27th January 1874

Bo’ness rail crash kills 16 and injures 28

Sixteen were killed and a further 28 injured when two trains collided at Falkirk’s Bo’ness Junction due to incorrect signalling and confusion caused by late-running services.

Signal workers gave permission for a freight train carrying minerals to pull out of the sidings, directly into the path of the Edinburgh to Perth express. Although the signal for the express was set to danger, nothing prevented it from continuing on its path. The fireman on the express, who was fortunate to survive, later said that the driver had only noticed the setting of the signals when it was already too late to stop.

Appalling railway accident

Calling it an “appalling railway accident”, the following day’s Dundee Courier explained that “the collision took place immediately underneath a massive stone bridge, the half of which was carried away. The mineral train was considerably smashed, but the engineman escaped unhurt. The engine of the passenger train was dashed to pieces. The driver was dreadfully cut and scalded and died instantaneously… the first carriage was a third class and was smashed to atoms. It contained a large complement of passengers, and all of them were killed on the spot… one valuable horse was bruised to death and a second was fatally injured and required to be shot.”

Many of the injured were taken to hospital in Edinburgh, but the most seriously hurt couldn’t be moved and were accommodated in local homes.

Clear-up and recovery

Reporting on the immediate clear-up and recovery operation, the Edinburgh Evening News of 28 January described how a temporary morgue had been set up in one of the homes. It continued, “the men came to the engine, on which they found the tender doubled up, and there, held close to the fire box, was the body of Robert Allan, the unfortunate driver of the passenger train. Owing to the position of the tender, it was a little time ere the body could be extricated, and when taken out it was found so scorched and burned as almost to resemble a ghastly skeleton.”

Improvements implemented

If the unfortunate passengers had been travelling on the same train just two weeks later, they would very likely not have been killed. “It may be mentioned that the North British Railway Company are at present introducing the block system on the Edinburgh and Glasgow line, and that at the time of the accident the necessary preparations were being made for its establishment at Bo’ness Junction,” wrote the Evening Mail on 28 January. “Had that system been in operation it is believed that such an accident would not have occurred.”

The block system prevents more than one train from being on specified parts of the track simultaneously.



Other events that occured in January

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