28th December 1906

Elliot Junction rail accident kills 22 and injures 24

Two trains collided in a blizzard on the Edinburgh to Aberdeen line, resulting in 22 deaths and 24 injuries. The accident happened at Elliot Junction, close to Arbroath.

The following day’s edition of The Scotsman described the accident as “the most disastrous which had occurred in Forfarshire” and explained that one of the trains, which had left Edinburgh for Aberdeen, had been forced to turn back. It was heavily laden with passengers.

Faulty apparatus

However, continued The Scotsman, not only was there a snowstorm, but “matters, indeed, were in a rather confused state on the system in respect that the telegraphic signalling apparatus was all out of gear.” It was very likely, therefore, that the driver didn’t know that another train was sitting at the platform of Elliot Junction station and, not having seen it because of the blizzard, he drove his own engine right into it. “It crashed into the local train with terrific force, ploughing its way through it like the ram of a battleship. The front portion of the express and the rear part of the standing train were practically wrecked, and the station was from end to end strewn with debris while the shouts of the injured gave indication of the appalling nature of the mishap.”

Fireman pinned tot he ground

The fireman, called Irvine, “was found lying underneath the engine and pinned firmly to the ground,” reported the Leeds Mercury of 31 December 1906. “There was naturally considerable relief when it was found that he was still alive… but still he was prisoner and remained in this awful plight hour after hour.” The accident had occurred at around half past three in the afternoon, but it was not until gone nine at night that professional help arrived from Dundee. “Between eight and nine o’clock [Irvine] lay motionless, but towards the latter hour – to the intense relief of those engaged in the work of rescue, who feared the worst – he asked for water. After undergoing eight hours of suffering he was liberated from his terrible plight, and conveyed to Arbroath Infirmary, where, however, he died of his injuries.”

Driver found guilty

George Gourlay, who had been driving the Edinburgh to Aberdeen train, was tried the following year, and found guilty of culpable homicide. He was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment, but this was later reduced. The Daily Mirror of 1 April 1907 reported that “in a letter to [Labour MP for Stockport] Mr Wardle, the Secretary for Scotland states that, while he is of opinion that the sentence was fully justified on public grounds, he is glad, having regard to the special circumstances, to feel justified in advising a commutation of the sentence.”

According to the same day’s edition of the Dundee Evening Telegraph, “the clemency is based on his past good record. Were it otherwise, and were the view officially taken that the blame was not his, he would have been set free.”

Gourlay had stood trial – and been sentenced – even though the official report into the causes of the accident had still not, by then, been made public.



Other events that occured in December

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