The anniversary of a West Midlands train derailment that killed 17 people has been marked by a plaque unveiled at Sutton Coldfield station at the weekend.
On 23 January 1955, an express train from York to Bristol derailed at Sutton Coldfield.
The accident happened at about 4.15pm as the express service headed into Sutton Coldfield station headed by Class 5 No 45274. The 10-coach train was travelling at about 55-60mph, which was twice the permitted speed of 30mph, when it derailed in the station. The leading carriage was crushed between the locomotive and the second carriage and the fourth carriage, thrown up into the air, severely damaged the station buildings. The locomotive crew and 15 passengers were killed with a further 23 injured.
One factor in the accident was that the train had been diverted away from its usual route via Tamworth and, as a result, the train’s driver did not know the route. A second driver was brought on to the footplate to act as a pilot. The train’s original driver, however, did not remain on the footplate, taking a seat in the train and leaving the pilot in control. The regular driver was criticised for this action in the official report.
As a result of the death of the pilot driver and fireman it was not possible to determine precisely the reasons for the excessive speed although the report highlighted a number of possibilities, including the necessity of catching up lost time, the lack of a speedometer on the locomotive (the report also found there was nothing mechanically wrong with the locomotive or stock), and the rough riding of the locomotive.
After the accident No 45274 was restored to service and was to remain operational for a further decade before being withdrawn in May 1967.