Eccles Station - The 1941 Accident
A genuine local tragedy...
At 8.15 am on 30th December 1941 a train carrying workers from Rochdale to Pennington crashed into another train carrying workers into Manchester. 23 passengers died and 56 were seriously injured. Being wartime, this accident never had much publicity outside the Manchester area, but the retaining wall of the station carried the marks of the trains crashing into it until it was demolished to build the M602 motorway in the early 1970s. The line was noted for fog. There had been several accidents before 1871, when railway companies were first forced by law to investigate accidents.
In 1877, the first such recorded accident at Eccles junction noted that a driver had gone through a red signal in fog and hit the Liverpool/Manchester express. No one was killed, and the driver was fined 1s, as he had been for previous similar accidents he had caused. The investigation took it for granted that train drivers could well have been drinking before they went on shift..... In 1941, thick fog, smoke from factories and wartime blackout would have made it nearly impossible to see at 8.15 on a December morning...
Recollections of the 1941 accident by Mr Cliff Jones M inst TT FRGS, together with a transcription of the Railway Inspector's report and a diagram of the accident, are available on Cliff Jones' website
Signalmen were sent to sit at remote signals to show lamps and set off detonators when a train passed in such conditions. The hours on their rotas to do this job could be very casual. One of the signalmen in this incident was told he could go home at 7am, but the next man was only to come on at 8.30am. To make matters worse, 3 of that morning's relief signalmen had similar names, and the signalman at Eccles signal box confused 2 of them, thinking that all the signals were manned - they were not.
The enquiry into the accident held the Eccles signalman to blame for not realising that a signal was unmanned and not therefore stopping the Pennington train. But they also blamed that train's driver for going too fast and ignoring what signals were given... Being wartime, a large number of the casualties were young women or men too young or old for military service.
The rescue efforts were probably helped by wartime emergency services being on alert - but it still took 5 hours to get all the dead and injured out, and 2 days until the line was open again... Many of the people injured came from across what is now Greater Manchester - from Leigh, Tyldsley, Chadderton and Oldham as well as from Eccles and Monton.
Surgeons and nurses who treated the injured came from Eccles and Patricroft hospital which was closest to the scene, as well as from Hope and Ladywell hospitals. This crash was a genuine accident - caused by fog,wartime staff shortages and genuine human error. Better signalling and more formal work rotas were the recommendations of the enquiry into the crash, but it took several years before these were put into place.
By 1984 when Eccles last train crash occurred, signaling had improved and the 'smogs' of earlier years were a thing of the past. This accident, when a passenger train into Manchester ran into the back of an oil train on a clear day does not have any explanation for why the driver missed a red signal...the only conclusion the enquiry came to was that he was disorientated from switching from night to day shifts - sadly the driver was one of the 3 fatalities of the accident. Afterwards, the warehousing alongside the line was painted white, as it is possible that the red signal could not be clearly seen against the buildings.