Minutes: 9th March 1996 - Mr Stanley Hall: "Safety: The Elusive Quest

Meeting held in the Old Combination Room, St Catharine's College at 20.30 (Easter Term No.1)

29. Minutes

The minutes of the meeting held on 9th March 1996 were approved.

30. Mr Stanley Hall: "Safety: The Elusive Quest"

Mr Hall began with some interesting statistics relating to passenger fatalities in train accidents. The decade between 1900 and 1919 was notable for having three years with no such fatalities. He suggested that the cause may lie in the primitive technology of the time. The driver had to look out for danger, if only out of a sense of self-preservation. Furthermore, signalmen were well-disciplined, as the consequences of dismissal were more severe than they are today.

He then went on to consider some "classic" railway accidents. Telescoping was, in the 1920s, both frequent and feared, as the 1928 Darlington accident exemplified. However, accidents in the 1970s and 1980s often found coaches remaining rigid. Mr Hall suggested that improvements in carriage design were the single biggest saver of lives in this context. The 1983 Paddington derailment and several derailments at Morpeth raised the question of drivers' reactions to speed restrictions. The Colwich accident in 1986 was a result of the driver being insufficiently familiar with the newly-installed approach-release system.

The Clapham crash was particularly severe as the two colliding trains were hemmed in between a retaining wall and a third train. This left the colliding trains with nowhere to go except into each other. The Hidden recommendations which followed this produced, he said, a major change to the safety culture. From then on the railway had to be "not only safe but safer than safe, and... seen to be safer than safe." Ironically, in the late 1970s and early 1980s there had been suggestions, from even the then Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, that BR was too safety-conscious. Mr Hall also considered the problems arising from drivers on the Southern Region continually cancelling AWS warnings at double yellows.

Automatic train protection had been in vogue after Hidden, but it would be very expensive in terms of cost per life expected to be saved. BR eventually persuaded the Health and Safety Executive, who in turn persuaded the Government, that it would not be cost-effective.

"Ding-ding and away" was an old problem that had become potentially more dangerous with the advent of single-lead junctions. This was demonstrated by the accident at Bellgrove. Finally, the crash at Marstang, on the Settle-Carlisle line, showed the difficulty in getting the emergency services to an isolated crash scene in atrocious weather.

Mr Hall then answered several questions. In response to a question about the utility of central door locking, he mentioned the "Tamworth Triangle". This was a stretch of line just the right distance from both Liverpool and Euston for drunks to attempt to reach the toilet but instead open the wrong door. He pointed out that there was an operating benefit from eliminating such incidents - the cost of repairing smashed windows if a passing train were to hit an open door was considerable.

The President then gave a vote of thanks.

31. Announcements

The next event would be the Pub Visit to the Bell at Wendons Ambo, in a week's time. A week after that would be the AGM and Auction of Railwayana.

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