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The biggest rail accidents: The tragedy at Quintinshill

The biggest rail accidents: The tragedy at Quintinshill
photo: tragedy at Quintinshill
21 / 11 / 2021

The railway disaster at Quintinshill, Scotland, in which several trains crashed on 22 May 1915, left 227 dead and more than 240 injured. The losses included mainly soldiers of the Royal Scots Infantry Regiment. It is the most notable railway accident in the UK to date. According to the court, two signallers were to blame for the disaster, as they failed to take adequate responsibility in their duties.

The accident occurred on the morning of 22 May 1915 when a fully manned military train collided with a local on the Glasgow to Carlisle line. The collision was caused by errors made by the railway signallers. The Quintinshill signal-controlled two passing loops, one on each side of the double-track Caledonian Main Line. At the time of the accident, both passing loops were occupied by freight trains, and a northbound local was on the southern mainline. The first collision occurred when a southbound military train traveling from Larbert to Liverpool struck the fixed local train. A minute later, a fast train with a sleeping unit heading north from London to Glasgow Central hit the debris. In addition, gas from the Pintsch illumination system of the old wooden carriages caught on fire so that the blaze soon engulfed all five trains in flames.

Only half of the soldiers survived. The official inquiry calculated 227 victims, including 215 soldiers, nine passengers, and three railway staff members. However, the exact number cannot be determined with certainty, as some of the bodies were completely consumed by the fire, which also destroyed the regimental list, making it impossible to say with certainty the exact number of crew members. An annual remembrance is held at Rosebank Cemetery in Edinburgh, where the soldiers were buried together in a mass grave.

The official analysis, completed on 17 June 1915 for the Board of Trade, identifies two railway signalmen as the culprits, having disregarded the rules by allowing a military train to pass. For their misconduct, both rail staff members were charged and subsequently convicted of involuntary manslaughter. After their release in 2016, both returned to employment with the railroad company, though not as signallers.