For some staff, getting to or from work was a matter of walking. For permanent way staff, who might be working on track many miles from where they were based, getting to the site of work might involve riding on or in wagons. That wasn’t without risk – as William Layton and William Day found out, on 20 August 1911.
They were part of a gang of nearly 30 men, working a special train of 50 high-sided wagons of slag, being unloaded on the line between Stow and Downham [Market] in Norfolk. Presumably the Great Eastern Railway was using the slag as a cheap form of ballast [normally seen now as the stones that sit underneath the track, to keep it stable and for drainage]. The train was moved about a quarter of a mile past Stow; 35 of the wagons were unloaded (presumably by hand – hard work) before dinner, at which point the train was moved back to Stow to allow the men to have their dinner. The train was then moved back, with the men riding in different wagons. Layton, Day and a colleague rode on the 15th wagon from the brake van at the front of the train. As the train was being stopped ‘a sudden jerk, due to the tightening of the couplings, caused Layton and Day to fall backwards over the end of the wagon.’ They both suffered bruising to their back and side.
Amos Ford investigated, finding that those responsible for applying the brakes did so properly – but as a result of the large number of wagons, some full, some empty, ‘they did not have sufficient control over the movement to avoid jerks in stopping.’ Ford suggested that in future men shouldn’t be allowed to travel in the wagons in any trains like this which numbered more than 20 wagons. For those occasions of under 20 wagons, the guard should keep the brake on ‘so that the movements may be controlled only from the engine’ [1911 Quarter 3, Appendix C].
Interestingly, Layton and Day were noted in the report as ‘extra gang platelayers’. Were they brought in just for this job? Were they aware – told about – the risks of riding the wagons in this way? The report was silent. Skill and experience were crucial in all sorts of ways with railway work.