way to a branch dinner in Nottingham
  • Harry Grainge, the restaurant car cook, from Vincent Road, Sheffield [Yorkshire] who died from chest injuries on the evening of 23rd January.

Those injured were listed as follows:

  • A. Cox, the driver of the stationary train. He came from Saville Road, Leicester and had a broken leg;
  • Frederick Dadd, a dining car attendant. He came from FinsburyPark, London and had scalded legs;
  • George Nicholson from Stone Street, Sheffield. He had an injury to his eyebrow;
  • Cyril Ferguson from Aspinall Road, Brockley, London. He had concussion;
  • T. P. Sykes from Rotherham [Lancashire]. He had a broken arm;
  • W. Barlow from Sheffield. He had a broken arm.

Ten more passengers were discharged from hospital with minor injuries.

Just over eleven years later another fatal accident was to occur at Oakley.