Fifty years ago I was at Highbridge to catch the 9.45am to Evercreech Junction. The line would close to passengers the following March along with the rest of the Somerset & Dorset line. When is a door not a door ? Answer, when its ajar. Schoolboy humour; but railway carriage doors have always caused problems when they are not closed properly. Indeed the gap between double track railways was originally designed to allow two trains to pass safely even if a door was swinging open on one of the trains. I have only experienced a swinging door once in more than 60 years of rail travel.
When Keith wrote the caption to the attached pictures for the website he wrote “Staff wander up the platform checking on the doors” This was very prophetic, because he did not know, and I had forgotten what happened en-route to Evercreech Junction that day. The pictures were taken on 16 October 1965. Fifty years ago on BR almost all carriage doors had slam locks which relied on the last passenger getting on or off to close the door properly. The guard would look along the train checking that each and every door handle was horizontal before blowing his whistle and giving right away. In 2015 most carriage doors on british railways have doors that are closed by the train manager. The major exception are the Mark 3 coaches used on the HSTs still used on East Coast, Cross Country and First Great Western trains. These are the only carriages left with slam locks, apart from those on heritage railways and charter trains. On HSTs the train manager still has to check that the door handles are horizontal before locking them shut from his control panel at the end of any coach. Station staff also had a duty to watch a train leave a station safely; and 50 years ago the driver was also supposed to look back down the train to see that everything was in order. Despite all these checks trains still departed stations with doors swinging open !
On that trip from Highbridge to Evercreech Junction 50 years ago behind 41283 the train consisted of 2 coaches and 2 parcels vans. It left Highbridge Station quite normally on time; stopped at Bason Bridge one and a half miles down the line where there was a milk depot, parcels were loaded in the parcel van, but someone failed to close the door of the parcel van properly. A further couple of miles down the line to Evercreech Junction the train was stopped in the middle of the countryside at a signal controlled by a level crossing keeper. There was a door swinging on one of the parcels van at the rear of the train. The door was promptly closed and we were on our way. Now if incidences of swinging doors were rare, photos of carriage doors swinging are even rarer. I can remember one incident some 20-25 years ago where an HST was photographed leaving Fishguard Harbour Station with a door swinging at the rear of the train on the opposite side of the train to the platform. This was in the days before central locking.
Incidences of problems with carriage doors should not happen in 2015 with power-operated doors and central locking, but they do still occur. In fact there were 2 instances of door problems in the south-west of England in the first 4 months of 2015. The second one happened at Camborne Station in April. A schoolgirl returning west at the end of the academic day attempted to open the door of a Paddington to Penzance HST before the train had come to a stop. This was impossible of course because until the train was stationary the train manager would not have used the central locking to release the door locks. So with the door refusing to open and the girl still hanging onto the door handle she was dragged along the platform losing her footing until she fell between the platform and the coach. Land and air ambulances were called and she was eventually flown off to Treliske Hospital, Truro. It was later reported that she was not seriously hurt.
Earlier in 2015 a dispute arose between two members of FGW staff on a class 150 dmu somewhere in the west-country, and all about a door. As a result of the incident two members of staff were suspended. After an inquiry one of the staff members was reinstated while the other was dismissed. The moral of this story is that doors can be dangerous objects. In the days before HSTs were fitted with central locking several people lost their lives every year on british railways through falling from moving trains. There was an allegation at the time that the doors were opening because of the flexing of the coach body while passengers were leaning on the door, but this was never proven.
Many thanks for this very long and very interesting article Mike.