Menu Close

Why break the rules?


A guest post, by Arthur Moore, one of the project’s volunteers


Having spent some time inputting Board of Trade accident reports on to the project spreadsheets as a volunteer, it was interesting to find a photo which showed the disparity between the rules and actual working practices.

​The reports said that on 5th June 1911, as a train was proceeding along the Mosside branch of the North British Railway, 20 year old fireman A. Doughty left the footplate to collect a lamp from the front buffer beam.  He slipped and caught his foot between a splasher and the spokes of one of the driving wheels and he was very lucky to only bruise his toes (1911 Quarter 2, Appendix C).

Inspector Campbell blamed the fireman for ignoring the rule that “drivers and fireman should only leave the footplate of an engine in motion in an emergency”.

A few months later I came across a photo in the London South Western Circle journal, of T6 No. 686 on a Waterloo to Portsmouth working, near Haslemere.  The engine is pulling a passenger train and the photo shows the driver standing on the front footplate of​ the moving train engine, checking that everything is working well.

LSWR service near Haslemere, with driver on the moving train. Courtesy George Reeve.

I would not like to climb from the cab to the running board along beading an inch or so wide even on a stationary engine.  How much worse it must be to risk this at speed, with rail joints every 60 feet.  The driver had left the train in the sole charge of the fireman, who now has to watch out for signals and operate the regulator and brakes, as well as attending to his normal firing and water level duties. That a photographer was able to capture this suggests this might have been a fairly common occurrence, despite the risks.

Throughout the accident reports it is clear that the accident inspectors dealt only with the facts and the rules.  If staff breach the rules they are to blame, although occasionally the Inspectors ask the companies to more strictly enforce the regulations.  However, there is no mention in the reports of the pressures which might cause staff to break rules.  Would the driver have been criticised if he ran late, having stopped to inspect his engine?  ​Are there problems which ​can only be heard whilst the engine is in motion?

These breaches of rules are frequent throughout the accident reports.  One of the most common is the breach of the rule that shunters must not “couple up until buffers have closed together”, but there are dozens of reports where shunters attempt to couple up before the buffers have touched, the shunting pole then slips off the coupling and the shunter’s hand is crushed between the buffers.

Were the men ignorant of the rules?  Did they choose to ignore them, or was there so much pressure from management and foremen to complete tasks quickly, that staff were driven to cut corners?

Arthur Moore

‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ volunteer


  1. Pingback:Volunteers’ Week 1: Volunteer voices! - Railway Work, Life & Death

  2. Pingback:Look out! - Railway Work, Life & Death

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.