10 of Scotland’s worst ever rail distasters

Scotland has had its fair share of train related tragedy over the years.

These are ten of the worst rail disasters in the history of Caledonian train travel.

1. Inverythan, 1882

As the four o’clock train carrying five loaded wagons and four carriages from Macduff to Inveramsay crossed a single track underbridge on 27 November, a faulty girder gave way causing the bridge to collapse. The engine made it across the bridge but the rest of the train slid onto the road below, killing four people and injuring 14 others – four of whom died later in hospital.

2. Winchburgh, 1872

A mile and a half northwest of Winchburgh, in West Lothian, the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway passes through a cutting on a curve. On Monday 13 October only one line was in use when two trains met head-on. A total of 15 people were killed and a further 35 injured, although had the drivers not seen each other and slowed the trains down the number of fatalities would have been significantly higher.

3. Bo’ness Junction, 1874

On 27 January two East Coast express trains were due at the junction – which lies between Falkirk and Linlithgow – five minutes apart. Both trains were running 8 minutes late. When the first passed through staff believed it was the second and shunted a goods train onto the line, which collided with the second train, killing 16 and injuring 28. A system to prevent more than one train from occupying a section of route at the same time was due to be switched on ten days later.

4. Elliot Junction, 1906

This accident happened on 28 December between the stations of Arbroath and Carnoustie, when a North British Railway train hit a stationary train at Elliot Junction station, killing 22 passengers. Three factors led to the tragedy: fi rst, a blizzard; secondly there was a problem with the signalling equipment; but the subsequent inquiry blamed the driver of the moving train, who had been drunk and ‘failed to heed instructions to drive with caution’.

5. Glasgow St Enoch, 1903

The St Enoch rail accident was one of the worst buffer stop collisions in British railway history. Collisions with buffer stops normally happen at a very low speed but on 27 July a train arriving at St Enoch station failed to stop and hit the buffer at around 20mph – the inexperienced driver did not realise the platform was shorter than the others – completely telescoping the two coaches, killing 16 and injuring 27 more.

6. Tay Bridge, 1879

On 28 December during a violent storm the Tay Bridge collapsed as a train passed over it on its way from Wormit to Dundee. There were no survivors: the bodies of only 60 of the suspected 75 passengers were recovered. The subsequent inquiry found that ‘the fall of the bridge was occasioned by the insuffi ciency of the cross-bracings and fastenings to sustain the force of the gale’. Concerns had been raised before about the bridge’s stability and of the excessive speeds at which the bridge was being crossed by trains.

7. Quintinshill, 1915

The UK’s worst ever rail crash occurred on 22 May near Gretna at a signal box on part of what is now the West Coast Main Line. A troop train hit a local passenger train that had been shunted on to the main line, followed a couple of minutes later by an express train to Glasgow. Rescue efforts were hampered by a huge fire that engulfed all three trains and the final death toll was 226 with 246 injured. The accident report blamed two signalmen, and both were tried and convicted of culpable homicide.

8. Kirtlebridge Station, 1872

This accident – which left eleven passengers and one engineman dead – occurred at Kirtlebridge Station in Dumfries and Galloway at 9pm on 2 October. The Scotch Express from London Euston was running almost two hours late, a fact that the Kirtlebridge stationmaster forgot as he diverted wagons onto the track. It was a fatal error: the express hit the wagons at 40mph.

9. Castlecary, 1937

Britain’s worst snow-related rail disaster occurred in a white-out at 6pm on 10 December. A signalman error led the Edinburgh to Glasgow commuter express to hit the back of a train standing in Castlecary Station near Cumbernauld at 70mph, disintegrating four carriages, killing 35 and leaving 179 seriously injured. One of the missing passengers was an eight-year-old girl, whose ghost was seen by locals for years afterwards.

10. Ratho, 1917

On 3 January, a train from Dalmeny had been signalled to stop whilst the Edinburgh to Glasgow express passed through. However, the signalman failed to inform the driver that there was no fixed signal to hold him and as the engine began to move towards the main line the stormy conditions meant that the driver failed to hear the signalman’s desperate whistling. The engine collided with the express, telescoping the first coach and derailing the second, leaving 12 dead and 46 injured.