Alfred Henry Jones.
Once again we start a blog post with the names of multiple men killed at work on the railways. Once again, it’s a case of track workers, hit by a train whilst they were maintaining the lines. It comes nearly 6 months after we marked the centenary of the Wilmcote track worker accident, whilst itself came 6 months after the Stapleton Road track worker accident. We might ask ourselves what was the railway industry doing to stop these accidents?
In today’s blog, and those of the coming days, we’ll look at the accident, which took place on 1 September 1922, and the men involved and their families. They feature in our new project data, recently released, helping us understand more about railway work and railway workers of the past.
So far we don’t have any images of the men, and limited time has meant we’ve not been able to locate any descendants of the men. We would love to be able to find any descendants, so do please contact us if you can help – it’s important that where possible we work with the families of those involved.
The 4 men were led by Alfred Jones, with Josiah Jones second in charge. They were working on one of the main lines, just west of Holywell Junction station, on the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). They were going to change some of the track – and as was typical of the time, were doing this in amongst the moving trains. The official state report into the accident, in our new data release and from which this account is largely drawn, noted that all the men were experienced.
According to the report by Ministry of Transport inspector JAA Pickard, at about 1.40pm the Irish Mail approached, so they stood clear of that line. Unfortunately they stood between the tracks on the adjacent line ‘where they were all run down and instantly killed’ by the passenger train from Rhyl to Chester. This service was running alongside the Irish Mail ‘the steam from which was blowing across its path, and must have hidden it from the view of the platelayers.’
Normally at this location the men would have had a clear line of sight for over a mile. This probably partially accounts for the fact that the men were working without a look-out – that is, one of the team dedicated to keeping watch for approaching trains. As we’ve said in similar cases, there were other very strong reasons why the men didn’t appoint a look-out. As the LNWR would not have been provided with an additional man for the role, they would have had to have taken one of their team of 4 from the work. The Company wouldn’t have allowed them extra time to do the work, however, so there was a strong incentive not to appoint a look-out.
The Flintshire County Herald (8 September 1922) reported that no-one was aware of the accident until one of the bodies was discovered. At that point the station staff were all called out, recovering the bodies and placing them in one of the waiting rooms. Later that afternoon two senior Company representatives visited the location to make internal enquiries. The coroner’s inquest was opened on the following day, and included representation from the LNWR and the two main trades unions involved, ASLEF (for the loco crew) and the National Union of Railwaymen. The Coroner noted that no accident had occurred in the district for over 25 years that had killed more than 2 people. After expressing sympathy for those affected, he adjourned the inquest.
Inspector Pickard’s report noted there was a safe space on the other side of the line the men were working on. There was an 18-foot gap to the next lines. Inspector Pickard suggested that they wanted to see what the track did as the Irish Mail passed over it, and that Alfred Jones should have ensured his gang stood clear of all lines. As a result Pickard pointed to rule 273(a) – yes, there were that many rules in the companies’ rule books – which stated that workers on the tracks should stand clear of approaching trains and any railway lines, especially being aware of trains that might be on other lines.
Pickard appears to have been frustrated by yet another case in which multiple track workers were hit by a train. This was not unreasonable, given he noted that ‘within the last 12 months, in 4 particular accidents, 14 fatalities have occurred through failure to observe this Rule.’ One he pointed to was also on the LNWR – at Winsford in April 1922, killing brothers Thomas and Joseph Buckley, about which we’ve blogged here. It no doubt was fresh in Pickard’s mind as he had investigated that case as well.
As he noted, the response from the LNWR was that ‘circulars are issued, at irregular intervals, generally three or four times a year, warning platelayers against incurring danger.’ The most recent of those was in October 1921 (somewhat belying the quarterly claim from the Company!). Pickard went on to criticise the standard practise of reading the rules through with track workers (or to them, if they could not read) and getting the workers to sign a statement that they understood. He said this ‘appears to have little effect in driving home the practical application of those Rules.’
The frustration came through in his next comment: ‘I can only again recommend that this Company, equally with all others, should spare no effort continuously to keep before their permanent way staff the importance of Rule 273, and, so far as possible, to tighten the personal supervision of gangers and men in the practical and intelligent application of the Rules dealing with safety’ (1922 Quarter 3, Appendix B).
In the coming blogs we will look at the men involved and their families, starting here with Richard Jones and Alfred Jones.