Castlecary rail accidents

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Two rail accidents have occurred near Castlecary, Scotland. One of these was in 1937 and one in 1968. Both events involved rear-end collisions, and caused the deaths of 35 and 2 people respectively.

1937 accident[edit]

Castlecary rail crash (1937)
Date10 December 1937
LineGlasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line
OperatorLondon and North Eastern Railway
CauseSignalman error
List of UK rail accidents by year

On 10 December 1937 at 4:37 pm, the 4:03 pm Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street express train collided at Castlecary station with the late-running 2:00 pm express train from Dundee to Glasgow Queen Street on the Edinburgh to Glasgow main line of the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), killing 35 people.[1] At the time of the accident, whiteout conditions prevailed due to a snowstorm.[2][3][4]

The Edinburgh train hit the rear of the standing Dundee train at an estimated 70 mph (110 km/h). Due to the confines of the location, the rear four coaches of the Dundee train were completely disintegrated; the engine of the Dundee train, an LNER Class D29 no. 9896 Dandie Dinmont, was pushed forward 100 yards (90 m) with the brakes on. The locomotive of the Edinburgh train, LNER Class A3 no. 2744 Grand Parade, was damaged beyond repair (and was replaced by a new engine with the same number and name in April 1938).


The death toll was 35 (including 7 train crew) and 179 people were hurt, most of them seriously. An eight-year-old girl was counted as missing (some locals swore to seeing her ghost for many years);[5] the driver of the Edinburgh train was committed to court on a charge of culpable homicide (the Scottish equivalent of manslaughter) for supposedly driving too fast for the weather conditions, but the charge was dropped. The Inspecting Officer concluded that it was the signalman who was principally at fault for the disaster; this was Britain's worst snow-related rail crash, others of note being Elliot Junction in 1906 and Abbots Ripton in 1876.


The whiteout meant that visibility was no more than a few yards and so the signalmen on this stretch of line were operating Regulation 5e; this meant that a double section had to be clear ahead for a train to be signalled to pass the previous box, Greenhill Junction. A set of points ahead had been blocked by snow and caused several trains to back up and the Castlecary home signal was therefore at 'danger'; the Dundee train ran past the Castlecary home signal in poor visibility but managed to stop just beyond it. The Castlecary signalman failed to check its whereabouts and allowed the following Edinburgh train into the section; this also ran past the same signal and collided with the Dundee train. It is believed that the Castlecary distant signal had stuck in the 'off' ('clear') position and so the drivers of both trains took it that the line was clear; the driver of the Edinburgh train only realised that it was not when he crossed the viaduct and saw that the home signal at 'danger'. Even a modern-day car would not have stopped in the remaining 50 yards (45 m) to the tail lamp (which was flattened).

1968 accident[edit]

Castlecary rail crash (1968)
Date9 September 1968
LineGlasgow to Edinburgh via Falkirk Line
OperatorBritish Rail Scottish Region
CauseSignalman error leading to driver error, excessive speed.
List of UK rail accidents by year

A second accident occurred in Castlecary on 9 September 1968,[6] also a rear-end collision. Following the failure of a signal at Greenhill Junction, trains were required (by Rule 55) to stop at the failed signal and report their presence to Signalman D. Craig at Greenhill Junction via the signal telephone, he would allow them to proceed slowly past the signal, at around 10 mph (20 km/h), and then report on passing the signal to continue to obey previous signals. This method had worked since the signal's failure the night before and throughout the early morning, but at 09:00, Craig became confused by the presence of four different trains in the Greenhill area.

Of these trains, the Down 07:40 Dundee-Glasgow service passed through Greenhill uneventfully, but its passage resulted in Craig being forced to hold the Down 08:30 Edinburgh-Glasgow service north of Greenhill Junction. At the same time, the Up 08:46 Glasgow-Edinburgh service driven by Driver W. Watson, consisting of two six-car Class 126 DMUs, stopped at the failed signal, and when Watson contacted Craig on the telephone, Craig misunderstood the call, believing Watson to be the Down train, and told him that he was waiting for a train at Greenhill Junction; the mistake was furthered by Watson's failure to identify his train. Shortly after, Class 24 engine D5122, crewed by Driver W. McIntosh and Secondman R. Birrell, running light from Glasgow to Perth, arrived at the signal in rear of the Up train. Birrell contacted Craig at Greenhill. Like Watson, Birrell failed to identify his train; in combination with Birrell’s impatient tone, this led Craig to repeat the mistake - again believing that he was speaking to the Up DMU at the failed signal. (Its Rule 55 call had been overdue for some minutes.) He gave Birrell authority to pass the signal ahead at danger, at caution speed. D5122 then set off, but McIntosh took his engine to around 40 mph (65 km/h); as result, when the Up DMU became visible to him, he was unable to stop in time and collided with the rear of the Up DMU. Both trainmen were killed instantly. Mere seconds after the collision, the Down line cleared and the Down DMU proceeded, suffering minor damage from a jutting piece of debris scraping the cab.

The report by Colonel I.K.A. McNaughton in 1970 agreed that the accident was due to a combination of Craig's confusion in identifying the trains, furthered by Birrell and Watson's failure to identify their trains, and that Driver McIntosh had driven his train at an unsafe speed past the signal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Memorial marks 80 years since Castlecary train disaster". BBC. 10 December 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Village remembers its blackest day after more than 70 years". The Herald. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Report on the collision between two passenger trains which occurred on 10th December, 1937, at Castlecary on the London and North Eastern Railway" (PDF). 24 April 1938. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  4. ^ "Castlecary disaster death-toll of 35". The Herald. 14 February 2005. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  5. ^ "Fatal train crash left ghostly tale". Evening Times. 25 September 2014. Retrieved 12 October 2017.
  6. ^ "RAIL SAFETY AND RAIL PRIVATISATION IN BRITAIN" (PDF). Imperial College Centre for Transport Studies. 16 June 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2010.


  • Hamilton., J.A.B. (1967). British Railway Accidents of the 20th Century (reprinted as Disaster down the Line). George Allen and Unwin / Javelin Books. ISBN 0-7137-1973-7.
  • Nock, O.S. (1980). Historic Railway Disasters (2nd ed.). Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-1752-2.
  • Rolt, L.T.C. (1956 (and later editions)). Red for Danger. Bodley Head / David and Charles / Pan Books. ISBN 0-7509-2047-5. Check date values in: |year= (help)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°58′50″N 3°56′56″W / 55.98045°N 3.94880°W / 55.98045; -3.94880