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Clapham Junction Rail Crash Accident

Updated on January 31, 2012

On 12 December 1988, one of the worst train accidents in UK happened at about eight in the morning. The accident involving three commuter trains over the course of two related incidents happened during the morning rush hour traffic. Happening just half a mile out of Clapham Junction Railway Station, the Crash claimed thirty five lives, over five hundred injuries and carnage at the scene of the crash. Coincidentally, quite unfortunately, Clapham Junction on the day of the rail disaster was Europe’s busiest railway junction and the two commuter trains that collided in the first incident carried over 1300 commuters between them.

Clapham Junction Rail Crash

Clapham Junction Rail Crash Scene
Clapham Junction Rail Crash Scene

The incident happened early in the morning when the driver of the first ill-fated commuter train on route to Waterloo stopped his train when he noticed the signal switch from green to red. After stopping and reporting the signal back to Clapham Junction, he was given the ‘go ahead’ to proceed. Just as the driver was moving off, his commuter train was hit by another commuter train from behind, who was given ‘false proceed’ signals, causing monumental destruction. The scene was out of a disaster-flick movie. Train coaches were derailed, some were flipped over, bodies were thrown halfway across coaches, some out onto the track upon impact, strewn lying on the ground, some dead, others barely alive.

Trains at clapham junction

Some of the survivors of the first collision were unlucky as another collision occurred, a third empty commuter train was given ‘false proceed’ signals again and crashed, side-on into the second train, causing further damage and even more mayhem. The wreckage caused by the second collision killed some passengers, who had survived the first collision. A fourth train was also given clear signals to proceed despite the two collisions that had occurred but the driver of the train managed to stop the train less than a hundred yards from the collision site, saving more mayhem from occurring.

Emergency rescue were called upon immediately. Students from Emanuel School, which was adjacent to the crash, were the first to arrive on scene, helping the scores of people who were injured and tending to them, their efforts saved plenty of lives that were on board two of the trains and were commended by then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Fire crews had to use heavy machinery to cut through tangled mass of metal as plenty of passengers were still trapped beneath the wreckage. Within minutes, witnesses had formed at the accident site but were unable to help the passengers since they were trapped and were beyond physical reach.

Within hours of the accident, British Rail announced that after initial investigation, it was found that the crash was caused by faulty wiring and signaling failures. Upon further investigation, the accident was blamed by senior British Rail management who placed the responsibility of wiring work by poorly supervised, low-paying middle-level technical staff who were severely overworked and left an old wire during a rewiring work that caused glitches in the signal relay.

The accident on 12 December 1988 could have been easily avoided if proper safety techniques were on-hand and acknowledged during the rewiring work but due to a simple fact of mismanagement, December 12 is now remembered as the day one of the worst rail crashes in history occurred.


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