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The last ride for hundreds of soldiers: The worst train crash in the UK

The last ride for hundreds of soldiers: The worst train crash in the UK
photo: War/The last ride for hundreds of soldiers: The worst train crash in the UK
02 / 10 / 2022

A railway accident at Quintinshill, Scotland, in which several trains collided on 22 May 1915, left 227 dead and more than 240 injured. The casualties included mainly soldiers of the Royal Scots Infantry Regiment. It is the most significant railway accident in the UK to date. According to the court, two signallers were to blame for the disaster, as they failed to take sufficient care 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 signalmen. 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 main line. The first collision occurred when a southbound military train traveling from Larbert to Liverpool struck the stationary local. A minute later, a fast train with a sleeping car heading north from London to Glasgow Central hit the wreckage. In addition, gas from the Pintsch lighting system of the old wooden carriages caught fire, so that the blaze soon engulfed all five trains.

Only half of the soldiers survived. The official inquiry calculated 227 casualties, including 215 soldiers, nine passengers, and three railway staff. 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 commemoration is held at Rosebank Cemetery, Edinburgh, where the soldiers were buried together in a mass grave.

The official inquiry, 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 were charged and subsequently convicted of involuntary manslaughter. After their release in 2016, both returned to employment with the railroad company, though not as signalmen.