Monday, January 17, 2011

Another accident near Wolverton in 1840

Here is another story from The Times archive. This accident was not the result of a crash but a fire and gives us a glimpse of the curious early practice of securing actual road coaches to a flatbed waggon. Thus passengers could travel by coach to a station, have the coach mounted on the waggon, travel in the coach by steam train, and continue their journey by road to their final destination. Here is the story:

The Times, May 4, 1840

On Thursday evening last an accident, which was likely to have terminated seriously but for the activity and exertions of the Company's servants and others, occurred to the mail train down, which leaves at half past 8. The following are the particulars:- Thursday being magazine night, a portion of them, in addition to the passengers' luggage was placed on the top of the first class North Union carriage. When passing between Leighton Buzzard and Wolverton the guards perceived flames issuing from the top of the carriage just mentioned. The breaks were immediately put on, but, the wind blowing from the north east, and the train going at an accelerated speed, this portion of the line being on the decline, the flames got ahead before the engine could be stopped. So soon, however, was that accomplished, the passengers, ten in number, were assisted out of their perilous situation, and happily without any injury. Some of the property is saved, but a much greater proportion of course destroyed. The cause of the fire can only be conjectured, but it is presumed to have originated in a spark from the engine penetrating the tarpauling (sic), or lodging immediately under it.

I don't think these rickety arrangements of transporting a road coach, complete with passengers, lasted too many years after 1840. For one thing the railways were able to build rolling stock of their own, and as speeds increased, a coach held down by chains may not have been the safest arrangement. In 1840, trains had a maximum speed of 30 mph - in practice about 25 mph - three times the speed of a horse-drawn coach, but not too fast by later standards.

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