Shop now Shop now Shop now Up to 70% off Fashion Shop All Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Amazon Fire TV Amazon Pantry Food & Drink Beauty Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars35
4.0 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 23 October 2013
There is certainly a need for a new book about Quintinshill; the standard reference sources have for many years been `Gretna: Britain's Worst Railway Disaster (1915)' by John Thomas and `Britain's Greatest Rail Disaster: The Quintinshill Blaze of 1915' by JAB Hamilton, both books published as long ago as 1969. In the forty-odd years since then a good deal of new material has come to light. This could well have been that book, but unfortunately it isn't. What is needed is a balanced account, taking account of the new material and using it to demonstrate that, although hard facts are sparse, there is a huge amount of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Caledonian Railway manipulated the subsequent enquiries to direct attention away from the company's shortcomings and that in so doing it was in all probability supported by the government.

The book does indeed come to that conclusion, but its account is far from balanced. The clue may be in the title - advertised for pre-order as `Britain's Worst Rail Disaster: The Shocking Story of Quintinshill 1915', by the time of publication the title had been changed to `The Quintinshill Conspiracy: The Shocking True Story behind Britain's Worst Rail Disaster'. The authors adopt an approach taken by a long line of conspiracy theorists throughout history - cast as much doubt and dirt as possible upon the `official' version and repeat the elements of the conspiracy theory interminably until the general reader accepts them as fact. This is a great pity, because I already accept, and have long believed, that there was indeed serious impropriety - a `conspiracy', if you like - in the handling of the Quintinshill enquiries.

In fairness to the authors I feel that I ought to explain the thinking behind my criticism, and as a result this review will necessarily be lengthy. As will become apparent, I am actually encouraging prospective readers to buy the book, but I hope they will take the time to consider what follows and to bear it in mind when making up their own minds. To set the scene, it's necessary to understand what happened at Quintinshill in the early hours of Saturday 22 May 1915. Quintinshill was an intermediate signal box just under 1½ miles north of Gretna Junction and just over 2¾ miles south of Kirkpatrick Fleming. It controlled loops on both up and down lines, and a trailing crossover between the main running lines.

On the fateful morning George Meakin, the signalman, was aware that two late-running expresses were approaching from the South, preceded by a slow-moving goods train and a local stopping passenger train. He also knew that a troop train was approaching from the North, again preceded by a slow goods train. The down goods arrived first, and was secured in the down loop. A little later, the up goods and the down stopping passenger arrived pretty much simultaneously. The up goods was diverted into the up loop, and at the same time the down local passenger stopped just beyond the crossover and reversed through the crossover on to the up main line. The first down express passed through without incident. During these manoeuvres, another signalman, James Tinsley, arrived and took over responsibility for the box. The up troop train was offered from Kirkpatrick signal box, and was accepted by Tinsley, despite the fact that the down stopping passenger was blocking the up line. There was a head-on collision, and a minute or so later the second down express ran into the wreckage. The troop train was made up of long-outdated and predominantly wooden-framed coaching stock, lit by gas; the gas cylinders were ruptured, the wreckage caught fire and the scene was soon a blazing inferno. The number of fatalities has been the subject of some argument, but I'm happy with the figures used in the book; 2 railwaymen and 214 soldiers from the troop train, 1 railwayman, 5 military personnel and 6 civilians on the Glasgow express, and 2 civilians on the local passenger train, an overall total of 230.

The official enquiries focused almost exclusively upon rule infringements by the two signalmen, and rule infringements there certainly were. First of all, the signalmen had an unauthorised agreement to change shifts at 6.30.am., rather than the official changeover time of 6.00.am. To conceal this, the outgoing signalman would note train movements after 6.00.am. on a loose sheet, so that his colleague could copy these entries into the Train Register in his own handwriting. Secondly, after placing the local passenger train on the up line, Meakin had failed to place a collar on the up home signal lever, to prevent the signal (and the associated distant signal) being used. Thirdly, Meakin had failed to give the `blocking back' signal to Kirkpatrick box to advise that the up line was obstructed.

Here we must pause to consider the exact significance of `rules'. For the employer - in this case the Caledonian Railway - rules served a dual purpose. Most obviously, they were designed to ensure safe operation of the railway, but they also had a second significant function - to ensure, so far as possible, that the employer was insulated from any culpability if things went wrong. This was the case in both private and public sectors for decades - it was the reason why the `work-to-rule' was so strongly favoured as an industrial bargaining tool later in the century. The truth of the matter was that rules proliferated to such an extent that employees could not remember, much less apply them all. Employers needed to have rules in place in order to protect themselves, but did not want those rules to impact upon profits, so in the fullness of time many rules were largely ignored on a day to day basis.

If rules really were important, employers needed to provide sufficient supervision to ensure that those rules were adhered to. It would seem that the Caledonian Railway, at least in the Gretna district, failed to provide anything approaching adequate supervision. Lever collars were routinely ignored, no doubt because the signalmen felt that they knew perfectly well where they had placed their trains - though accident reports make it clear that there were many occasions when signalmen did forget, and people died as a result. The variation of changeover time was put forward as a significant contributory factor to the accident. The signalmen's representative might reasonably have observed that, if that were so, then presumably the travelling public must be exposed to mortal danger three times a day on every line in the land. That didn't happen, but one of the signalmen, James Tinsley, lived only a matter of yards from his immediate superior, the Gretna stationmaster, and it seems incredible that in the tiny railway community at Gretna the late changeover arrangement would not be common knowledge. At Quintinshill, correct use of the lever collar could well have prevented the accident, but this was not pressed by the Caledonian's representatives, presumably because it would draw attention to the inadequacy of supervision.

The third alleged failure, that Meakin did not give the `blocking back' bell code to Kirkpatrick, was the matter pursued most vigorously by the Caledonian representatives. The authors contend that Meakin was prohibited from giving the signal, and this is a major plank of their case for conspiracy. I don't think this argument is viable. `Blocking back' was a relatively recent innovation in 1915; the essential objective being to ensure that if a main running line was obstructed, perhaps by a shunting operation, the next box back up that running line should be made aware of and authorise the blockage. The bell code signal was to be given before the blocking manoeuvre began. Quintinshill was something of an anomaly. The up coal train was still moving into the loop when the local passenger drew to a halt. This had two consequences. The Kirkpatrick block instrument would still show `train on line'. The presence of the crossover allowed the local passenger to begin to reverse to the up line. But the rule book said that the blocking back signal should be given before that manoeuvre began.

The Caledonian prided itself on offering `business as usual' despite the 40% increase in traffic as a result of the war. Its officers were `encouraged', if not formally instructed in print, to give the main expresses the maximum possible priority. Meakin rightly considered that to wait for the goods to fully clear the main line, allowing him to give the `train out of section' to Kirkpatrick box, immediately followed by the `blocking back' code, all of this before allowing the local passenger to reverse, would result in delay to the express. He therefore felt justified in beginning the manoeuvre prematurely. In so doing, he infringed a rule, though in circumstances which the Caledonian would privately applaud. So, at the end of the manoeuvre, the goods and local passenger trains were in their places, and the block instruments still showed train on line, and would do so until the `train out of section signal' was given. There was clearly an omission in the rule book in that it provided no instructions for giving the `blocking back' bellcode in the situation now obtaining at Quintinshill, though the prohibition in the existing rule was by inference rather than explicit. So what was to be done? The whole objective of the `blocking back' procedure was to ensure that the Kirkpatrick signalman was aware that the up line at Quintinshill was occupied. This could be achieved by waiting for the local passenger to leave before giving the `train out of section' code or by giving that code, immediately followed by the `blocking back' code, or by telephoning the signalman at Kirkpatrick or by a combination of these methods. In the event, the `train out of section' bell code was given when the up goods had cleared the up main line, although the line was still occupied by the local passenger. Neither of the two signalmen would admit to being responsible for this. The Kirkpatrick signalman was therefore left with the impression that the line was clear, so he duly offered the troop train.

Summarising the above, I would suggest that the authors are wrong to take the view that George Meakin was `prohibited' from using the `blocking back' code. Taking the strict view, he certainly infringed the `blocking back' rule by starting the manoeuvre before giving and receiving the bell code. We may have some sympathy with his actions in the circumstances in which he found himself, but he was an experienced signalman and must have appreciated that the most important duty was to make sure that Kirkpatrick was aware that the section was occupied. If he specifically intended to do this by delaying the `train out of section' bell signal, he failed to say so at any of the enquiries. And, of course, if he had used the lever collar the accident might still have been avoided.

The second plank of the authors' case is that James Tinsley was seriously ill on the morning of the accident. There simply isn't the evidence to underpin that argument. There's no doubt that he froze at the time of the first collision - it was Meakin who frantically threw back the signals for the express, and Tinsley certainly seems to have experiences some form of post-traumatic stress . A number of witnesses commented upon how frail and ill he looked, and his GP decided that he had suffered an epileptic fit and should not be moved from his home. Evidence of his state of mind before the accident is contradictory. Meakin makes no mention of anything untoward when he briefed Tinsley on the current situation prior to changeover, but others felt that his behaviour was abnormal. In at least one respect it certainly was - after the collision Tinsley consistently admitted to forgetting all about the local passenger train on the up line, even though he had hitched a lift on the locomotive from Gretna to Quintinshill just a few minutes earlier. The only other mention of illness is a reference in the Edinburgh press to Tinsley having suffered `fits' - presumably this derives from the GP's opinion. The authors produce no evidence suggesting that Tinsley had fits in later life, nor do they provide any expert medical opinion to explain how he might have acted under the influence of epilepsy, or indeed of any other condition that might have affected him on 22 May 1915. He may simply have slept badly the previous night. In short, without much more specific evidence to the contrary, William of Ockham's celebrated razor dictates that the simplest solution is to be preferred, and that solution suggests that he was simply `out of sorts' on the fateful Saturday morning; nothing that followed was inconsistent with post-traumatic shock.

The third main plank of the authors' case is the involvement of the Caledonian Railway in what amounted to a damage limitation exercise. In general, I agree with their conclusions in this regard, so there is no need to elaborate here. It is, however, worth emphasising that class divisions were still very sharp in 1915; the erosive effect of war didn't come into play until hostilities were over. Many middle-class professionals were happy to place blame firmly upon those at the metaphorical coalface, and thus were very keen to espouse explanations which tended to justify that bias.

The Government, too, seems to have had a finger in the pie; the authors draw attention to an apparent news blackout immediately after the adjournment of the initial enquiry. Perhaps it was thought bad for public morale. More significantly, it no doubt helped to deflect attention from the Government's failure to ensure, through the Railway Executive, that the railway companies consistently treated military requirements as the top priority, and from the fact that the Railway Executive was allowing the use of antiquated and dangerous stock to be used for moving troops. After all, whatever the immediate cause of the collisions may have been, the death toll was hugely increased by the telescoping and subsequent combustion of the troop train. It's difficult to see why this issue was not addressed by the Board of Trade enquiry, unless - again - pressure was brought to bear.

In summary - at last! I hear you say - I think that the authors are entirely justified in their contention that the Caledonian Railway and, in all probability, the Government of the day did seek to manipulate the various enquiries to deflect any suggestion of shortcomings on their respective parts. Why else would the Caledonian - a company not noted for philanthropy - have given jobs to both men after their release from prison? The company also seems to have generously supported their dependants. Taking account of all the available evidence, some sort of deal seems to have been reached with the signalmen, under which they jointly accepted responsibility in return for an assurance of support for themselves and their families. If only the authors had been content with that! The other issues they pursue weaken rather than strengthen the overall case. There are too many purely speculative observations - for example, Meakin had a car in later life, so where did the money come from? A possible source is mentioned (his wife was a publican but their pub was compulsorily acquired by the Carlisle and District State Management Scheme) but no figures are provided for the value of a typical car or for the amount of compensation received for the pub - so why raise the matter at all? In strictly factual terms, it is undeniable that errors by the signalmen were the immediate cause of the accident. The uncharacteristically narrow focus of the Board of Trade enquiry and the various other legal processes was an entirely different matter. By failing to adequately distinguish immediate factual responsibility from moral and lrgal responsibility the authors have simply muddied the waters.

Nevertheless, they have done well to study all of the available press coverage, some of which gives much greater detail of the enquiry proceedings than the official reports, but this good work is diluted by the `conspiracy theory' style of presentation. They are occasionally selective in presenting the established facts. As an example, they emphasise the fact that the lever frame and instrument shelf was in the middle of the signal box, requiring the signalmen to work with their backs to the railway and thus implying some justification for Tinsley's claim that he had simply forgotten about the local passenger train. On the other hand, they fail to provide a diagram of the layout of the box; had they done so, it would have revealed that the train register desk, where Tinsley had spent some minutes transcribing Meakin's notes, was against the front window, so that the stationary local passenger would be clearly visible to him, a few yards to his right.

There are also indications that the authors' research may have been rather superficial. Two examples are given below; there are plenty of others.

Chapter 3, Note 2: `Carlisle was not formally granted city status until 1974, but has been colloquially, and widely, known as the Border City for much longer and is thus referred to as a city throughout the book.' It was known as the Border City because it WAS a city, having been chartered as such by Henry II in 1158. So only 816 years out!

Chapter 7, page 85: `He had chosen the city's Saul & Lightfoot legal practice, of which G. A. (known as Lionel) Lightfoot was a partner.' Hmm. This seems to be a case of conflating two distinct individuals. Lionel Lightfoot was indeed a solicitor, very well-known and well-liked in Carlisle society - and indeed among the population at large - from the 1920s to the 1960s. He was a slightly larger than life character and a dedicated thespian. His name, however, was George Lionel Spencer Lightfoot; he was born on 1 November 1897 and so was only 17 at the time of the Quintinshill Disaster. G. A. Lightfoot was of an earlier generation, and I can find no evidence to suggest that he was ever known as Lionel.

More care and better writing could have made this a great book. Instead, it reads like a typical conspiracy theory. Nevertheless, everyone with an interest in railway history should buy a copy. Quintinshill was, after all, Britain's worst-ever railway disaster, and if you can ignore the speculation this book presents a compelling case in support of the view that the evidence as presented was significantly laundered in the interests of the Caledonian Railway and the Government. With the centenary only a couple of years away, more detail is likely to emerge, hopefully to be followed by a more balanced and probing analysis of the evidence.
review image
1919 comments69 of 72 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Quintinshill was a signal box on the west coast main line from London to Glasgow, located about 17 miles south-east of Lockerbie and half a mile north-west of Gretna. There was no station at Quintinshill; the only reason for the signal box being there was to control the passing loops and sidings, which allowed slower trains to be held up to allow fast trains to overtake them safely. Modern signalling methods employ a small number of large, regional signal boxes rather than the thousands of local boxes used in the old days, so Quintinshill became redundant long ago.

The crash was actually a double collision that involved five trains. It happened in 1915, when the railways were particularly busy due to the war effort, which used the railways to transport troops and supplies. One of the trains involved, and the worst affected, was carrying troops intended for the Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles, which was already in trouble and cost Churchill his job at the time.

May 1915 was a particularly bad month for Britain anyway, as the Germans had sunk the Lusitania for the loss of 1,198 lives. Also, although still run by private companies, the railways were officially under government control during the war. The Lusitannia, the Gallipoli / Dardanelles debacle and Quintinshill provided a triple blow for Asquith's government.

This book describes the events that led up to the crash, the double collision itself and the aftermath, complete with track and signalling arrangements, examining the evidence afresh. While the passage of time means that nobody alive in 1915 could contribute to this book (unlike two previous books published in 1969), the co-authors of this book had access to hitherto classified documents, which they got de-classified four years before they were to be de-classified anyway.

Having read not only these documents but also the earlier books on Quintinshill, the co-authors concluded that the previously accepted truth (that two signalmen were entirely to blame) was nonsense. Those signalman, it is now claimed, were partly to blame, but there were many other factors including the unsuitability of the troop train itself, the managers (at various levels) of the railway, the health or otherwise of one of the signalmen, and the motives of both the top railway management and Asquith's government in wanting to cover it up.

The co-authors do seem to repeat themselves somewhat in presenting their case, but they are trying to overturn what has been accepted as the truth for close to 100 years. Personally, I think they could be on the right lines, but I doubt if the truth will ever be known.

It is not an easy read, but it is fascinating. Oddly, Quintinshill seems to be less famous than the earlier Tay Bridge disaster, but with triple the death toll, it was much worse.
33 comments20 of 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
It is never too late, I would say, for a bit of whistleblowing where serious malpractice is being covered up. However when the incident in question occurred nearly 100 years ago it would take very good new evidence to present the matter in a significantly altered light. The authors have uncovered some new evidence certainly, but whether it is as good as they seem to think I take leave to doubt. Britain's worst railway accident was not the familiar Tay Bridge collapse in 1879 but a multiple pile-up in 1915 at an isolated signalbox named Quintinshill, just above the Scottish border on the west coast main line, that claimed 230 lives plus of course inflicting extensive serious injury. It involved five trains, two being rakes of freight wagons, two regular passenger trains and the fifth a troop carrier. The troop carrier was made up of antiquated 6-wheel carriages with gas lighting. It was travelling at express speed and was given clearance to enter a stretch of line (or `block') that was temporarily occupied by one of the passenger services. The resulting impact set the gas alight, and most of the fatalities were troops caught in the inferno that followed.

The authors contend that pinning the entire blame on two duty signalmen at Quintinshill was unjust. To some extent I have to agree, even from a strictly legal standpoint. The authors argue further that culpability on the part of the Caledonian Railway, the men's employers, was deliberately hushed up and that connivance in this injustice involved not just the highest levels of the railway company but His Majesty's government itself. We need to distinguish between what probably happened, what kind of support the evidence gives for it, and what its relevance is. It doesn't take much imagination to believe that in the disastrous year of 1915, with the Somme, Gallipoli and the sinking of the Lusitania, the government would have been desperate to keep attention off the conveyance of troops going to the front in railway coaches that were hardly railworthy as well as being firetraps. The Caledonian in turn would not have been keen on seeing any management inadequacies of theirs exposed. Between the two we may reasonably infer that pressure was exerted to keep the remit of the subsequent legal investigations narrowly focused on two guys at the bottom of the pyramid.

That much takes no effort of credulity. What seems a bit naive is to treat it all as some Shock Horror! expose. What do the authors think happens even today? It's the way of the legal world, notwithstanding undoubted political reforms and continuing efforts by pressure groups and activists. I compliment the authors on their alertness in spotting one piece of what I would also interpret as evasion by the coroner in a tricky spot. The argument was getting dangerously near exposing the complete supervisory inadequacy of the signalmen's immediate boss, the stationmaster at Gretna. He was supposed to visit the signalbox at different times, and on any proper view one such time would have been 6am, the time of the shift-changeover. If he had done this he would have been obliged to stop the minor-seeming but in the event disastrous abuse by the men whereby they delayed the changeover by half an hour and disguised the fact in their log. Quoth the coroner hastily `Mr Thorburn could not be there at every hour.' Who said he could?

What is just not established is whether any shortcomings by the company made it impossible for the signalmen to do their job safely. True, the company's attempts to maintain a regular peacetime service even when adding in troop trains sharing top priority with expresses were a tall order, but the men did not seem to think it beyond them. Sadly, there's no getting away from the fact that one of the signalmen, almost certainly the relief man Tinsley, gave clearance for the troop train to smack into a stationary passenger train temporarily diverted to the `wrong' line -- a train from which Tinsley had dismounted only a couple of minutes before. When asked about this Tinsley's answer has made history - he said he forgot it was there. What kind of brain-fade was this? Our authors keep asserting as fact what lacks proper corroboration, namely that Tinsley was suffering some kind of mental illness, perhaps epilepsy (the surmise based on decidedly thin reports). However if I am not persuaded by the authors' theory I have no convincing alternative to propose.

If the case for Tinsley supposes that he was not compos mentis, I have to note that the earlier operator Meakin, far from sensing anything of the sort, sat down to read a newspaper. A lot of the book, like a lot of the enquiry process at the time, focuses on two procedural issues. One was that a type of `collar', designed as a belt-and-braces safeguard against allowing new train movements on to track already occupied, had not been used. I quite agree with the authors that it was widely disregarded, and that assertions by supervisors that they had always found it used as directed prove only that it was used when the supervisors were on the scene. The other is the near-incomprehensible issue of `blocking-back', whereby a downline box could request its upline to bar entry to the `block' under its control. What the rulebook says is that the blocking-back signal should be given before any manoeuvre is initiated to occupy the downline tracks, not, as the authors seem to say, that it should not be used at all once an earlier obstruction has been cleared. The real victim was Meakin, hung out to dry by not just his lawyers but even by his union. He would not have given the blocking-back signal because he thought Tinsley, now in charge and properly briefed, knew what he was doing. There was no way of helping Tinsley without dumping Meakin in it, so Meakin got duly dumped. There you go.
66 comments15 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 November 2014
I bought this book to find the detailed facts about the disaster, but also for background and the people involved. I was fascinated that the book gets one to five star reviews, the lowest being greatly detailed but the higher tending to be of the 'good read' variety.
My view is that the book gives lots of information not widely known about before, but in no way proves conspiracy. In fact once the conspiracy theory has been mentioned three or four times, it becomes fact, as if by saying something lots of times it does become true. Let us be clear that disasters in wartime do get hushed up. I wonder if many people, even rail enthusiasts know of the second highest death toll on railway premises in England which happened at Bethnal Green on 3rd March 1943, because no trains were involved. Let us also be clear that until the late 1980s railway accident enquiries whether chaired by a senior railway officer or or independently found the prime cause, usually error by signalman, driver or other front line staff, who got disciplined internally and ever so very rarely got charged with manslaughter. I know because I chaired dozens between 1978 and 2006. It was Clapham that changed it (for instance looking at fatigue and pressure from the top to get a resignalling scheme completede on time), and all of us who chaired enquiries had to go on a 7-day 'root-cause analysis' course, in may case at the University of Essex. The theme was (somewhat flippantly) 'The signalman effed up, the Signalling Manager effed up, and the company effed up'. No undelying case or root cause given and the enquiry report would not be accepted. After 1992 there would be a requirement to discuss 'organisational issues' which was shorthand for privatisation.
Back to Quintinshill. There was a lot in the book and in these reviews about 'blocking back' Unfortunately I cant work out from diagrams where the 'parly' stood after going onto the wrong line. If it was more than 440 yards there would be no need to block back as it would not have been fouling the 'clearing point'. Indeed if this were the case Tinsley could have accepted the troop train from the box in rear, but of course could not offer it on to Gretna and clear his signals. I don't know when it was introduced, but in the former GWR block regulations in use on the Western until the early seventies we had a bell signal 1-2-3 which meant 'blocking back inside home signal with a train still in section' which would have made putting the parly across the road before the coal empties arrived in clear. There is nothing in this or any other book about the fact that the brake van of this train would not have passed the signalbox. In this instance the signalman should not give 'train out of section' until he had received a handsignal from the guard confirming that the train had arrived complete.
One more point about the lack of safety management from the Gretna stationmaster. When I was an operations manager many years ago, I noticed that the supervisory visits to one of the boxes in my area always occurred between 0730 and 0745, then 1600 to 1630. On 'withdrawing the book' for scrutiny I realised that the local manager only ever visited the box on his way to and from work. hmmm.
But back to the book. Reads a bit like a tabloid, but gets the FACTS over. To many exclamation marks for my liking. Ignoring the conspiracy, it is a goodish read. One final point which made me chuckle - the photograph of one of the locomotives involved hauling a pre-war express shown wooden-framed 6-wheelers in the train. There are lots more (I have to say very critical) reviews of this book on the Caledonian Railway Society website.
0Comment3 of 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 January 2015
If you are looking for up to date historical research on Britain's worst train disaster, this isn't it. Which is a real shame as clearly a lot of research has gone into the preparation of this book. However, rather than offer a balanced view of the well known facts and the new documents unearthed by the authors, they have chosen to present it as a piece of jaundiced journalism. Evidence and testimony are mixed with conjecture and supposition. Motives and intent are attributed to people and organisations based on modern day sensibilities and prejudices. The authors attempt to portray ineptitude and conspiracy at the highest levels as the cause of the tragedy, rather than the actions and decisions made in the signal box that morning, is so dominant that their argument becomes unbelievable.

However, The title of the book is the Quintinshill Conspiracy and if you want a great conspiracy story, this is the book for you.
0Comment2 of 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 14 November 2013
The story of the Quintishill disaster is well known.

A northbound stopping train had to be shunted to allow northbound expresses to overtake it. Both loops were occupied by goods trains so the train was shunted on to the southbound line. Here it was somehow forgotten and a southbound troop train signalled through (this was 1915). A collision occurred. Worse the northbound express could not be stopped and ploughed into the wreckage resulting in 230 deaths, many from the fire resulting from gas-lit elderly wooden coaches.

The 2 signalmen (it was shift changeover time) were rightly blamed, they had broken several basic safety rules, tried and imprisoned.

The authors do not dispute the facts but claim that the Caledonian Railway (essentially controlled by the government in wartime) was institutionally to blame. The signalmen were expected to give priority to both the expresses (the same timetable as before the war) and the troop train. They would be criticised for delaying either. The rules, and their interpretation, were rather selectively presented at the hearings. The coroner was not impartial and their counsel could have done better. The press seem to have been muzzled. The Caledonian did not carry out inspections as it should and the signalmen's unofficial shift changeover must have been known to their superior who denied this. There is also a suggestion that one of the men suffered from epilepsy which would have made him unsuited to the job, and be known to the company (this could explain how he inexplicably forgot the local train which he had actually travelled to work on).

The Caledonian looked after the men on their release and this is taken by the authors as indicative of a "cover up". They could "take the rap" to protect those higher up.

A good read, particularly if you are not familiar with the incident. The authors certainly show that justice was not done, but do not really prove a conspiracy.
0Comment6 of 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 January 2014
This book does have its good points: the account of the accident itself is clear and readable, the account of the aftermath extensive, the photos excellent and the authors have consulted a variety of sources. However the book is factually innacurate (for example the train register WAS signed on the correct page). The authors have chosen to rely heavily on newspapers rather than the official account and the reliability of the newspaper reporting has to be in doubt - the evidence they produce isn't really enough to sustain their attack on the independence of the official enquiry. The authors seem confused between fact and opinion - in some places it is stated as a fact that Tinsley is ill but there is no proof of this at all (though the authors do marshall plenty of evidence in support of the statement). The book would have benefitted from better proof reading (the names of places and people are frequently confused) and the authors should have consulted an expert on railway operations rather than a signalling engineer. A better editor would have removed much of the hyperbole and required the authors to differentiate more clearly between fact and supposition.

In short this is an interesting book but should be taken with a sack rather than a pinch of salt.
0Comment6 of 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 14 February 2015
This was a fascinating read. It read as a conspiracy thriller but sadly it actually happened with such tragic loss of life. The blame for the disaster was placed firmly on the shoulders of the two signalmen but through meticulous research the authors demonstrate that there were many more contributing factors to the eventual calamity. They also reason with, cogent arguments, that there were mitigating circumstances for the two signalmen. The more you read, it becomes clearer that political and business factors played a much more significant role while the blame was adroitly laid at the feet of the two individuals. Plus ca change.
This account works on so many levels. It is a good read, it succinctly presents the facts and it leaves a lasting impression of what was, is and hopefully will remain the worst railway disaster on these shores.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 April 2015
The book is interesting in the new facts it produces. It is a bit journalistic and at times sensationalist but does put it's point over well. It is a good insight into the social values of the time and how they affect decision making. Whether the conclusions the book reaches are the only possible explanation for events is debatable as it never explores any other avenue and does not produce any evidence to back it's medical argument, which is the crux of it's case. Also, although it tries to explain technical railway procedures in an understandable way some pre-existing understanding helps to grasp what is being said. That being said it does give a compelling case of for gross injustice and is a good read.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 March 2015
Sadly our family lost my Great Uncle William Stewart in the crash. He survived the first smash and was seen helping his fellow soldiers. On entering a coach he was never seen again. It is a fair assumption to make that he perished in the fires fueled by exploding gas tanks beneath some of the coaches. His body was not recovered. My Gt Uncle Jock McConnell survived both the crash and being shot at the battle of Cambrai. This version of the story is fascinating, if a little hung up on Tinsley's alleged ill health. Looking forward to paying my respects in May 2015 to the brave Royal Scots who perished 100 years ago. Certainly worth a read.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse