Hither Green Rail Crash

At least 40 rail passengers have died and 80 more have been wounded after a commuter train derailed in south-east London.

The 19:43 express train was travelling from Hastings to Charing Cross when at 21:16 it crashed off the rails between Hither Green and Grove Park stations near the Southern Region Continental goods depot.

The Hither Green rail crash was an accident on the British railway system that occurred on 5 November 1967 near Hither Green maintenance depot, between Hither Green and Grove Park railway stations, in south-east London.

A Sunday evening express train from Hastings to London, consisting of twelve coaches (two six-car Class 201 diesel-electric multiple units), derailed at approximately 70mph (113km/h), shortly before the train crossed the St Mildred's Road railway bridge. Most of the train overturned, two coaches having their sides torn off. The train was well-filled and 49 people died, making it Britain's sixth worst rail disaster.

The accident was found to be due to a broken rail. At a rail joint, a fatigue crack through the first bolt hole in the running-on rail had progressively developed and a triangular piece of rail had broken out. It is probable that several previous trains had successfully negotiated the gap.

The track in general was heavily trafficked by a dense outer suburban service of multiple unit trains, all of them with nose-suspended traction motors imposing high impact forces on any imperfection in the running surface of the rails. The running-off sleeper at the joint had previously failed and been replaced with a shallower timber replacement, and the replacement had not been well packed. The running-on rail was supported on an undisturbed concrete sleeper, giving a very rigid support, so that successive trains dipped into, and then struck, the running-on rail end, stressing it severely. The cyclical stress promoted growth of the fatigue crack.

The train which actually derailed was fitted with a special suspension to limit sway of the bodies due to tight clearances on tunnels on its route on the Tonbridge–Hastings line, and this caused very high wheel forces at track irregularities; this may be the reason why this particular train (rather than the trains immediately previous) derailed.

The speed limit had been raised from 75 mph to 90 mph in July 1967, and viewed in retrospect it is clear that resources for basic track maintenance were overwhelmed.

The train concerned was the 19.43 Hastings to Charing Cross and it comprised twelve coaches made up of two six-coach diesel-electric sets. It was approaching Hither Green under clear signals on the Up Fast line at about 70 m.p.h. when the leading pair of wheels of the third coach struck a small wedge shaped piece of steel that had broken away from the end of a running rail, and became derailed towards the Down Fast line. The train ran on in this condition for about 1 mile when the derailed wheels struck the crossover lead of a diamond crossing in the Up Fast line. This caused the third coach, the one ahead of it, and all the coaches behind it to become completely derailed, and the second to the fifth coaches to turn over onto their sides before they stopped some 250 yards further on.