Furness passengers able to walk away from major rail accident

29 September 2017 5:04PM

FURNESS rail passengers were woken from their slumbers 50 years ago as the carriages of an express train heading for Barrow came off the rails at 80mph.

Half-dressed and dazed sleeper-car travellers from London were led to safety up a grass embankment near Warrington in 1967.

Amazingly, not one of the passengers was killed or badly injured in what could easiy have been a major disaster

The Mail on Friday, September 15, in 1967 noted: "Furness and West Cumberland passengers hung on for their lives when 11 coaches of the London-Barrow express hurtled off the rails at 80mph near Warrington today.

"The coaches bounced and zig-zagged for nearly a quarter of a mile, tearing up the permanent way and completely blocking the main London-Glasgow line.

"Miraculously, only one of the 60 passengers, who included many people from Furness and West Cumberland, was injured.

"He was Rohan Kanhai, the West Indian test cricketer, who was on his way to Blackpool.

"He was taken to Warrington Infirmary with an arm injury. After receiving treatment he was allowed to continue his journey.

"The train was the 11.55pm Euston-Barrow express.

"The derailment occurred at 2.55am at a set of points only half a mile away from the spot wjere the Stranraer express crashed into a line of runaway cement wagons last year, killing the driver and fireman.

"The train had just reached Moore station when the diesel locomotive and the leading coach parted from the rest of the train.

"The last eight coaches jumped the rails, ploughing up sleepers and twisting the metal.

"The first three coaches almost jack-knifed and the train broke in two for a second time.

"The three leading coaches lurched to a halt, keeling over at crazy angles with, in some cases, the compartmments almost torn away from the chassis.

"The rear five coaches leapt across the rails, completely blocking the up and down lines ans narrowly missing a huge water tower alongside the track.

"Windows were shattered, luggage scattered about compartments and doors smashed open.

"The coach wheels turned sleepers into matchwood and debris littered the area.

"A Barrow passenger, Mr Archibald Bissett, of 50 Victoria Road, said he was hurled out of his sleeping-car bed.

"He said: 'At one stage I thought the carriage was bound to topple over and I hung on for dear life'.

"He and other passengers praised the crew of the train.

"One of the sleeper attendants, Mr John McGrath, 46, of 117 Ramsden Street, Barrow, ran nearly three miles to make sure following trains were halted.

"He said: 'I was in the pantry when it began. I simply braced myself, otherwise I should have been thrown all over the place. Afterwards, I got up, made sure all the passengers were safe and told them to leave the train immedately. I worried because I had an idea that a train was just about due from the North. My first thoughts were to get everyone to the top of the embankment'.

"After helping dishevelled passengers, many only partly dressed, up the embankment, Mr McGrath ran back to a signal box. When he arrived he found that the alarm had already been raised.

"The signalman had already flashed a warning to Warrington for other trains to be halted.

"Another passenger, an ex-Glasgow Rangers footballer, Max Rattray, of Askam, said: 'I was in bed asleep when I was awakened by the rending of metal. I thought the end had come. We were off the rails and jolting along at a terrific speed. The train ran to a halt and suddenly it seemed it was all over'.

"Mr Harry Hardy, 48, of Windermere, said: 'I was awakened by a rumbling noise. Then the bedding and the mattress carried me on to the floor of the compartment. It was a pretty terrifying experience'.

"The Reverend C. W. Stromberg, vicar of St Paul's, Preston, said: 'The first thing I can remember is waking up on the floor. But there was no panic. Passengers were soon taken off the train by firemen, railway workers and ambulance staff. They did a first rate job'.

"All emegency services in the area were called out.

"Ambulances raced to the scene from Warrington and Runcorn and fire appliances were sen from Frodsham, Runorn and Bebbington.

"None of the crew was injured. The gaurd of the train was Mr John Greenwood, of Canal Place, Carnforth.

"Chief Insp H. V. Lowe, of Runcorn police, supervised the emergency arrangements.

"He said the derailment occurred less than 100 yards south of Moore station bridge, over which runs the main Warrington-Runcorn road.

"He said: 'Considering the speed at which the train was travelling, it is fantastic that the consequences have not been much more serious. The locomotive and the leading coach carried on for half a mile before it could be halted'.

"A railway official said it appeared that a coupling had snapped.

"Broken glass littered the scene. Police and firemen used floodlights to release the passengers.

"Motor coaches were rushed to the scene to take them to a station at Warrington, where they were housed in a nearby school to await another train to take them on their journey.

"Furness passengers were put on a train which arrived at Barrow just after 8.30am.

"A railway spokesman said they arrived safely and seemed in good spirits.

"West Cumberland passengers were able to catch a special train, arriving at Whitehaven at 10.30am.

"After the crash the main line between Crewe and the North was completely blocked. Breakdown crews were summoned from Warrington, Crewe and Liverpool to clear the track.

"A Midland Region spokesman said all 11 coaches were derailed but the engine stayed on the rails.

"He said: 'All the coaches stayed upright. The tracks are blocked and damaged. Trains from Scotland to Euston are being re-routed. This will mean considerable delay'.

"The spokesman could not say yet why none of the coaches turned over.

"He said: 'The question of how it happened will be the subject of an inquiry. We shall be holding our own within the next few days and this will no doubt be followed by the Ministry of Transport inspecting officer's inquiry. It is too early for us to say how long it wil take to repair the track'.

Overnight trains from Scotland to London, running about two hours late, were re-routed via Chester.

"Most Euston-Glasgow trains would probably be re-routed via Northampton, Market Harborough, Leicester, Skipton and Carlisle, the old Midland route."

A report in The Mail the following day hoped that the track would be back in full operation by monday morning - just three days after such a major accident.

Rohan Kanhai was born on December 26 in 1935 and represented the West Indies in 79 test matches.

From 1968 to 1977 he also played county cricket for Warwickshire, scoring a total of 11,615 runs.

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