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How didn’t Grouping affect staff safety beyond the mainline? Railway Grouping & accidents pt 4

In last week’s post, we looked at the ways in which the 1923 railway Grouping didn’t actually Group all railway companies. Many pre-1923 railway companies continued to exist – and their staff have accidents – until 1939 (the end of our database) and beyond. In that, we focused on the more ‘traditional’ mainline, standard gauge railways covered by the Railway Inspectorate, around whose records our database is formed.

However, the Inspectors also investigated accidents on less traditional railways – many of which weren’t affected by the 1923 Grouping. Today’s blog post, the final in our series on the impacts (or not) of Grouping upon railway staff safety, looks at some of the perhaps unexpected finds in our database.

We start with the local authorities and private companies that had railway interests. Typically these were industrial networks, at facilities that needed large quantities of goods or minerals moved into and around a site – gas works like the Granton site in Edinburgh (run by the Edinburgh Corporation) were a good example. As a rule, the accidents inside these sites weren’t investigated by the state accident inspectors – their work was confined to ‘public’ railways, and these industrial sites were private. However, some accidents around these locations do appear in our database – seven of them. They occurred on systems or at locations for which the corporations of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Preston had responsibility, with a further accident at the exchange sidings for the Appleby Frodingham Steel Company’s site in Scunthorpe. The exact nature of the relationship between the local authority concerns and the mainline railway companies, and how it fell to the state accident investigators to make their enquiries, isn’t clear. This is another example of how our project work is throwing up more questions than answers (do tell us if you have those answers!). Our suspicion is that the accidents involved mainline railway company staff on private or corporation networks.

Where large quantities of goods entered or left Britain – docks and inland navigation systems – railways were important in making the onward connection. Many of these involved private railway companies or systems, and weren’t part of the Grouping. These were also sites involving lots of goods movements, which offered a lot of opportunities for accidents. As a result, we have 143 accidents in the project database occurring on systems such as those of the Manchester Ship Canal Railway, the Clyde Navigation, the Greenock Harbour Trust, the Milford Haven Dock and Railway, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, the Tyne Improvement Commissioner’s Railway, the Port of London Authority and another seven such systems.

Two other types of ‘non-standard’ railway largely evaded being Grouped. Firstly, standard gauge light railways often weren’t included. Whilst their system mileages were relatively small, and accidents no doubt scarce (though no less significant for the individuals involved when they did happen), two accidents were still investigated by the state inspectors and so find their way into our database. One of these was on the East Kent Railway, and the other on the Weston Point Light Railway in Runcorn. Both of these companies were associated in some way with Colonel Stephens, something of a legendary figure so far as distinctly non-standard railway operation went.

The second ‘serial evader’ were narrow gauge railway companies. Some narrow gauge companies were Grouped in 1923: for instance, the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway became a part of the Southern Railway. (Whilst no further accidents were investigated between its becoming part of the SR and its closure in 1935, several accidents prior to grouping do appear in our database, including one dramatic incident in 1913, about which we have blogged previously.) However, other narrow gauge lines not only were not Grouped, but also had accidents which were investigated by the Railway Inspectors. This means we see nine cases from the Welsh Highland Railway, Ffestiniog Railway, Ashover Light Railway, Southwold Railway, Sand Hutton Railway and Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway. As we might guess, Colonel Stephens had an interest in several of these lines.

Between these cases, we get a better impression of the diversity of the railway industry in Britain between 1923 and 1939. We can see the ways in which Grouping left pockets of independent railway companies and railway operation – and how their staffs continued to have accidents. Hopefully the posts in this series have introduced some of the complexities of Grouping, as well as the aspects that were unaffected, in relation to railway worker safety. Suffice it to say, much more could be said, and no doubt in the future we will return to some of the cases identified here. We’ve also raised plenty of questions over the four blog posts, and welcome your thoughts and answers!

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