The Clapham Junction Train Crash 1988

Welcome to our blog series looking at the causes and consequences of well known disasters. This blog looks at the Clapham Junction Train Crash 1988.

The Incident

The Clapham Junction Train crash occurred on 12th December 1988 at just after 8am. Three trains were heading towards a cutting about a mile from Clapham Junction railway station. Trains passed by this section of railway approximately every two minutes at this busy time of day, and this was managed by a signalling system.

On the main line, two passenger trains were heading for Waterloo, one from Basingstoke the other from Poole. The third train, without passengers, was running along the adjoining and opposite down-main line was coming from Waterloo and
headed for Haslemere.

The train from Poole came into the cutting having passed the signals in its favour, it passed around the steeply banked left hand curve to find the Basingstoke train stationary on the same line. The driver of the Poole train applied full emergency brakes but was unable to prevent the train from running head on into the rear of the Basingstoke train. The Poole train left the rails and swerved towards the right into the path of the train headed for Haslemere.

The Cause

The cause of the accident was said to be incorrect functioning of the signalling system. It had not registered the stationary train. Two weeks before the crash, the automatic signal WF 138 had been installed as part of a large scale re-signalling
operation. This involved disconnecting old wiring and reconnecting new wiring. However, it was found that the old wiring had been disconnected only at one end and pushed aside with no insulating tape applied. This action was found to have tragic consequences. This allowed the old wire to move back to its former position and give a false-feed of current.

The Lessons

There are many cases of serious accidents on railways.

The Clapham junction accident is a case of poor working practices, a failure to carry out proper risk assessments and to implement efficient controls. As a result of the accident, 35 people died and nearly 500 were injured, 69 of them
seriously. Two weeks after the hearing of evidence a further rail accident occurred just north of Purley Station in Surrey.

Again, only two days after the Purley accident another fatal accident occurred at Belgrove in Glasgow.

The development of technology, and learning from the past, these system failures are rare, but not to be complacent.

The facts of human error, system failure and poor maintenance will always lurk in the background.


Our Health & Safety Consultants at Assent Risk Management can help you implement effective risk assessment and control processes, and offer competent health & safety advice.

Contact Us for More Information.

Peter Clements
Peter Clements
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