Derailment Investigation with R&DD

The author joined the Research Division of BR in 1974 working initially on technical  investigations into freight train derailments. At this time there were still a large number of old 4-wheel wagons (e.g. 16 ton minerals, Vanfits etc) running on BR. We were usually called in by the local Area Manager if the cause of the derailment  was not immediately apparent e.g. a broken axle

We had a car at our disposal loaded with equipment such as a theodolite and staff for track surveys, void meters, cant and gauge sticks, measuring tapes and a Polaroid camera (this was the pre-digital age). We were 'on-call' 24hrs a day and sometimes got a callout in the middle of the night and worked until the job was finished. The on-site work usually included a detailed survey of the track, both alignment and top level followed by a minute examination of the rolling stock. Numerous photos were taken and then the survey was plotted onto several graphs to show the state of the line compared to the ideal. On many occasions following our detailed investigations it became obvious where the cause lay, whether it be track or train.

Click on the picture for a bigger image - photos are the author's unless otherwise indicated

Did we get paid for this?

Here's a nice shot taken on the evening of 23rd July 1974 at the site of a freight train derailment on the line between Bicester and Bletchley near Verney Junction. The technicians are examining the track in front of the site of the derailment looking for tell tale signs. Meanwhile the midden in the background is smoking well, someone is floating on high in a hot air balloon and we're all looking forward to a pint afterwards in the Verney Arms Hotel nearby. 

Nice Western

Next morning a stone train passes the derailment site whilst engineers are investigating the causes of the derailment. Note the measuring devices beneath the rail. These were known as voidmeters and were placed there to record the deflection of the rails as the train passed. The line is now singled and 'mothballed'.

Bullhead with concrete sleepers

A view further along the line towards Bicester shows the poor state of the track on this railway in 1974 (Note the misalignments in the rails). Often trains ran for miles with wagons derailed until some track feature was encountered where everything came off. In the background is the original Verney Junction station building.

Author's collection

Poor top level

Another view of the line showing the misalignment of the track 'top' at this location.

Author's collection


A class 47-hauled train of SPV's causes interest from the engineers as it passes the site of the derailment at Verney Junction.

Stone tipplers

An empty stone train en route for the Western Region heads for Oxford past the site of the derailment at Verney Junction.

Flange marks on railhead - Ferryhill

In this picture stones have been used to mark the route of the derailed wheel as it crossed the railhead - this particular site was near Ferryhill, Co Durham and shows two flange marks 

Author's collection

tyre profile machine

This device was developed by R&DD for use in the investigation of derailments.

Called a tyre profile machine it had a probe which was traced across the wheel tread and drew its profile on a piece of translucent (and waterproof) paper. Each wheel was copied and these were later compared in the office to the correct new profile with sometimes unexpected results.

It was also used to measure the profile of the rail head which was also compared with the ideal new profile.

Author's collection

Class 47

6M57 passes the site of another derailment near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire sometime in 1975. Note the voidmeters under the rails. These had a movable arm which was set against underside of the rail when the device was in position between the sleepers. When a train passed the loaded rail moved downwards displacing the arm which remained in its new position. The deflection could be then read off a fixed scale - when plotted this was known as 'loaded rail top'.

Mickle Trafford

This example is from Mickle Trafford, Cheshire where a train of Vanfits had come to grief - the clipboard marks the point of flange climb

Author's collection

Some of the more interesting call outs however were to passenger train derailments.

At about 10.30 pm on the evening of 23rd January 1975 there was a derailment followed by a collision at Bushey, near Watford on the WCML, which resulted in one of the Class 86 locomotives involved finishing up at the bottom of a 50ft high embankment.

The cause was eventually found to be due to a couple of large steel pallets used for carrying Ford gearboxes from Dagenham to Halewood falling from a passing freight train and landing in the Up line. These were struck by a double-headed 12 coach southbound train, which had a class 83 loco piloting a class 86. The loco was derailed to the six foot side foul of the Down line and was struck a glancing blow by another Class 86 loco heading a night sleeper from Euston. The collision resulted in the northbound loco and first vehicle (a BG) being deflected down the embankment. Fortunately there were no passenger fatalities although the driver of the southbound train was killed.

Recovery of the locomotive took a long time and featured in the contemporary Modern Railways magazine of June 1975. Several of the sleeping cars were pushed down the bank to clear the line and were cut up on site. The site where the locomotive and BG ended up is now built upon.

Click on the picture for a bigger image


On 24th January the derailed southbound pilot locomotive 83003 stands where it was struck by the northbound loco.

Author's collection


The southbound train loco 86204 with its train stands on the Up line having been removed from the site.

Interestingly this loco was the first one the be fitted with Flexicoil suspension as E3173 was and used in the high speed tests on WCML in 1970-71

Author's collection


The northbound loco (86209) and a BG pictured where they ended up after the collision.

Author's collection

A few days later The scene a few days later  -  the loco and BG await recovery

M C Barker

Recovery The cranes prepare to lift the locomotive less bogies onto a low loader - the site was very difficult to get to and a special military-style metal roadway had to be laid to gain access

BR official

Nearly there! 86209 is finally lowered onto the low loader

BR official

Another investigation on August 7th 1975 took us to Elsecar Junction on the Manchester, Sheffield, Wath line. Here a class 76-hauled freight train had derailed on damaged pointwork but detective work revealed that a previous train 6M46 Wath to Fiddlers Ferry MGR's had also derailed, damaged the points then re-railed itself and carried on. After the on-site investigation I remember travelling across the Pennines to Dinting where we caught up with the culprit and proved the case by photographing the damaged wheelsets. The cause was revealed to be a combination of severely worn wheel flanges (for which MGR's were notorious) combined with a damaged switch on the pointwork. Here are a few pictures of the old MSW in August 1975.

Elsecar Jcn 8-8-75

76057 runs light engine into the yard at Elsecar. Note the semaphore signals next to the overhead line. These were pneumatically operated.

Elsecar Jcn 8-8-75

The class 76 loco is later pictured hauling a coal train out of the yard at Elsecar Jcn 

Off to the scrapyard?

An 08 shunter hauls four dead class 76 electric locos - probably to the scrapyard.

During my three year's involvement with derailment investigations I attended no less than 42 incidents. Here is a list with details of the stock where remembered.

Date Location Stock Comments
23/4/74 Meopham SR 15ft wheelbase tankers Empty tanks 'bounced off'
24/4/74 Great Bridgeford LMR 16T mineral wagons Badly loaded
23/5/74 Verney Junction LMR 16T mineral wagons Track irregularity
28/5/74 Althorp Park LMR   Northampton loop
29/5/74 Gloucester Central WR    
6/6/74 Stoke LMR    
14/6/74 Renishaw Park ER    
29/7/74 Dalston LMR    
3/9/74 Rainham SR    
2/10/74 Halling SR 16T mineral wagons  
14/10/74 Lincoln Pelham Street ER    
1/11/74 Crewe Gresty Lane LMR    
9/12/74 Northorpe (Lincs) ER    
14/1/75 Crewe Basford Hall LMR 100T tanker Damaged pointwork
23/1/75 Watford Jcn (Bushey) LMR Passenger trains Derailed on obstruction +
25/2/75 Polesworth LMR Hyfit open  
27/2/75 Doleham Halt SR 16T mineral wagons  
6/3/75 Blackhall Rocks ER    
19/3/75 Blackmoor Crossing ER    
10/4/75 Doncaster Bridge Junction ER    
21/4/75 Waterloo & City Line ECS Worn point rails- incorrect tyre profiles
29/4/75 Lissingley ER    
9/6/75 Merstham Tunnel SR    
18/6/75 Hathersage LMR Presflo  
8/7/75 Norton Bavant SR 15ft wheelbase tankers Empty tanks 'bounced off' through pitching
21/7/75 Oakenshaw/Royston Junction ER 16T mineral wagons  
7/8/75 Elsecar Junction ER MGR hoppers Worn flanges/damaged pointwork
19/8/75 Hassocks SR CCT  
10/9/75 Wadsley Bridge ER    
31/10/75 Temple Mills Yard ER    
9/12/75 Bishop Middleham (Ferryhill) Hydrochloric Acid tanker Derailed due to track defects *
9/1/76 Mickle Trafford LMR 10ft WB Vanfit Rolled off due to track defects
12/2/76 Ryhope Grange ER    
16/2/76 Hunslet Oil terminal ER 4 wheel oil tanker  
10/3/76 Gateshead KE Bridge ER    
25/3/76 Helm Tunnel LMR    
7/4/76 Salfords Oil terminal SR 100T tankers  
8/4/76 Linslade Tunnel LMR    
13/5/76 Newton Aycliffe ER    
29/6/76 Wolverton LMR    
13/7/76 Shap Summit LMR 45t tanker  
1/77 Kegworth LMR    

+ See here for the MOT Accident Report - look at Appendix A of the official statement by Mike McLoughlin for my name!
* See here for the MOT Accident Report

More pictures and info will be added as time permits


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