John Speller's Web Pages Disasters at Abermule

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The quiet and picturesque little village of Abermule in Powys, situated on Cambrian Railways, was the scene of two fatal railway accidents in the early twentieth century.

A special livestock train left Aberystwyth at 8.15 p.m. of 24 July 1907. The train consisted of 16 vehicles amounting to 157 tons, behind an 0-6-0 goods engine. The crew consisted of Driver John Jones (No. 1), Fireman Edward Davies and Guard John Jones (No.2) Beside cattle and horses the train carried several people who were traveling, along with their animals. Somewhere around Abermule on a falling grade of 1:287 the coupler on one of the cattle wagons failed due to metal fatigue and the two halves of the train parted. Driver Jones had slowed a little to around 12 mph, about two miles beyond Abermule, and the rear portion of the train crashed into the front section. Two men riding in a horsebox were killed and two others, riding with the cattle, together with Fireman Davies were injured. The Regulation of Railways Act of 1889 exempted trains carrying drovers or grooms in charge of livestock from having to employ the vacuum brake, which was mandatory for normal passenger trains. The locomotive and several of the wagons were equipped with the vacuum brake, though it was not in use. If it had been the rear half of the train would have been brought to a halt and the accident would have been averted.

The second Abermule disaster happened around noon on 26 January 1921 and was much more serious, leading to the deaths of 17 passengers, including Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest, one of the Directors of Cambrian Railways. Owing to a shocking mix-up, involving blatant breaking of the rules by several people and the careless handing of the wrong electric tablet to the driver of one of the trains, a westbound stopping train from Whitchurch and an eastbound express from Aberystwyth collided head on just west of Abermule at a combined speed of more than 60 mph. Signalman Bill Jones, Relief Stationmaster Frank Lewis from Montgomery (who was deputizing Stationmaster John Parry, who was on leave) were principally responsible for the mix-ups, though the crew of the stopping train were at fault in failing properly to examine the electric staff. The accident highlighted the outdated and sloppy way in which some railways were operated on the eve of the Railway Grouping.
Map showing the location of Abermule excerpted from the Cambrian Railways system map
The wrecked coaches following the Abermule disaster of 26 January 1921
Aftermath of the Abermule disaster of 26 January 1921
Lord Herbert Lionel Vane-Tempest (1862-1921), the son of the 5th. Marquis of Londonderry, had been a Director of Cambrian Railways since 1905 and was one of the seventeen killed in the accident. Sir Winston Churchill, his first cousin once removed, inherited his not inconsiderable estate. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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