"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

January 26, 2010

CLAPHAM - 1988

Photo: Press Association
Senior officers from London Fire Brigade (right) inspect recovery effort at scene of 1988 Clapham Junction rail disaster from roof of passenger coach.

On Dec. 12, 1988, firefighters worked to rescue people from a rail disaster near the Clapham Junction station in southwest London. Thirty-five people were killed and another 500 were injured.

The accident involved two collisions between three commuter trains - one of them empty - about half a mile southwest of the station, according to Wikipedia.

''It is sheer, bloody hell,'' said James McMillan, an assistant chief fire officer quoted by The New York Times. The second train ''seemed to dive under the rear of the first, come out on its right-hand side and then go into the empty train,'' he said.

Passenger Chris Reeves, who was seated in a buffet car on one of the trains, said "the roof split open like a ripe tomato, and that's how we got out.''

An inquiry determined "the primary cause was `wiring errors' made by a rail worker who had had one day off in 13 weeks, and that British Rail work practices were to blame," the BBC said. "It made 93 recommendations for safety improvements, including a limit on the hours signalmen were allowed to work."

In a report on the 10th anniversary of the accident, the BBC said: "The trains involved at Clapham were of the old, Mark 1 slam-door variety, which are known to be less able to withstand a crash than more modern carriages."