What really happened at Clapham

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Gift of life put on ice – surgeon preserves transplant organs

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I was going to write about the Clapham rail disaster last Saturday, but thought I would wait and see if the error made in nearly every report of the crash had been sorted. Apparently not.

I was based at Woking at the time and was on the scene of the crash the following day with an equipment train, renewing the tracks.

Four of the crew involved were colleagues of mine while the guard and driver on the up Bournemouth (Bomo) were known to me.

In every report it stated that, like the Harrow and Wealdstone crash some 34 years previously, two trains crashed and another ‘piled’ into the wreckage.

What actually occurred on that fateful day 25 years ago last week was that the driver of the Basingstoke (Basing) train stopped at the Clapham home signal to report a previous signal had flashed back in front of him.

While on the phone to the signalman his train moved forward some feet. He guessed what had happened.

The following train, the late-running one from Bournemouth, crashed into the rear of his.

At that precise moment a set of empty coaching stock (ECS) was passing on its way to Wimbledon Park Depot and the front car of the Bomo and the rear of the Basing ricocheted into the third and fourth cars.

The force of the collision caused the front car to become uncoupled from the rest of the train and continue a few yards where it came to a halt as the brake pipe had burst.

If the ECS had crashed into the wreckage of the crash, as most reports say, then the guard and driver would have been severely injured at least and the front car would not be standing some yards ahead of the crash as can be seen in photographs of the incident.

This collision may have saved the day a little, although 35 people died. If the ECS were not passing, the two up trains would have spread out across the Down Main and Up and Down local lines causing more chaos.

Luckily for the guard on the ECS he was travelling with the driver as was the custom of the time. If he had been sitting in his brake he would no doubt have been killed or seriously injured as this carriage was wrecked.

What is rarely mentioned is that the Bomo was late as yobs put a cement mixer on the line near Bournemouth the previous evening and it could not be moved until the early hours of the morning. That is why the Bomo was running late.

Another incident rarely mentioned is that the passengers in the undamaged rear four-car set opened the doors of the train, jumped down and walked up the bank to the road.