Lewisham Rail Crash
Owing to the disorganisation of the train services by the fog, both the trains were crowded, and it is estimated that there were nearly 1,500 passengers in the electric train and about 700 in the steam train.
It was inevitable in these circumstances that the casualty list was very great, and I much regret to state that 90 persons altogether lost their lives; 88 passengers and the guard of the electric train were killed outright, and one passenger died later of his injuries. Of the 89 fatalities to passengers, there is evidence that 37 occurred in the electric train and 49 in the steam train. In addition a large number of persons were conveyed to hospitals in the neighbourhood, where 109 were detained, many with very serious injuries, and 67 others sustained minor injuries or shock.
The seriously injured included the fireman of the Ramsgate train, and two locomotive drivers who were travelling in this train on duty. The driver in charge of the train, W. J. Trew, was not physically injured, but the shock which he sustained was severe, and Colonel Wilson was not able to interview him nor the fireman until 10th January 1958. I heard further evidence from these men on 21st May when the driver was still suffering from shock.
A total of 90 people died and 176 were injured when two rush hour trains collided in thick fog in Lewisham, south London, almost 50 years ago.
Most of the victims were from Kent and were returning home from work or Christmas shopping in London.
The service was held at St John's Church in St John's Vale, Lewisham.
The ninth and eighth coaches of the ten-coach Hayes Train were telescoped together, with the ninth riding up over the chassis of the eighth and destroying its body completely. Behind, the tender and first coach of the steam train were derailed and struck one of the supports of the Lewisham-Nunhead flyover. This buckled immediately and collapsed onto the first three coaches, crushing two of them almost flat. Further disaster was narrowly averted when the driver of a train about to cross the flyover noticed that it had buckled and managed to stop short. The first coach of this train was tilted over at an angle, but did not fall onto the wreckage below and was quickly evacuated and hauled to safety. Rescue work went on throughout the evening, since it was difficult and dangerous for the emergency services to reach passengers trapped in the crushed coaches under the flyover. Nevertheless, all survivors had been extracted and despatched to hospital before midnight.
The blame for the accident was placed solely on Driver Trew. He was tried for manslaughter in May 1958 but the jury could not agree on a verdict. A second trial was convened, but by then it was realised that Trew’s mental health had been severely impaired by the accident and its aftermath. No evidence was offered against him and he was discharged. Despite the verdict of the official enquiry it was widely felt that, although Trew had made some critical errors, some of the blame also lay with British Railways who had made slow progress with the development and installation of Automatic Warning System (AWS), which would almost certainly have prevented the accident. British Rail had been heavily criticised for their slowness in introducing the system after the earlier accident at Harrow, and in the wake of the Lewisham disaster work on AWS was speeded up. It was not, however, made mandatory until after the Southall crash in 1997, some 40 years later.