Purley station rail crash

Purley station rail crash

infobox UK rail accident

title= Purley station rail crash
date= 4 March 1989
location= Purley
line = Brighton Main Line
(Network SouthEast)
cause= Signal passed at danger
trains= 2
deaths= 5
injuries= 94
The Purley station rail crash was a train accident on the British railway system that occurred just to the north of Purley railway station in the London Borough of Croydon on Saturday 4 March 1989, leaving five dead and 94 injured.

The 12:50 from Horsham had stopped at the station and then crossed to the fast line, when the 12:17 from Littlehampton ran through a red signal (SPAD) into the back of it. Five coaches left the track and came off the embankment, so that they had to be recovered by road.


The cause was one which had led to many collisions over the last 150 years; the driver missed a warning signal in advance so that there was insufficient time to stop when he saw the red signal. He would have received an AWS warning, but the audible warning was the same for double yellow, yellow and red signals. As a result, on these busy lines, drivers are constantly cancelling AWS warnings and it becomes routine habit. The problem had been recognised for many years but no technical solution had been found at reasonable cost.

A notable feature of the accident was that the driver pleaded guilty to manslaughter and sentenced to 12 months in prison plus 6 months suspended, despite the known deficiency of the AWS system. He had an exemplary record over 22 years, but became the only driver in UK railway history to be imprisoned for such an error. Media pressure was intense following the previous year's accident at Clapham Junction.

The driver's sentence was later cut to four months upon appeal, and on 12 December 2007 his convictions for manslaughter were overturned by the Court of Appeal, ruling the conviction "unsafe". Lord Latham commented in his judgement that "something about the infrastructure of this particular junction was causing mistakes to be made" due to new evidence showing that there had been four previous SPAD's at the same location in the five years prior to the rail crash. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7140326.stm Rail crash convictions overturned] , BBC News, 12 December 2007] .

Preventing recurrence

This accident illustrates the limitations of the British Rail Automatic Warning System which can be overridden by the driver as a matter of habit. When working normally, the newer Train Protection & Warning System (TPWS) always applies the brakes if a fitted signal is passed at 'danger'.


Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith, "Caterham and Tattenham Corner". Middleton Press, 1994. ISBN 1-873793-25-1 (includes photograph of a coach being lifted by crane).

External links

* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/4/newsid_2515000/2515219.stm BBC report of accident]

* [http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/DoT_Purley1990.pdf Official Accident report]

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