Castlecary Disaster

Colin Hope

Colin Hope, who cycled in heavy snow to the aftermath of the Castlecary Disaster (10th of December 1937), writes ...

Imagine if you will almost 70 years ago ... and you decide.

Castlecary: A Glasgow - Edinburgh Push-Pull service clatters across Castlcary viaduct in August 1988 with the houses of the village standing amongst the trees below. View from the South East. Brian Forbes /08/1988

You will go from north east Fife to meet your fiancee in Cardross. You board a train in Dundee with a small black engine (a D31 4-4-0 named after Scott novels with four suburban coaches - modern with steel frames, bogies and ends but wooden bodies). The train consisted of a brake 3rd (at that time 2nd class had disappeared), a 3rd class eight compartment coach (only two compartments non smoking!) and in addition there was a composite coach with three 1st Class compartments, one non smoking with corridor leading to lavatory and on the other side four 3rd class compartments with corridor on opposite side leading to loo.

Now the journey from Dundee to Glasgow Queen Sttreet was via Kinross, Inverkeithing, the Forth Bridge, Dalmeny and then right for the line to join up with the main Edinburgh and Glasgow line. After it joined this line it had to get a move on and was due into Glasgow Queen Street before the crack Express from Edinburgh Waverley departing 16.00 calling at Haymarket and due Glasgow at 16.58.

On this train you could have pot of tea and toasted Bath Bun butter and jam for a modest 1/6 one shilling and sixpence if you were travelling first or even a stronger refreshment. There was the brake van and four compartments with corridor. Then a coach with full corridor and seven compartments (all first 1st Class and crowded with Glasgow businessmen having completed their day's missionary work in the east and anxious to get back home - they were keen to get out quickly at Queen Street). They may also have been keen to get to the restaurant car which came next then a further four 3rd class corridor compartment coaches and the four compartment corridor rake with the Guard.

The engine was a shiny green A3, "Grand Parade", and lived up to its racing ancestors. In spite of snow falling it charged on at 60+ past Falkirk High, to nearly Castlecary - the outer home was at green but the distant below the post was weighed down by snow and didn't show danger or clear. The crew of the Dundee train were having similar problems with the signals all lower quadrant and not going up to indicate clear line. Castlecary signal box had belled Dullatur East box (the next one west) "train out of section" and acknowledged. The signalman at Castlecary pulled his outer home to clear, but not the distant, but could stop the express at the outer home on the west side, but of course expected to have the all clear that the Dundee train had cleared Dullatur east box.

The Dundee driver decided to set back into the Castlecary section to check the signal - quite illegal. Meanwhile it was snowing hard but the express driver drove blissfully on and hit the Dundee train just short of Caslecary outer home at speed.

The express engine was thrown over to the right past a siding for unloading cattle and onto the embankment on the north side; the next four coaches slewed at various angles.

The Dundee train was even worse; really only twisted steel chassis seven bogies all over the place and matchwood and our friend in the 1st class compartment never did get to see his Fiancee in Cardross as he and another 36 on both trains were killed.

Accidents happen. Who really was to blame - the snow, the signals being lower quadrant, the Dundee driver, or the express driver or a bit of all?

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