Sutton Coldfield train crash
The Sutton Coldfield train crash took place at about 16:13 on 23 January 1955 in Sutton Coldfield, a town now within the City of Birmingham, when an express passenger train traveling from York to Bristol, England, derailed due to excessive speed on a sharp curve.
Scene of Sutton Coldfield Crash
Headed by a LMS Class 5 4-6-0 steam locomotive No 45274, the 12:15 York to Bristol express, consisting of ten carriages, approached Sutton Coldfield railway station at about 55-60 mph (88-96 km/h) — twice the permitted speed of 30 mph. When it reached the sharp curve immediately before the station, the train derailed, colliding with the platforms.
The carriages, engine, and station buildings were severely damaged. The first carriage was crushed between the engine and the second carriage. The fourth carriage was knocked into the air causing it to drag along the station roof, damaging both the roof and the platforms to either side. Seventeen people, including the train crew, were killed and 25 injured.
The train had been diverted away from its usual route into Birmingham via Tamworth because of engineering work. The regular driver did not know the diversionary route via Sutton Coldfield, so another driver, fully conversant with it, had joined him at Burton-on-Trent to ‘conduct’ him over this section. However, the regular driver, complaining that the rough riding of the engine was tiring him, left the footplate and took a seat in the train, leaving the conductor driver in charge. This action was later criticised by the Inspecting Officer who commented that, even though he did not know the route, the safety of the train was still his responsibility.
The number of casualties was prevented from rising as a result of the actions of two local people who rushed up the railway line to stop a train heading towards the crash site. Two railway employees also raised the alarm to other stations, changed the signals to danger and placed detonators on the tracks to warn oncoming trains. One of the two had been injured and shocked by the accident, and both were awarded with gold watches for their work.
The scene was attended to by a mobile surgical unit from Birmingham Accident Hospital as well as 40 additional ambulances from surrounding districts. R.A.F. servicemen from Whitehouse Common provided aid to the emergency services.
Although the excessive speed was the major factor in the accident, the exact cause was never fully established. The accident occurred in broad daylight and the driver knew the line well. There was no evidence of mechanical failure on the train. The driver and fireman died in the locomotive, so the reason for the excessive speed was never established.