April 1907

[Scottish Railway Incidents (1907) Contents]





   RAILWAY and Post Office detectives, with the co-operation of the police of Glasgow and Belfast, are investigating a daring robbery from the Irish mail train which left Glasgow for Ardrossan on Saturday night. The train runs in connection with Messrs Burns’ nightly service of steamers between Ardrossan and Belfast, and while usually well patronised by travellers, it carried a larger complement on Saturday night than on ordinary occasions, the holidays accounting for the increased traffic. Known as the “Belfast Express,” the train leaves the Glasgow Central Station of the Caledonian Railway at 11 P.M., and with the exception of a brief stop at Eglinton Street, where the passengers’ tickets are collected, it runs express to Ardrossan, the journey of thirty-two miles being covered in forty-five minutes. On Saturday night immediately behind the engine was a “double-end” brake van. The parcel portion of the mail, consisting of over twenty hampers from Edinburgh and the north of Scotland, as well as from Glasgow, was placed in the van next the engine, while theatrical scenery and fittings were carried in the other portion of the vehicle. The mail bags were placed in the van attached to the rear of the train. No guard travelled in the front van, but as soon as the luggage and mail hampers had been deposited, the doors were locked with an ordinary railway carriage key. So far as is known, everything was in order when the train left Glasgow. At Ardrossan, however, a startling discovery was made by the officials when proceeding to remove the parcels to the steamer. It was found that no fewer than eight of the baskets had been tampered with, and that at least one had been thoroughly ransacked. Several parcels, which had been opened, had not been carried away, and a number of address tags which had been torn off parcels were found lying on the floor. There was no time available to conduct anything like an exhaustive examination, and the whole of the mail, including the parcel hampers, was transferred to the steamer and conveyed to Belfast. Information of the robbery was of course at once made to the postal authorities, while the matter was also reported to the railway officials at headquarters. On inquiry at Glasgow Post Office yesterday it was learned that the extent of the property stolen was not known, but that one valuable parcel was missing. This was a package from Canada, and on the arrival of the hampers at Belfast the address label and wrapper were found, but the contents were gone. The package in question had been registered, and as the receipt of such packages has to be notified from office to office, the loss was immediately reported by Belfast to Glasgow. Numerous theories have been put forward as to how the robbery was committed. One of these is that the thief concealed himself among the luggage at the other end of the van and left before the train arrived at Ardrossan. A window on the off-side of the van was open when the train reached its destination, and it was rumoured yesterday that a signalman observed a man opening the door of the van as the train slowed up before entering the station at Ardrossan. If the thief was not concealed in the van before the express left, he must either have entered at Eglinton Street, or walked along the footboard while the train was in motion. The carriage next the van was a first class compartment, and as the train was a crowded one, the theory that the van was entered during the journey would presume that the first class carriage was filled by a gang working in concert. From the appearance of the hampers in the van, it is highly probable that the thief was in search of a particular parcel. At least four packages which had been opened were not carried away. These parcels contained a lady’s silver watch, some samples, and a cigar box. the parcels in the various hampers had also been disturbed in a manner to suggest that the thief was making a selection. 

– Scotsman, Tuesday 2nd April, 1907, p.4. 

   The Secretary for Scotland has intimated that he has advised the King to reduce the sentence of Driver Gourlay – convicted of culpable homicide in connection with the Elliot railway disaster – to three months. The sentence was five months. 

– Kilmarnock Herald and North Ayrshire Gazette, Friday 5th April, 1907, p.2. 

   TELEPHONES ON TRAINS. – American railway companies are taking the utmost interest in experiments which are now being carried out on several railway lines for the use of the wireless telephone system, by which messages are sent from trains running at high speed. The system does not require experts to work it. It is regarded by railway managers as an important step towards the prevention of collisions, and they are anxious to have it installed on their lines. 

– East of Fife record, Friday 5th April, 1907, p.6. 

   MALICIOUS MISCHIEF. – At Hamilton J.P. Court on Monday, John Lopenski (12), Alexander Hendry (11), both residing in Glebe Street, Bellshill, and Peter Gicupski (13), residing in Main Street, Bellshill, were charged with having on Sunday, 10th ult., unlocked two pairs of bogie wheels, placed them on the main line of the Caledonian Railway at Bellshill station, and caused them to run down an incline for a distance of two miles, to the great danger of life and property. They pled guilty, and were each fined 10s or seven days. 

– Bellshill Speaker, Friday 5th April, 1907, p.2. 




   The engine-driver is a man of strong nerve who requires a special training. Not only must he possess good sight, be free from colour-blindness and strong in nerve, but he must know how to drive and take care of his engine. The driver, as a rule, grows up on the railway. He begins work when a boy at some of the district engine-sheds, and, as a cleaner, gets to know the make of a locomotive. In time he is promoted to be a fireman, and is the mate, the comrade of an experienced driver. He is taught to feed the locomotive, and finds that she requires almost as much dieting as a human being, now going well with a low fire and now needing fuel right away up to the fire-hole. 

   He becomes familiar with the controlling mechanism of the engine, with her beat and tricks in running. He learns the lay of the line. He grasps the meaning of the signals. He gets many a shrewd hint from the engine-driver who has driven the express for years; and some day, when he is secretly congratulating himself on the fact that he is acquainted with everything about the line, from the loneliest signal cabin to the busiest junction, that he is capable of taking the mail train from Glasgow to Carlisle on the wildest night that ever lowered on Beattock Summit, his day-dream is broken by the instruction that he must, for a while, try his hand as the driver of a mineral train. If he puts the brake on his ambition, and drives the mineral train well, he will then be tried with a goods train, and afterwards elevated to the position of driver on some local passenger train; and, finally, possessing both experience and shrewdness, climbs proudly on the footplate of an express bogie passenger engine, and perhaps realises his dream as the fearless but careful driver of the night mail. 

– Aberdeen People’s Journal, Saturday 6th April, 1907, p.6. 





   The problem as to how to communicate with the drivers of trains during foggy weather, when the semaphore signals are obscured, has engaged the attentions of railwaymen for very many years past. Hitherto the only practical solution of the problem has been the employment of “foggers” – platelayers and others living near the line, who are summoned by the signalman to station themselves at the foot of the signal posts in order to place detonators upon the rail, and keep them there so long as the signals are at “danger.” But the weak point of this system is obvious. Fogs and snowstorms often come on suddenly, and, therefore, a train may rush into the danger zone before the “foggers” are at their posts. Then the detonators may fail to explode, or the driver may not hear the warning they convey. The only true solution of the problem is a method of expeditiously and reliably repeating the indications of the semaphores by electrical or mechanical agency inside the “cab” of the locomotive, where they cannot fail to be seen or heard by the trainmen. 

   The Great Western Railway Company is now experimenting with an apparatus designed to supersede the ordinary fixed type of “distant” signal. The apparatus consists of a ramp, laid between the running rails, at the point where the ordinary signal used to stand, which ramp is in electrical communication with the signal box. The engine is furnished with a shoe, which makes contact with the ramp when passing over it, and an indicator box, carried in a corner of the “cab,” together with a set of electric batteries. 

   The normal condition of the ramp is “dead,” meaning that it contains no electricity. When an engine passes over it the shoe is mechanically lifted 1½ inches, which has the effect of destroying the local electric circuit on the engine, and so causing the whistle to start blowing, while at the same time the indicator displays a little red-coloured card, inscribed “danger.” When it is desired to indicate that the line is clear, the signalman moves a lever in his box, which connects the ramp with a battery, and causes the former to become charged with electricity. When an engine passes over a “live” ramp the shoe is again lifted up, but this time the shoe picks up some of the current, which has the effect of suppressing the “caution” signal, and making an electric bell start ringing instead. The great merit of the invention is that as the suppression of the “caution” signal absolutely depends upon the shoe collecting current from the ground apparatus, neither snow, dirt, frost, nor electrical failure can interfere with that audible signal. If a mistake be made, it is bound to be a mistake on the right side. 

   The signals thus communicated to the driver are no momentary ones. It is arranged that the whistle shall continue blowing and the bell ringing until the driver lifts a handle on the indicator box in the case of the former or presses a button in the case of the latter to stop them. The apparatus on the engine is always in a position correctly to receive signals on whatever line it may be running. The system offers the additional advantage of being in constant use, and so guarding against possible forgetfulness on the part of an engine-driver, even in clear weather. – “Daily Graphic.” 

– Aberdeen Press and Journal, Friday 12th April, 1907, p.8. 

   BATHGATE RAILWAYMEN AND DRIVER GOURLAY. – At a meeting of the members of the Bathgate branch of the Amalgamated Society if Railway Servants on Sabbath last, Mr T. Wark presiding, the following resolution was passed:- That this meeting of railwaymen are not yet satisfied with the reducing of the punishment to three months’ imprisonment imposed on Driver Gourlay, and we are dissatisfied with the manner in which the evidence was summed up in the face that one of the railway company rules was violated, which would have prevented the accident had it been adhered to. Further, that all cases of the same kind should be tried with a jury of practical railway experts, and we urge that the Home Secretary will arrange for Driver Gourlay’s release at once. The resolution, which was proposed by Mr James Hasson, and seconded by Mr William Alcorn, was agreed to unanimously. 

– West Lothian Courier, Friday 12th April, 1907, p.4. 

   PLACING OBSTRUCTION ON A RAILWAY. – At Airdrie on Monday a fourteen-year-old boy from Carmyle, Walter Japp, pleaded guilty to placing a railway chair on the down line of the Caledonian Railway, near Mount Vernon Station, on March 21. The engine-driver of a train which had been proceeding slowly had noticed the obstruction, and sent his fireman along to remove it. The case was continued for sentence till June. 

– Coatbridge Leader, Saturday 13th April, 1907, p.4. 

   ACCIDENT AT POLMONT STATION. – A railway porter, named George Burnett (22), who resided at Park Terrace, Brightons, met with an accident on Saturday last. The man was temporarily employed as a lampman at Polmont Station, and shortly after one o’clock on Saturday, while he was engaged cleaning the disc signal in the six-foot way at the east end of the station, he was struck on the back by the footboard of a passing train, and sustained severe injuries to his back, whilst his clothes were torn off. Subsequently Burnett very narrowly escape being run over by another train on the opposite line. Burnett’s injuries are not such as give cause from serious results being anticipated. 

– Falkirk Herald, Saturday 13th April, 1907, p.5. 

   BURGLARS SET FIRE TO A RAILWAY STATION. – A signalman going on duty at Glasgow Green Station of the Caledonian Central Railway shortly after four o’clock on Thursday morning observed the booking office to be on fire. He at once called the Fire Brigade, who extinguished the flames before much damage was done, only a portion of the floor being buried. It subsequently transpired that the place had apparently been entered by thieves, as there were marks on the safe showing that an attempt had been made to break it open, and other receptacles had been ransacked. it is believed that the thieves, failing to secure any booty, set the place on fire. recently an attack was made on the lady booking clerk at the same station, and an attempt made to rob the office. 

– Scotsman, Saturday 13th April, 1907, p.11. 

   GOODS GUARD KILLED AT DUNFERMLINE. – On Saturday afternoon, James Keddie, goods guard, Thornton, was killed at Dunfermline Upper goods station. He had been engaged in making up a train, and he was found with his left thigh under a wheel of a loaded waggon. No one observed the accident, but it is supposed that Keddie had been knocked down while coupling two waggons, as his back was broken. He was about thirty years of age, and married. 

– St. Andrews Citizen, Saturday 13th April, 1907, p.4. 

Picture from ‘Aberdeen People’s Journal,’ Saturday 20th April, 1907, p.6.









   A terrible railway disaster occurred early yesterday morning on the Great North of Scotland Railway at a bridge between Craigellachie and Dufftown Stations. The bridge, which is known as Newton Bridge, is situated at a sharp curve, so sharp that engines passing over the bridge have always to shut off steam while passing over it. The railway officials had decided to renew the girders of the bridge, and with this end in view workmen were summoned from various squads to commence work on Saturday night, so that part of the work could be finished by Monday morning in order to allow trains to pass. 


   Work was commenced between nine and ten o’clock, and went on smoothly until about midnight. At that time two cranes, one on the Dufftown side of the bridge and the other on the Craigellachie side, drew up to lift out an old girder. This being successfully accomplished, the crane on the Craigellachie side proceeded to lift the girder clear of the bridge, and when the girder was several feet off the ground swung round, carrying the crane and bogey to which it was attached and four of the six men who were working it right over the parapet down into the River Fiddich, some thirty feet below. 

   Engines were at once despatched to Rothes and Dufftown for medical aid, which was soon on the spot. 


   Two of the men who were thrown into the river were killed. These were Wm. Riach, residing at Broomhill, Botriphnie, and George Cormie, residing at Sauchenyard, Botriphnie. Riach, who was 37 years of age, was married, and leaves a widow and two of a family, while Cormie resided with his sister, his parents residing in Newmill, Keith. Both of the men were held down by the girder or crane, which at present lie in the bottom of the river. The bodies were removed to the guards’ room at Craigellachie Station. Cormie had one leg cut off, both at the ankle and thigh, while the other was severed above the thigh. He lived for about half an hour. 


   The other two men who were thrown over the parapet were Charles Petrie, foreman wayman, East Lodge, Drummuir, and Charles Noble, foreman wayman, Longmorn, and residing at Elgin. Both, who received severe scalp wounds, were removed at once by train to Gray’s hospital, Elgin, in charge of doctors. 


   George Calder, surfaceman, Elgin, had a narrow escape from also going over. He was working on the bogey of the crane, and when the crane was half way over the parapet he was pushed on to the railway by William Pressley, surfaceman, Craigellachie, who also jumped clear. His head struck the railway, but his injuries are not serious. He was also removed home to Elgin, where he is progressing satisfactorily. 

   The engine to which the crane was attached might also have gone over had it not been that the couplings broke. 

   Attached to the jib of the crane were a number of ropes being worked from the river bank by six men. these, however, had time to run up the bank of the river before the crane and girder fell. Otherwise the consequences might have been even more severe. 

   On inquiry last night it was ascertained that the injured men were progressing favourably. 

– Dundee Courier, Monday 15th April, 1907, p.5. 

   Startling Accident on a Musselburgh Train. – Two Edinburgh men, David Kinloch, engine-driver, and his mate Alexander Harrup, fireman, had a dangerous and painful experience while on duty on their engine on Saturday afternoon. They were taking the 3.55 p.m. train from Waverley Station to Musselburgh, and when passing Fisher Row Station shut off steam, as usual, for the downhill run to the terminus. Instantly there was a “blow-back” of flames from the furnace. Kinloch’s face was scorched, his hair singed, and a portion of his trousers burned through. Harrup escaped with a slight scorching to his eyebrows and forehead. Pluckily enough, the men on reaching Musselburgh agreed to make the return journey, but the stationmaster at Musselburgh telegraphed to have them relieved at Edinburgh. 

– Aberdeen Press and Journal, Tuesday 16th April, 1907, p.9. 

   Yesterday, at Stonehaven, a sailor was fined 40s, or twenty-one days’ imprisonment, for having been found in a state of intoxication on a Great North of Scotland train. The sailor had acted like a madman, and it was a marvel that he was not killed on the line. The point to which I direct attention is that the Procurator-Fiscal stated that the accused “was not in such a condition at the time of the train starting as to justify the officials preventing him from travelling.” It is good to learn that the Fiscal and railway officials recognise some condition of drunkenness that justifies the preventing of the drunken person from travelling by train. Every now and again I hear bitter complaint concerning the annoyance and the dangers arising from the practice of permitting drunken persons to enter railway trains. Women and children often have to submit to vexatious annoyance and insult from drunken passengers. Surely the time has come when railway officials should debar drunken persons from entering any railway train. 

– Dundee Evening Telegraph, Thursday 18th April, 1907, p.2. 



Shocking Fatality on the Railway. 

   During the past few weeks an unfortunate number of accidents have occurred on the railway in the western district of Fife, and yesterday evening the already large toll was further augmented by a shocking fatality. 

   The victim was a surfaceman named James Anderson, who lived in Woodmill Street, Dunfermline. Along with other men, the deceased was working on the line near Bonnyton Farm, not far from the Lower Station, and apparently he had not observed the approach of the heavy express train which leaves Perth for Edinburgh at ten minutes past four and arrives at Dunfermline at 4.56. A couple of engines were attached to the large corridor coaches, and the unfortunate man was caught before he could clear himself, having, so far as can be learned, lost his balance. He was shockingly mutilated. 

   Anderson was well known by the railway servants in the district. He leaves a widow and one of a family. Anderson would have ceased work for the day half an hour after the accident occurred. 

– Dundee Evening Telegraph, Thursday 18th April, 1907, p.5. 





   A surfaceman named John Marra (29), residing in Pole Street, Dundee, and employed with the North British Railway Company, had a very narrow escape with his life yesterday morning. 

   Shortly after seven o’clock he was walking along the footpath on the Tay Bridge, when a passenger train which had left the Tay Bridge Station for Edinburgh shortly after seven o’clock approached. the up line was at that time under repair, and in consequence the down line only was in use. Marra appears not to have been aware of this, for when the driver whistled to warn the surfaceman of the approach of the train he stepped on to the down rails. The driver, however, saw the man’s mistake, and at once applying the brakes the train was just coming to a standstill when the engine struck Marra and knocked him down. the surfaceman was taken from underneath the engine and carried to the Esplanade Station, and there it was found that he was suffering from severe cuts and contusions on the front and back of his head. A cab was procured and Marra was removed to the Infirmary, where his injuries were attended to. 

– Dundee Courier, Monday 22nd April, 1907, p.7. 

   CHILD KILLED ON PEEBLES RAILWAY. – An accident, resulting in the death of Euphemia Mathew, eight years of age, daughter of a foreman surfaceman, occurred on Saturday at Venturefair level crossing, on the Peebles railway. The girl resided with her parents at the gatehouse at the crossing, which is midway between Leadburn and Pomathorn stations, and on Saturday afternoon she set out with a companion of her own age to gather fir cones in an adjacent wood. Mrs Mathew watched them as they crossed the rails and made their way to the wicket on the opposite side of the crossing. Suddenly the Peebles to Edinburgh passenger train rounded the curve, forty yards distant. Mrs Mathew threw up her hands, and the engine-driver, regarding this as a signal of danger, put on the emergency brake and brought the train to a violent stop, but the interval of time was too short to avert disaster, and the child Mathew was struck by a projecting part of the engine and hurled over an embankment and instantaneously killed. 

– Scotsman, Monday 22nd April, 1907, p.6. 


   The general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. Mr Albert Fox, has forwarded to Mr Sinclair, Secretary for Scotland, almost 21,000 signatures, requesting the release of Driver Gourlay. In the covering letter Mr Fox points out that at a mass meeting held in London on April 7th, a resolution was unanimously carried protesting against Gourlay’s imprisonment, and requesting the Secretary for Scotland to take steps to ensure his immediate release. The following reasons are submitted for Mr Sinclair’s careful consideration:- (1) The circumstances under which Gourlay worked his train were those over which he had no control. (2) Because a number of other rules were not carried out by others, which were for the safe working of all concerned. (3) Because the engineman has had to bear the punishment for laxity not belonging to him. 

   The report of the Board of Trade Inspector on the Elliot Junction Railway disaster s published. Major Pringle, in his final conclusions, holds that Gourlay was primarily responsible for the collision, and says that among contributory causes of the collision were the general lack of initiative and intelligence displayed by the traffic staff of the Dundee and Arbroath Joint Railway in dealing with exceptional circumstances; the action of Stationmaster Grant in allowing the North British train to leave Arbroath so soon after the local train to leave Arbroath so soon after the local train; the failure to increase temporarily the permanent way staff; the delay in single line working; and the well-meant, but ill-advised, action of the general public in treating railwaymen with intoxicants. 

– West Lothian Courier, Friday 26th April, 1907, p.5. 

   FIRE IN EASTSIDE. – Shortly after twelve o’clock on Monday there was a second outbreak of fire in Kirkintilloch, a one-storey property at the corner of Canal Street and Eastside and immediately to the East of the railway bridge being the scene of the conflagration. The property, which is an old one and covered with thatch, belongs to the N.B. Railway Company. Shortly after a goods engine had passed through the station the thatch at the back of the property was observed to be on fire and the flames rapidly spread till a large part of the roof next the two-storey property of Mr Whitelaw was well alight. Fortunately there were willing workers, who kept fighting the flames till the arrival of the fire-brigade, or assisted in carrying out the furniture and effects of the tenants, Mr Samuel Newall and Mrs Craig. The fire-brigade on arrival turned their attention to the flaming roof, and two lines of hose quickly got the better of the flames. The thatch, however, seemed to be riddled through and through with the fire, and to get the better of this the whole of the thatch had to be cleared off the greater part of the house and drenched with water on the ground. This work the fire-brigade set themselves to accomplish and ultimately carried it through after some heavy labour. The damage is stated to be covered by insurance. Besides the damage to the property, the effects of the tenant suffered severely by water, smoke, and the handling they received in the necessarily hurried removal to the back-garden, where they had to remain all night. 

– Kirkintilloch Gazette, Friday 26th April, 1907, p.2.

Leave a Reply