Safety on the London Midland and Scottish Railway - Gateway to the LMS

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Safety on the LMS
By 1923, Britain's railways had improved somewhat on safety from the previous century. Passenger trains now had continuous braking, and communication and signalling had improved drastically from the primitive systems of the Victorian age. However, in 1923 the LMS inherited a signalling system that was heavily reliant on the signalmen and train crews not making mistakes, and this system would contribute heavily towards accidents during the next quarter of a century, and into nationalisation as well.

The issue at question with regard to installing more automated procedures was nearly always the cost involved, and the overall thinking in LMS management was that provided everyone did their jobs properly, no one would get hurt and automation was an unnecessary luxury. The Midland Railway had installed a rotary interlocking block system, but that was about the extent of investment in modern safety systems. Automatic Train Control and Automatic Warning Systems were unheard of, and the lack of these systems could be considered a contributory factor in the Harrow crash of 1952 (the worst peacetime rail disaster in the UK).   The AWS system had been developed by the GWR, so perhaps there was an element of pride involved in not installing it on the LMS.  

As far as signalling went, the LMS used upper quadrant semaphore signalling as a whole, although some colour light signalling was used on the West Coast and Midland main lines, and on the suburban lines to Watford and Tilbury. The one on the Tilbury line was based on a experimental system that indicated speed rather than route, which often meant that there could be four lights on at any signal, and the train crew had to know which one was relevant to them.
Glossary
Continuous Braking
A system where each carriage on a train has its own brakes, operated by either vacuum or air from the engine, the former being more common during the era of the Big 4.

Rotary Interlocking Block
A system whereby a train cannot accepted into a block of line unless the train preceding it has cleared the block.

Upper Quadrant Semaphore
Semaphore Signalling uses a red board on a mast to indicate whether a train can proceed or not. If the board is at 90 degrees to the mast, the train must stop. If it is raised higher (upper quadrant) or lower (lower quadrant), the train may proceed.

If the signal is yellow in colour, this is a distant signal and serves to indicate the position of the next stop signal on the line, a warning to train crews to slow if necessary for that signal.
Major Incidents on the LMS, 1923-1947 (Taken from "LMS 150", page 94)
Date
Location
Type Of Incident
Cause
No. of Deaths
26/4/1924
Euston
Collision
Signaling Error
5
3/11/1924
Lytham
Derailment & Fire
Locomotive Defect
14
19/11/1926
Rawmarsh
Derailment & Collision
Passenger train in collision with derailed freight train
9
13/10/1928
Charfield
Derailment & Collision
Signal passed at "Danger"
17
8/1/1928
Ashchurch
Collision
Signal passed at "Danger"
4
22/03/1931
Leighton Buzzard
Derailment
Excessive Speed
4
17/6/1932
Great Bridgeford
Derailment
Excessive Speed
6
6/9/1934
Port Eglinton Junction
Collision
Signal passed at "Danger"
4
28/9/1934
Winwick Junction
Collision
Collision
9
13/3/1935
Kings Langley
Multiple Collision
Signaling error
11
8/4/1938
Rutherglen
Derailment
Carriage Defect
1
14/10/1940
Wembley
Derailment
Runaway Luggage Trolley
2
14/9/1941
Holmes Chapel
Collision
Signaling error
9
30/12/1941
Eccles
Collision
Signaling irregularities/Signal not observed by train crew
23
30/9/1945
Bourne End
Derailment
Excessive Speed/Distant Signal not acted on
23
1/1/1946
Lichfield
Collision
Track Defect
20
21/7/1947
Polesworth
Derailment
Track Defect due to lack of maintenance
5
The above table shows that most of the major incidents appear to have been caused by some sort of human error; five had their origins partly or wholly due to errors in signalling (mostly block instrumentation being cleared incorrectly) and another five were partially or wholly due to an error made by the train crew. In two incidents, the fact that the carriages were still using gas lighting (a relic of the Victorian age, and not completely eliminated until the 1950's) which started fires contributing to deaths.   Carriages, although improved from the previous century, were still prone to "telescoping" (a situation where one carriage could smash right through another), which could also contribute to casualities.   Automatic Train Control was being developed during this period, but was not heavily invested in outside of the GWR.  

It should also be realised, that during the Second World War, the railways were forced to operate under conditions that were not conducive to safety (e.g. blackout) and these conditions probably contributed to some of the accidents between 1939 and 1947 (bearing in mind that during the war, the railways were stretched to the limit, and maintenance was often deferred if not absolutely essential).   A lot of the maintenence backlog from the war wasn't cleared until the era of British Railways.

The table in "LMS 150" carries on until 1955; I have not gone that far as it is outside the scope of this site.
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