Runaway tube trains #2

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In the first part of this we looked at runaway trains on the Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. This second part looks at those lines which one would assume did not have runaway trains of any sort. These are the Victoria, Waterloo & City and Island Lines. The latter two are is included even though they were not part of the tube system. The W&C was under BR control in older days whilst the Island Line is famous for its tube trains – and it too had a runaway train! There’s also a brief on two other incidents including the Metropolitan and Moorgate 1975.

Victoria Line

One would think the Victoria Line would be impervious to runaway incidents. But these two particular cases prove otherwise. What is amazing is both incidents occurred in the same year and both involved Victoria Line trains proceeding without their train operators in the cab.

The first occurred in April 1990. The train in question formed a southbound service. Talk about passports to Pimlico – this was one unofficial one!

Our first automated runaway train in question stood at Victoria station waiting to depart. Its ‘driver’ (actually the train operator) left the cab to check a malfunctioning door. The golden rule for staff on tube trains is one must never leave their driving cab unless certain procedures are followed to ensure the train is incapable of moving of its own will. Clearly this one guy forgot it!

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Victoria station.

As the operator walked down the platform to inspect the doors, these suddenly closed and the train took it as the all clear to depart.

The issue here in regards to this particular situation was how did the train depart of its own accord? If the operator was not in the cab how did the two buttons to start the journey get pressed?

I can only think the operator had in fact already pressed these two buttons, before realising he had a set of troublesome doors. Indeed the train had been given the signal to depart. Those troublesome doors simply held that fortuitous departure off.

The train’s journey to Pimlico was entirely without incident. Upon the train’s safe arrival at Pimlico, passengers had to wait on board for some time until an inspector was able to arrive, enter the cab and operate the train doors. They were allowed to alight and the train then taken out of service for investigation.

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Pimlico station.

I assume the train operator was suspended and an inquiry swung into operation to find out what had happened and how to ensure no repeat incident occurred.

Self driving trains are obviously one way to ensure no problems arise. Yet this case clearly demonstrated one way an automated tube train could proceed without anyone in charge. Its most fortunate the train did what it always has done, which was to run in full automatic mode without the need for intervention and that alone ensured the full safety of its passengers.

Even having train operators still does not ensure everything goes smoothly. A train operator on a Victoria Line train bound for Brixton inadvertently opened all the train’s doors whilst it was still running in the tunnels as this report shows.

There have also been other incidents where trains have moved on their own accord due to a breach of operating procedure, and in two of these the train operators were almost killed by their own trains.

Here’s one of those very incidents where the driver was almost killed by his own train and this also happened in 1990.

I am not sure of the exact date however it was about mid October 1990. A northbound train had been held at signals south of Seven Sisters for some considerable time. Wondering what was happening the train’s operator decided to leave his cab and walk to a trackside phone to find out what was happening ahead.

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Seven Sisters.

As he reached the phone the line signals changed to green the automated nature of the line meant his own train started moving again. The train operator realised to his horror what was happening and began running towards Seven Sisters station.

No chance! The train accelerated as it would and the poor train operator realised he was about to be mown down by his own train. In desperation he jumped on to the tiny ledge (called the acoustic shelf) that runs along the Victoria Line’s tunnels and lay hard against it as the train sped past with barely inches to spare.

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A rare picture I found showing the Victoria Line’s acoustic shelf to good effect! Source: Twitter

As if that wasnt bad enough the next train came along and the poor guy had to squeeze against the ledge once again as this second train approached. However in the brief moments before it had passed the train operator had managed to wave and the operator of the second train spotted him. He applied the emergency brakes, stopping just in time.

All the time this was happening the first train stood in Seven Sisters with station staff puzzled as to how a Victoria Line train could have arrived without anyone in charge! Surely there had been someone in the cab when it left Finsbury Park!

An Underground spokesman said of the incident: “A lot of questions have to be answered. The passengers were in no danger whatsoever. But the driver  could have been killed. He’s a very lucky man. The train passed less than a  foot away from him. It would have been very frightening.”

Its clear the train operator flouted one of the procedures regarding automatic train operation – and that was to ensure his train was put into manual before leaving the cab. He should have put the selector switch on the train’s operating console to manual before leaving the cab.

The train operator was naturally suspended pending an inquiry.

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The train selector on the 1967 tube stock. First position (top) is automatic mode. Second is normal (manual.) Third is neutral. Fourth is reverse.

One result of these two incidents was a ‘M-door interlock’ which was added to all 1967 tube stock. This provided for the instance should the train operator need to leave his cab, but in the event did not switch the train out of Auto, upon opening the door the interlock would come into play and disable the train. If this happened the operator was then required to close the cab door and if the train was in a station to switch the Auto selector out and then back in to regain automatic train operation. If the train was in a tunnel the only option was to close the door and then drive the train manually to the next station at which the first procedure could then be enacted to regain automatic train operation.

NOTE: Further information has come to light re the Seven Sisters incident. In a talk given to the Friends of the LT Museum on 25th February 2019, John Self, a long serving General Line Manger for the Victoria Line, explained the train cabin communications system was faulty in the Seven Sisters area and drivers were being requested to use the lineside telephones on the approach to the station in the event of problems. However this particular driver, instead of using his train (in manual mode) to draw up the short distance to the lineside telephone where he could then reach the phone from his cabin, he decided to walk it – which was a big mistake.

Secondly, upon the train (now without a train operator of course) arriving at Seven Sisters, a crew swap over was due. The replacement train operator was slightly late in arriving on the platform so did not see the train in question arrive. When he arrived at the cab it was assumed the other guy had taken off quite quickly thus the new train operator simply took the train on to Walthamstow oblivious of what had happened.

Waterloo and City Line

Even the diminutive Waterloo and City line has had a runaway train episode – of sorts!

During the making of the David Hemmings film ‘Fragment Of Fear’ on location at the Waterloo and City’s Bank station, the train in question failed to stop at the station and crashed into the buffers. The date was 2nd August 1969 and a it was Saturday.

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Bank station

The incident clearly took place in the afternoon after the end of services, this being the era when the Waterloo & City did not run weekend service after noon on that day.

David Hemmings, Gayle Hunnicutt, and 10 extras were injured in the accident, thankfully none of these were serious. All twelve were taken to hospital for treatment.

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There seems to be no record as to why the train failed to stop at the buffers. Its quite possible something like studio lighting may have caused the driver to be dazzled and perhaps misjudge distances.

British Rail, the then line owners, promised a full inquiry would be held into the accident. Since this was a private hire incident it may be that the accident did not warrant sufficient concern to be held in public thus there isn’t a report available.

Island Line

Island Line? No way! They would never have had runaway trains!

There was one in fact. The line is notable for its use of ex tube stock. At least one incident is on record – involving one of their tube trains – and it had the potential to become a major rail disaster. It was fortunate the train’s passengers themselves brought their train to a stop thus preventing a calamity.

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001 at Ryde Pier Head in its first days of operation on the Island Line.

The incident occurred on 12 January 1991 and involved a train of 1938 tube stock resting at Shanklin station on the Isle of Wight. As some of you will know, the line from a point south of Brading, all the way to Shanklin, has an almost continuous climb. And that is how the Island Line got to have its own runaway tube train….

The train crew in question were taking a staff break in the station at Shanklin totally unaware of what was about to happen.

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Class 483 unit 003 at Shanklin on 24 November 1989. 003 was scrapped in April 2000.

This was deepest winter and it was presumably up to the passengers themselves to operate the doors thus I assume most were closed.

What happened next is almost totally a fluke and it was fortunate no major disaster occurred. The line has a near continuous gradient falling all the way to Morton Common between Sandown and Brading, a distance of approximately two and half miles.

It seems the train made a slightly earlier than usual departure and at first no-one thought much of it. But they soon realised something was wrong – the guard who should have been at his usual position in the passenger carriage was nowhere to be seen. To the passengers’ horror that could only mean one thing. The train had no driver!

The passengers’ fears were founded for instead of their train beginning to slow for the Lake station stop, as it approached the accommodation crossing at Lake Cliff Gardens, it continued picking up speed. By then the passengers realised they had the train pretty much to themselves – and no way of stopping it!

There is no record of why the train left Shanklin of its own accord. Was it faulty brakes, or rather that these had been too lightly applied? Anyway the gradient out of Shanklin station is sufficiently steep enough to make a train move of its own accord if its not sufficiently braked.

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Class 486 031 at Lake Cliff Gardens crossing. 031 was the only three car formation on the line. 5 May 1989.

Anyhow the train sped towards Lake station and its passengers were by now in a great state of agitation. Those in the front carriage began frantic attempts to break into the cab and stop the train.

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Lake Hill bridge with a 486 passing across the main road to Shanklin.

Fortunately by the time the train reached the bridge over the main road at Lake Hill – a couple of passengers managed to force the cab door open and one applied the emergency handbrake. The runaway train was finally brought to a stop at the top of Los Altos park.

This was very fortunate indeed. The train had freewheeled for just over a mile and a half. It could have been worse had it continued straight through Sandown station before derailing at the exit points. If that had not happened it could have easily continued towards a head on collision with a southbound service on the next single track section.

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003 at Sandown on a northbound trip to Ryde.

There seems to be absolutely no record of any public inquiry to investigate why the train managed to take off in this way. It seemed a serious enough incident to warrant an inquiry, yet the incident received scant attention. There’s nothing in the national news. The local island news archives have nothing as those in the British Library were checked. It was just a couple of railway magazines who wrote up reports on the incident.

Metropolitan /Northern City Line

The following two cases are cases of runaway trains on the tube system, however a considerable loss of life was incurred in these incidents. A whole post could be written on these however let’s just take a brief look at these particular cases.

Metropolitan Line May 1990. During engineering works a track tampering machine’s bolster wagon was not stabled properly at Chorleywood. As a result it ran downhill in the direction of Rickmansworth towards a tampering machine that was levelling the railway tracks. The huge speed at which the wagon was travelling caused a dreadful collision that killed four workmen at the location in question.

One aspect of this particular incident is that both sides thought the blame lay with the other. These were London Underground and Clark Rail Limited. The issue revolved around exactly who was responsible for ensuring a rail anchor was securely fixed to the wagon that ultimately spun out of control killing the four workmen.

Clark Rail Limited insisted it was the negligence of a London Underground worker that left the wagon unsecured. London Underground in turn accused Clark Rail Limited of failing to undertake the duty of anchoring the wagon.

The public investigation itself placed blame towards both sides, although London Underground was slated very severely for having failed “to ensure adequate training, to allocate and document individual tasks and responsibilities, to prepare and monitor safe working practices and to provide equipment to ensure the safety of their employees and others.”

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Diagram showing the events that occurred at Chorleywood in May 1990.

The family of one of the men killed in the Northwood crash accepted a £150,000 compensation payout from London Undergroud in 1998.

Chorleywood Accident Report (published 1992)

Northern City Line

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Moorgate’s platform 9 – scene of the 1975 disaster.

Moorgate 1975. Many of you will know what this one was about. Despite the awful nature of the incident it was without doubt was a runaway train. There’s a lot of mystery still and the facts will never be fully known. The investigations were thorough and every single detail painstakingly examined right down to the dead bodies when these could finally be recovered from the compressed wreckage.

Even the front carriage that was crushed to about a third of its original length was examined in great detail and as much information obtained as possible about the state of the train and its controls as the disaster occurred and the actual postion of the driver and his hands in relation to the controls were also examined in detail for any possible clue that could have told the inquiry why the train sped towards a dead end in the tunnel – and exactly why its driver did nothing to stop it.

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Despite having a lot of detailed information and reports at hand, the inquiry was unable to reach a conclusion as to why the driver had failed to stop his train.

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Having read the full report and the numerous news articles including witnesses statements I personally do think the driver simply had a seizure. I used to have these and could quite clearly see everything around me without having any sort of control over my body or mind.

A serious seizure of some kind (which we shall never have any sort of knowledge about) glued the driver to his driving position and although he was able to see what was happening as his train hurtled through the station (this explains the driver’s fixed hard stare straight ahead which several people on the platform at Moorgate noticed) his body/brain just wasn’t able to function in order to apply the train’s brakes. Thus it crashed into the end of the tunnel at a speed of about 45 mph.

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End of the tunnel at Moorgate. There was a sand drag here but it did not stop the runaway train.

There’s a lot on the Internet regarding the disaster and the accident investigation report is available for anyone to read. More than forty years after the crash, people still speculate on what might have gone wrong.

This post by the National Archives is of great interest and the comments that follow include those from people who had actually happened to be on the train that so disastrously crashed.

Part one of Runaway Tube Trains.

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