December 1935

Slip Coaches And An Accident At Woodford & Hinton

Slip coaches were a usual (if not widespread) practice on the railways. Their use continued in some areas up until the 1960’s as a way of allowing passengers to get off at a station without the train having to stop.

Slip Coach Working (here with two carriages detached on the GWR). A cigarette card from the 1930’s – George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library

Here’s how it worked. The last coach (the slip coach) on a train was equipped with special couplings so that it could separate from the rest of the train. As the train approached the station the slip coach was uncoupled it and the train left it behind. The guard then used his skill with the brakes of the slip coach to bring it to a halt in the station.

In this way the rest of the train didn’t lose time letting passengers off but the train could still serve more stations and the carriage could go on to a different destination from the rest of the train.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Well, quite a lot as it turns out. On the evening of 19th December 1935 there was an accident at Woodford involving the Marleybone to Bradford express and a slip coach intended to go on to Stratford on Avon. Luckily no one was killed, although the guards on the train and the slip coach were both seriously injured and eleven passengers were hurt.

The Ministry of Transport accident report explains what happened. As the train approached Woodford & Hinton Station at around 70mph, the slip coach was released from the rest of the train as usual. The train’s brakes came on unexpectedly and, a minute and a half later, the slip coach ran into the back of it. The collison was only at 20mph or so but it was fast enough for the slip coach and the train’s last coach to telescope into one another.

The damaged slip coach after the accident. (Photo: Woodford Halse Photo Archive)

It is easy to imagine the chaos there must have been in both coaches as the two collided with passengers in the slip coach getting ready to leave the train at Woodford. As bad would have been the horror for both the guards, one looking out from a window in the front of the slip coach and the other on the main train as they realised the slip coach was about to hit.

Investigation

Reading the Ministry of Transport investigation report, it is clear that every effort was made to learn the lessons of the accident. The Inspecting Officer examined the weather, signalling practice, the way that the coach and train were operated, took evidence from the guards, driver and signalman and from the Carriage and Wagon Foreman at Woodford. He also took a journey on another slip coach for Woodford.

In the end, it appeared that a combination of factors were to blame. Most important was the failure of the vacuum connections between the two parts of the train. The vacuum keeps the brakes in the off position. When a slip coach is detached a valve was supposed to close the vacuum pipe on the train so that the brakes stayed off, allowing the train to continue. In this case the valve failed, and as a result, the train’s brakes came on.

Perhaps the slip coach could have avoided hitting the rear of the train if the slip coach guard had realised what had happened but the back of the train was hidden by steam from the train swirling around it. The train driver didn’t sound the whistle (as he should have) when he realised what was happening, so the only warning the slip coach guard got was when he saw the red light shown as a warning by the train guard looming out of the steam in the darkness, only ten yards away. By then he could not stop.

The End of The Slip

As a result of the accident, the LNER stopped using slip coaches on all but one of its services on 1st February 1936. From then on, there was no use of slip coaches on the old Great Central line. Instead, trains that would previously have used a slip coach would stop at Woodford Halse for passengers to alight and the coach for Stratford on Avon to be detached.

Learn more by reading the original investigation report……. Lieut Colonel E. Woodhouse’s Report into the Woodford and Hinton Slip Coach Accident.

( Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.)