Bodmin General Collision
Michael L. Roach
Sixtieth Anniversary of a Collision on 7 December 1961
In January 1945 the Great Western Railway completed the construction of six pannier tanks at Swindon Works numbered 4690-5. The locos were all dispatched to different sheds, as follows: Didcot, Paddington (sic), Reading, Laira, Southall and the the loco that we are interested in 4694 which went to Danygraig (Swansea). All six locos were withdrawn from service between October 1963 and September 1964, three of them from sheds on the former Southern Railway. 4694 stayed at Danygraig Shed until October 1959 when it moved to the Southern Region shed at Exmouth Junction, Exeter. Just two months later it moved further west to Wadebridge shed. Here it would primarily have worked trains to Bodmin North, Bodmin General and Bodmin Road, as it did on the morning of Thursday 7 December 1961 when it worked the first train of the day, the 6.58am from Wadebridge to Bodmin General, due there at 7.20am. It was a cold frosty morning and still quite dark as the train arrived at Bodmin General Station.
On that morning sixty years ago the 6.55am mixed train from Bodmin Road had arrived at Bodmin General's single terminal platform at 7.15am. The train loco was prairie tank no. 5539 of St. Blazey shed. 5539 ran round its train and started hauling it out of the station back the way it had arrived to clear the platform for the arrival of the passenger train at 7.20am when it was hit by pannier tank 4694 hauling two coaches in a sidelong collision, and three open wagons were derailed. Although the speed of each train was not great the combined speed was sufficient to wrench the right hand pannier tank off 4694 forcing it back into the cab killing the driver. The fireman of 4694 and one passenger were slightly injured. The breakdown crane was quickly on the scene and all vehicles were re-railed by 1.30pm; 25 tons of spilt coal cleared away; and the line reopened at 2.35pm the same day.
The summary of the accident report recorded that the train hauled by 4694 had entered Bodmin General under steam past the home signal, which had not been lowered. The home signal in question was awkwardly situated on the fireman's side of the cab on the inside of a sharp check-railed curve approaching the Beacon Road overbridge. A good view of the curve is obtained from the road bridge because the track is still there as part of the Bodmin & Wenford Railway. The Inspecting Officer attributed the cause of the accident to fireman error with no secondary or contributory causes. The driver who died was 35 years old, while the fireman was just 18 years; I wonder if he is still alive. There is a very full report of an inquiry into the crash in the Cornish Guardian of 21 December 1961.
MLR / 25 November 2021
The great irony of the Bodmin accident was that the branch home signal (which the Wadebridge train undoubtedly passed at danger) was, until 1955 situated in the shadow of the overbridge, only about 2 yards from the Bodmin Road line. In that year, the signal was repositioned 100 yards back towards Boscarne, to give a better margin of safety!
There were, in fact three engines present at Bodmin station at the time of the accident: a D63xx diesel at the station buffers, 5539 drawing its freight towards Bodmin Road and, of course, the fateful pannier.
The pannier tank was an SR one, allocated to Wadebridge to replace scrapped O2 0-4-4 tanks. The diesel at the platform was the Bodmin Road service passenger engine, the WR passenger service having been dieselised in September 61.
The picture of the diagram at today's Bodmin box is of interest, but it must be borne in mind that today's signalling shown there is completely different from that of 1961.
I remember Brian Coad (who was on duty in Bodmin box the night before the accident) telling me the whole story. He was then a signalman at Goonbarrow Junction.