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The Rush Derailment

5 January 1963

 

Aidan Langley CEng MIET MIEI

To those who have read ‘Red for Danger’ by LTC Rolt, you will be familiar with how often a combination of seemingly inconsequential events and circumstances have ended in a catastrophic railway accident with multiple fatalities. Therefore, I was surprised to find that, in 1963, there had been a railway incident at Rush & Lusk station, where I start my commute every morning. Perhaps the most surprising of all is that almost everybody involved walked away from the accident, and very few of the people I stand on the platform with each morning are aware that the incident happened at all. The opening sequence of events are truly reminiscent of many of the unfortunately ending scenarios in Rolt’s body of work.

 CONTEXT

Rush & Lusk station today is a busy commuter station on the Northern main line, serving a population of around 17,000, with some 26 services a day, not counting through trains, both to and from Dublin city. Both Up and Down platforms are situated south of Overbridge OB39 carrying the R128 Rush to Lusk road. The station is on an uninterrupted section of track with no crossovers or sidings between Donabate to the south and Skerries to the north.

By contrast, in 1963 the population was largely agrarian, as a traditional centre of market gardening, with only some 3,000 inhabitants. Rush had its own signal box controlling crossovers to the north and south of the station, and where the car park is now located, there was a siding off the Up line, from which the fresh produce of both Rush and Lusk was sent to the Dublin markets. The Up and Down Platforms were shorter, but both extended north of OB39, as shown in Figure 1, although the station buildings were all in the same location as they are today. The footbridge, however, was added after the incident.

 SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

The 14:15 ex-Belfast train, comprising B160 (locomotive), 3133 steam-heating van, and former GNR(I) coaches N406, N328, N372, N404, N196, N612, had departed Dundalk at 16:15 on Saturday, 5 January 1963. It was 15 running minutes late. As was practice at the time, a CIÉ-owned diesel electric locomotive and a steam-heating van had been coupled to the consist at Dundalk to replace the UTA steam locomotive which had hauled the train from Belfast. After the train had been made up in Dundalk it was checked by Train Examiner Thomas Mullen. This included tapping all the wheels on the left-hand side of the train, but he did not notice anything wrong with the tyres; the brakes were hard on at this time. He did notice a dynamo belt missing off Coach N404 which he made note of. When the train departed Dundalk, there were in fact 4 people on the footplate, two trainee drivers, an Amiens St. Locomotive Inspector, and the regular driver.

As is the case with the Enterprise today, the only stop between Dundalk and Dublin was at Drogheda, and the train made up a minute on the timetable with nothing remarkable happening. The train departed Drogheda at 16:44 and proceeded south nonstop through Laytown, Mosney, Gormanstown and Balbriggan travelling at between 50 and 60mph. Passing through Skerries, the train was travelling at around 60 mph dropping to 50 mph cresting the bank between Skerries and Rush, and as it approached Rush, at about 17:00, was travelling at around 65 mph. From the account of those on the footplate, when, as the locomotive drew level with the Rush & Lusk Stationmaster’s Office, there was a ‘bang’ and the engine ‘lurched’, then the brakes were applied automatically and the locomotive was brought to a halt, after about 700 yards, just beyond OB38 (Rogerstown Lane) south of the station. (See Figure 3).

From the perspective of the station, there were mercifully no other trains due at the time, and no one exposed on the platforms. The signalman, having previously booked on at 16:30, had heard the train approach. The line is in a relatively deep but straight cutting as it approaches the station, and he had heard a ‘rumbling and thudding’ noise, and when he looked down the track saw the train ‘beginning to tilt’, he saw a ‘blue flash’ and the train divide, with sparks coming from the rear of the front portion of the train. The rear portion of the train decelerated more rapidly than the front portion, being derailed and ploughing to a stop after 240 yards, still within the station area.

From the accounts of the witness statements, all the key actors performed their assigned roles correctly. At 17:03, the signalman sent the Obstruction Danger signal to the Malahide and Skerries signalmen, (Donabate being switched out at the time), followed immediately by the Train Divided signal.

The Guard, having being in the rear portion of the divided train, was thrown to the floor of the carriage as it came to rest. He first checked the occupants of the carriage he was in, then alighted onto the Up platform, and, having checked that the rest of the passengers in this portion of the train were uninjured, went to the signal box to check that the scene was protected. A party set out in both directions to lay detonators on the Up and Down lines, whilst calls were made to the Gardaí, rescue workers and platelayers. Having confirmed the site was protected by signals, the guard detrained the passengers in the rear portion onto the Down line as the carriages were tilting so far that alighting onto the Up platform was not practical. From reports there was no panic, a number of passengers offering assistance to others also assembled on the Down platform

The situation with the front portion of the train was similar; the train was largely on the rails, with the exception of the trailing bogie of the rearmost carriage N328. The crew kept the passengers onboard the train initially, moving them from the completely dark carriage N328 to the undamaged N406. This portion was some ¼ mile beyond the station and not within sight of the station or signal box. The Guard arrived at the scene and arranged for the passengers from the front portion to be led back along the line to the station and a cart be sent to carry passenger luggage back to the station.

Given the season and the time of day, it was dark and below freezing; January and February 1963 was one of the coldest two-month periods since records began, with a ‘blocking high’ over Scandinavia. There had been heavy snow during the last week of 1962, although there was no snow on the ground at the time of the incident in Rush. The following week, temperatures dropped to -10°C, although weather was not mentioned in the enquiry report. The mean temperature in the area for the 24 hours of 5 January was 2.5°C (36°F).

CONSEQUENCE OF INCIDENT

As previously mentioned, the front portion of the divided train was largely on the rails. The 2nd carriage (N328) had been torn from its trailing bogie, so that the coach frame was sitting on the rails (see Figure 3), having been dragged for almost a ½ mile, and thus having caused some minor damage to the cross-over at the south end of the station and other infrastructure on the permanent way.  

The rear portion of the divided train had a much more spectacular arrest. The trailing bogie from coach 328 had become entangled in the leading bogie of coach N372 (see Figure 4), derailing it. This resulted in coach N328 striking the Up platform, tearing away the coping stones, and ploughing up the permanent way before coming to rest. The rear two vehicles then struck the displaced coping stones and were also derailed. (See Figure 6).

INVESTIGATION AND ROOT CAUSE

The CIÉ Inquiry found that the derailment was caused by the ‘fracture of the tyre on the left-hand wheel of the leading axle of the trailing bogie on coachN328.’ (See Figure 5 & 6). The wheel was of the tyred type in use at the time. As a result of the tyre break, there was no flange, the wheelset had derailed, to the left in the direction of travel. Witness marks found north of the station were presumed to be the point at which the incident started, and a photograph shows the witness mark of the right hand flange striking the sleepers approaching Rush (see Figure 7). The train may have proceeded unimpeded in this manner, except that the right hand wheel was not captured by the check rail of the cross-over at the north end of the platform, and instead was guided by the trailing point blade towards the platform. The force of the collision with the platform is presumed to have torn the bogie, now fully derailed, from the coach, with the subsequent coaches following as the permanent way was broken up in their path. No reason was offered for the cause of the tyre fracture. The components were sent to the British Transport Research Department in Derby. The result of the metallurgical testing, released the following May, found that there was no pre-existing corrosion, obvious crack initiation point, or other latent defect in the tyre.

Subsequent investigation found the cause to have been a loose ‘Gibson Ring’. The Gibson ring was developed by J Gibson of the GWR, Wolverhampton, who retired in 1864. As Figure 8 below shows, the Gibson ring is a profiled ring. To assemble it the tyre is first heated, then attached to the wheel, and the Gibson ring is inserted. Whilst hot, the inner profile of the tyre is then ‘crimped’ to deform around the ring and secure it. It could be determined at that stage, but the suggestion was that either during the wheel assembly operation or during manufacture, there had been some defect in the ring, which caused it to fail over time. The tyre would then have been no longer fixed, and would have been able to rotate independently of the wheel and move laterally. The fact that the brakes were on when the wheels were ‘rung’ in Dundalk could have obscured the fact that there was a defect, or possibly the failure occurred after leaving Dundalk.

From the description of the incident and the photographs available, it is clear that the incident could have had much more disastrous consequences. Apart from the absence of people in the path of the wreckage, or any other traffic on the line, if the derailment had happened even a mile further south, it could have resulted in a portion of the train ending up submerged in the Rogerstown Estuary between Rush and Donabate or the Broadmeadow Estuary between Donabate and Malahide.

If the Up platform had not been present to guide the derailed coaches, they could have deviated further out of gauge and struck the pillar of the Overbridge OB39, resulting in a much more sudden deceleration of the coaches, and possible harm to passengers.

REACTION TO THE INCIDENT:

The fact that the incident happened on a Saturday evening may have reduced interest, as it didn’t affect weekday traffic. Traffic was restarted with single line working the following evening at 19:00, only 25 hours after the incident, and a normal timetable, albeit with single line working on the Down line only, from 02:15 on the Monday morning. The Up line was opened again the following Sunday, 13 January. As a result, the impact of the incident on the wider community was limited. Reporting of the incident nationally was a single article in the Irish Times, noting that there were delays, and a British Pathé news crew filmed the recovery operation. For the people of Rush, the incident was noteworthy. Speaking to residents of Rush who were around at the time, they vaguely remember it having happened, but the impact was very limited.

CONCLUSION

All the elements were in place in Rush for a truly horrific incident. In many ways the incident was similar to the Eschede Deutsch Bahn ICE incident of 1998:

     The cause was identified as a catastrophic wheel failure,

     The train was travelling at speed, (albeit slower) with carriages outside of gauge,

     There was a crossover which aggravated the derailment,

     The derailment happened just before an overbridge.

In the case of Rush, as mentioned, the key actors performed their duties effectively and per the Rule Book. Signals were sent, protection put in place, and order maintained in what in today’s parlance is the ‘Preservation of Life’ phase of the incident.

As stated earlier in this piece, there was no conclusive root cause identified; however it can be speculated that there was some issue with the Gibson Ring, either a defect on assembly or a manufacturing flaw which caused it to fail. Current practical use of Gibson Rings by heritage railways has demonstrated they can operate effectively even when fitted incorrectly, certainly at the low speed at which most heritage railways run.

The decision to phase out two-part wheels on rolling stock had already been taken when the Rush & Lusk derailment happened, but it can be said that the process of moving towards monobloc wheels was hastened by the incident.

Reviewing the incident and how it unfolded, highlights just how important seemly trivial details are, how the correct following of processes are vital, and how learning the correct lessons from past incidents can help prevent serious incidents from being catastrophic.

SOURCES

CIÉ Report of Enquiry into the cause of Derailment at Rush, 5 January 1963

National Library of Ireland Photo Archive, O’Dea Photograph Collection

Met Éireann Exceptional Weather Events Jan-Feb 1963

Discussion with J.C. Pemberton, Irish Rail (Retired)

Discussion with Gerald Beesley

Casey and Ryan families of Rush, Co Dublin

South Devon Railway Engineering Ltd.

Additional research by Tom Normanly.

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 192, published February 2017

 
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Revised: August 20, 2017 .