On this day, George Westley died due to being crushed in the Goods Shed
George Westley was a contract clock winder, employed by R Bonner-Thomas, watch & clock maker of Portmadoc who had a contract with the Company to maintain the clocks in its possession. By an error, and bad luck, he was killed whilst attending his duties in the old Goods Shed. He was apparently taking a break, and reading a letter in the goods shed at the time of the incident.
A rake of over fifty goods wagons had been shunted from Minffordd down to Portmadoc, and were intended for the harbour. However, due to the points being incorrectly set, they deviated and ended on the line running directly into the Goods shed. The wagons entered the goods shed at a low speed, but the momentum pushed the wagons already there through the 2ft thick masonary wall at the other end. Westley was crushed.
John Owen, the shunting guard, and William Newell, the duty signalman, were both adamant they had set the points back for the harbour line. Colonel Rich was the BoT investigating officer, and would not comment on this inconsistency. He found the collision was caused by the neglect of these employees
Newell was prosecuted but found not guilty at Caernarvon Quarter Sessions in August 1882. The company awarded him £10 towards his legal costs. The company also refused to pay compensation to Westley's widow.
Other people involved:
David Davies was the driver of the loco and wagons from Minffordd
Robert Griffith was the leading brakesman on the wagons when the accident took place.
John William Wheeler was the Stationmaster on duty
William Roberts (1822) - Goods Porter
James Wootten - Carriage Cleaner and lamp trimmer
Full BoT report follows:-
London and North-Western Hotel,
Lime Street, Liverpool,
17th March 1881.
IN compliance with the instructions contained in the Order of the 9th instant. I have the honour to report, for the information of the Board of Trade, the result of my inquiry into the circumstances which attended the collision that occurred on the 4th instant at Portmadoc station of the Festiniog Railway.
A train, which consisted of 53 waggons of slates, which was intended to run along the mineral line to the quays, was diverted into the goods store in consequence the points of the siding, which led off the mineral line into the store, being placed in the wrong direction. The train of slates ran against two empty coal trucks and a waggon of slate slabs which where standing in the store, and drove one of the coal waggons and the waggon of slabs through the gable wall at the end of the store.
The gable wall was built of rubble masonry about 2 foot thick. The waggon of slate slabs was standing a few feet from it, and there was an interval of about 3 feet between this waggon and the coal waggon next to it.
It appears that a man, who was employed by the Company's contractor for keeping their clocks in order, was in the store, at the time of the collision, standing between the slate and the coal waggon. He seems to have been reading a letter when the slate train ran into the shed and jammed him between the waggons. He was driven through the wall with them, and died immediately afterwards from the injuries he received.
There is no clock in the goods store, but the man seems to have gone in there to read his letter, before he proceeded along the line to look after the clocks.
The slate train was running at a speed of 2 or 3 miles an hour when it entered the goods shed. Eight of the waggons in the train were fitted with breaks, and there were two breaksmen employed with the train; one was sitting on the foremost waggon of slates. He applied his break and jumped off as the train ran towards the store, and went to put on a second break on the nearest break-waggon, which was about the seventh from the one he had been sitting on.
The train previous to the collision had been divided into three parts, and these three parts had been driven towards the station at a speed of 2 or 3 miles an hour by the shunting engine that had followed the train from Mynffordd (sic).
The station signalman was in the act of taking charge of the middle portion, and the shunting guard or second breaksman was in charge of the last section of the train. These three portions were destined for three different wharves in Portmadoc town.
No waggons on the slate train were damaged or left the rails, but the two waggons that were driven through the wall were slightly damaged.
The Festiniog Railway is a single line. The gauge is 1 foot 11½ inches. The approach to Portmadoc station is on an embankment which is practically level. The station is protected by a home and a distant signal. The home-signal is about 90 yards from the station platform, and the distant-signal is about 330 yards outside the home-signal. There are two sidings which join the passenger line between the home and distant signals. The points of these sidings, which are facing-points to an incoming train, and are wire locked with the distant-signal, and the third set of facing-points where the line to the station platform diverges from the mineral line to the quays, is locked with a second lever placed close alongside the point lever. The home-signal is adjacent and a little in front of these points.
These points are provided with a disc indicator which works with the points. They are about 16 yards north or nearer to Portmadoc town than the points that led to the passenger station. Beyond these points there are others that form twelve siding junctions to the several wharves in the town.
William Newell states.—I was signalman on duty on the 4th March at Portmadoc station of the Festiniog Railway. The slate train that met with the accident was due about half-past nine. About 25 minutes to 10 I went to put the points and signals in the proper position for the train to run to the port. The train arrived and stopped outside the distant-signal about 25 minutes to 10. I made all the points so that it should run down the mineral line to the quays. I lowered the home-signal, and Roberts, the goods porter, lowered the distant-signal, which locks the two facing-points on the main line, which are the first that the train reaches. I also put No. 3 points where the line for the passenger platform deviates from the main line right for the main line to the quays. These points are locked by a second lever which is worked close alongside the point-lever. The last time I moved the points which led off the main line to the goods shed, which points are at the north side of the passenger line, was about half-past eight, when I took a waggon of lime out of the goods shed. The lever of these points is weighted so that the points shall lie right, and remain in which-ever position they are placed, whether for the, goods shed or for the main line, I made them for the goods shed line in order to get a waggon of lime out and after it was taken out by the shunting engine I put back the points in the proper direction for the main line to the quays. The only person I saw about the place between that time and the arrival of the slate train was William Roberts, the porter. About three minutes before the slate train arrived I passed the points which led to the goods shed, and saw that they were lying right for the main line. I was then on my way from Mr. Oakeley's wharf to the signal-box, which is at the south side of these points, as I was going to lower the signal for the slate train. I had been to Mr. Oakeley's wharf to see that it was clear to receive a part of this slate train. I saw George Westley, the man who was killed in the goods shed, as I was coming from Mr. Oakeley's wharf to the signal-box. He was behind me near the points leading to Mr. Oakeley's wharf when I was walking towards the signal-box. I saw him coming to the railings at the south side of the goods shed, and I do not know what became of him afterwards. I did not know exactly how many waggons the slate train consisted of, but I knew that it was unhooked in three portions. The first portion was for the Welsh Slate Company's wharf; the second for Mr. Oakeley's Wharf; and the third for the Votty and Bowydd wharf, which is beyond the Welsh Slate Company's wharf. I have been two years in the Festiniog Railway Company's service and the whole of that time signalman and porter; and I have also charge of the points commencing at the north end of the "empty" siding loop as far as the junction with the passenger line at the south end of that loop. The slate train arrived about 25 minutes to 10. I was at that time in the porters' room. I had been sweeping the ladies' waiting room. The engine of the slate train was whistling on the embankment, so I went out to pull off the signals. Porter Roberts, who was coming along the embankment at the time, had put the distant-signal right before. I got to the signal-box, and I put the home-signal right. The slate train passed me at a speed of about 2 or 3 miles an hour, and the leading portion of it ran into the goods shed, instead of along the main line, as it was intended to do. There were two empty coal waggons and a waggon of slate slabs standing in the goods shed, detached from each other. The waggon of slate slabs was next to the end of the goods shed. This waggon, and the coal waggon next to it, were driven through the wall at the end of the goods shed by the slate train, which ran into them, and Wesley was found between the waggon of slabs and the coal waggon. He was dead at the time I saw him, which was when they were carrying him away, about 10 o'clock. I went from the porters' room to Mr. Oakeley's wharf and from Mr Oakeley's wharf to the signal-box and on my way to the signal box I passed the points which led to the goods shed and saw that they were lying right for the main line. I ran from the signal-box to the slate train, which had just passed No. 2 points at the time. I was called by Robert Griffith, who was riding on the leading waggon of the slate train, and told by him to go and attend to the portion intended for Mr. Oakeley's wharf, which was the second portion. I got on the leading waggon of Mr. Oakeley's portion in order to break it into his yard, and I was riding on this waggon at the time the leading portion of the train ran into the goods shed. John Owen, the shunting guard, was the other man in charge of the slate train. He was the shunting guard, and he was walking alongside the last portion of the train. He was a little north of No. 2 points .at the time I got, the second portion I put the home-signal at "caution". I work the home-signal in the three positions "danger," "caution," and "all right". I always work it to "caution" when slate trains are to come in, and I lower it to "all right" when passenger trains are to come in.
Extract of additional evidence given by Newell to the coroner:-
William Newell— The special to Festiniog followed the passenger train, and the shunting engine followed the special as far as Mynfford (sic). I saw the special go, but I did not see the shunting engine going away. William Roberts was the only person about. The shunting guard is supposed to see that the points are set right after the shunting engine. John Owen is the shunting guard ; he was close by the shed when I left for breakfast. I returned about 25 minutes to 10. The slate train was then on the bank. I was going to the signal-cabin, but William Roberts was there, and he turned the distant-signal to " all right " before I got there. I saw that the points which led to the goods shed were right for the main line (which goes to the town wharves) as I passed them. I did not go as far as the signal-cabin, as Roberts had worked the distant-signal, but I returned to Oakeley's wharf to see that it was clear for a part of the slate train which was to be put there; and then I returned and lowered the home-signal to " caution " for the slate tram come on. I passed the points to the goods shed and going to and from Oakeley's yard.
William Roberts states.— 1 am goods porter employed at the Portmadoc station of the Festiniog Railway. At the time the accident occurred on the 4th March I was in the goods shed, employed in loading some flour waggons. I went there about five minutes before the train came in. I had come from the "empty " waggon siding. I had been cleaning a waggon that had been standing in "empty" waggon siding. This waggon was standing about 100 yards south of the signal-box. The engine of the slate train was whistling on the embankment at the time. He was coming from the passenger station. This was somewhere between half-past 9 and 20 minutes to 10. I did not see the slate train again until it came into the shed. It ran into the two coal waggons and a waggon of slabs, and drove the waggon of slabs and one coal waggon through the wall at the end of the shed. I never saw the man that was killed till I saw him jammed between the slate waggon and the coal waggon. I knew him. I have been 18 years a goods porter in the Company's service. My work lies in the goods shed and down at the quays, and I frequently assist in giving a helping hand about the station. I understand the signals. I had charge of them for years when I was first employed by the Company. The deceased had no business that I knew of in the goods shed. I do not recollect having seen him here before. It was raining very heavily at this time.
Robert Griffith states.—I was breaksman of the slate train, which was coming down from Mynffordd on the 4th March. I joined the slate train at Mynffordd. It consisted of 53 waggons loaded with slates and there was an engine and tender following. The train was brought to a stand some distance outside the distant-signal. The engine -whistled for the signal, and as soon as the distant-signal was lowered it pushed the train on towards Portmadoc station. The train consisted of three parts for three different quays. The guard had unhooked the train in two places while it was standing on the embankment. The home-signal was lowered to "caution". I cannot say what the speed was, but I saw the shunting guard walking alongside the train. I was sitting on the leading waggon of the train lacing the sea. The train ran into the goods shed, and then I at once applied my break and jumped off. The train was intended to go down the main line towards the Welsh slate wharf. I noticed that the points were wrong, and were set for the goods shed just before I reached them. I could have seen the points were wrong by the indicator for some time before I reached them if 1 had looked, but seeing that the signals were right I did not expect the points to be wrong and I was partly turned round, looking the other way, to give directions to the other breaksman, who was in the middle portion of the train. I did not see anyone near the points as I approached. I could have seen anyone if there had been anyone there. Sometimes we have a break on every third wagon, sometimes there are as many as eight without it. I had plenty of break power to control the train on the 4th. I had my break on the leading wagon partly on when it was turned towards the goods shed. The break on the front waggon was a "rack" break which worked all right.
David Davies states.—I am driver of the shunting engine that works between Portmadoc and Mynffordd. About half-past 8 on the 4th March I came to Portmadoc goods shed and took out a waggon of lime from the goods shed. I pushed it back on the special, which was standing on the main line at the north side of the goods shed, and I then returned into the goods shed, so as to allow the engine of special to back on to its train and take it away. After it went away I followed it. and shunter Owen made the points right for my engine to run from the goods shed on to the main line, and I stopped my engine and waited for him. while he put the points right for the main line to the docks. He then got on my engine, and I went away to Mvnffordd. There was no engine left at Portmadoc at this time, and I am not aware of any train running over the main line at Portmadoc until I returned behind the slate train, which was due at Portmadoc at 9.30 a.m. The slate train was brought to a stand on the embankment south of the distant-signal. The train was divided into three parts before I reached it. When I arrived I whistled for the signal, and as soon as the distant-signal was lowered and I got the signal from the guard I pushed the train towards Portmadoc. It was intended to go down the main line towards the wharf, but the front part of it ran into the goods shed on the same road that I had come out on about an hour previous. The home-signal was lowered to "caution," and stopped at "caution" when the leading part of the train ran past it. I did not come up to the signal. I shut off steam as soon as I passed the distant-signal, having given the train sufficient speed for the first portion of the work to be done. I then went into the New Wharf siding to fetch a waggon out of it. I have been eight years in the Company's service, and about eight or nine months an engine-driver. I noticed the front portion of my train take the road into the goods shed, instead of running down the main line, as it was intended. I think it was going about walking speed. I think one of the breaksmen was walking alongside it working the break.
John Owen states.—I was shunting guard of the slate train on the morning of the 4th instant. It was intended to run down towards the wharf, but the leading part of it ran into the goods shed. I did not see the points which led to the goods shed before the train reached them; but when the train was drawn out of the goods shed, after the accident, I saw that they lay in the proper position for the train to run into the goods shed. No part of my train was thrown off the road by the collision, only the waggons that were on the same road inside the goods shed. Two of these were driven through the end wall of the goods shed. There was no damage at all done to the slate train. One of the coal waggons the waggon of slabs inside were slightly damaged. I held the points to allow the shunting engine to come out of the goods shed, and I replaced them in the proper position for the main line quays before I went away with the engine to Mynffordd (sic).
Charles Easton Spooner states.—I am the secretary of the Festiniog Railway Company. The line of railway which goes along the public road from Portmadoc station to the various wharves in the town was made about the year 1836, and has been worked ever since. There are 13 sidings, which lead off this mineral railway to the several wharves and quays in the town.
James Wootton states.—I am a carriage cleaner and lamp trimmer in the Festiniog Railway Company's service. At the time of the accident on the 4th instant I was standing at the points which led from the main mineral line into Mr. Oakeley's wharf. I did not observe the points which led to the goods shed, as I was attending to my own. I saw the slate train run down the line to the goods shed. It ran into some waggons that were standing in the goods shed, and a man of the name of Wesley was jammed between the waggon of slabs and the empty coal waggon, which were driven by the collision with the slate train, through the end wall of the goods shed. Wesley was squeezed to death between the slate waggon and the coal waggon. Wesley had a letter in his hand when I saw him, which was about half a minute after the accident. I saw Wesley about two minutes before the accident. He passed me on his way towards the goods shed, but I did not see him enter the shed. I knew that Wesley's business was to set and keep the Company's clocks in proper order, and that Friday was his proper day for attending to this duty. I am not aware of his having any business in the shed. I do not think it was raining at the time, but it had been raining hard before that. I did not observe anything wrong about the man when he passed me. I believe Wesley was a' servant in the employ of Richard Bonner Thomas, Portmadoc, who was the Company's contractor for keeping the clocks in order.
John William Wheeler states.—I am station-master at the Portmadoc station of the Festiniog Railway. The return produced (handed in) was sent to me by the way (sic) office. It shows that the slate train on the morning of the 4th March consisted of 52 slate trucks and one slab truck. Eight of these trucks with provided with breaks.
It appears from the foregoing evidence that the shunting engine left the goods shed about 8.35 a.m. and proceeded to Mynffordd(sic) to do some shunting at that station. The shunting guard went with the engine-driver and fireman on the engine to Mynffordd(sic), and he should have replaced the points of the goods shed siding in the proper position for the main line before leaving.
He stated that he did so; and the signalman who had charge of the Portmadoc signals stated, that he looked at these points and believed them to be in the right position for the town line, before he took off the home-signal for the slate train to run towards the town, but he does not appear to have looked at the disc-signal which works with the points. The signalman passed these goods store points twice between the time when the shunting engine left Portmadoc and the time when it returned with the slate train about 9.35 a.m.
The points are in good order and are reported not to have been damaged by the collision or to have had any repairs done to them since then. It is impossible that the slate train could have run round the curve into the goods store, instead of along the straight line to the wharves, if the points had been in the proper position for the line to the town; and as there appears to be no reason to suppose that these points were handled by any person, after the shunting guard set them for the shunting engine to come out of the goods store, I am forced to the conclusion, that the shunting guard left the points in the position for vehicles to run in or out of the goods store, when he went away with the shunting engine, and that the signalman failed to examine them properly and to see that they were right, as it was his duty to do before he lowered the Portmadoc station home-signal. The collision was caused by the neglect of these men.
I have, &c., F.H. Rich, Colonel R.E.
The Secretary, (Railway Department,) Board of Trade.
Printed copies of the above report were sent to the Company on the 8th April.
- Accident Record
- Robert Griffith
- John Owen
- William Newell
- John William Wheeler
- George Westley
- David Davies (1855)
- Frederick Henry Rich BoT official
Subject to BoT report in National Archive file RAIL 1053/70
- Johnson, Peter (2007). An Illustrated History of the Festiniog Railway. Hersham: Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 0-860936-03-1. OCLC 180463433.
- Boyd, James I.C. (1975) . The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 1 - History and Route. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-8536-1167-X. OCLC 2074549. p141