Day Log/1896-08-28

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On this date, an accident occurred at Penrhyn. The 10:00 am passenger service derailed approaching the station. It consisted of the loco Princess, tender, quarrymans carriage, two 4 wheeled carriags, two bogie carriages, bogie guards van. Only the first 3 derailed, and sustained damage.

Lt-Colonel H. Arthur Yorke was the inspecting Officer that visited the railway to investigate this incident. Evan Morris (1861), PW foreman, Jarrett Davies, driver, Rowland Owen, stoker (fireman) were involved and gave evidence to Yorke.

He reported his findings, six weeks later, on 7th October. [1]

Charles Beresford was the train guard.

Full report follows:-


Board of Trade (Railway Department), 8, Richmond Terrace, Whitehall, London, S.W.

October 7th, 1896.


I HAVE the honour to report, for the information of the Board of Trade, in compliance with the Order of the 4th ultimo, the result of my enquiry into the accident that occurred on the 28th August, near Penrhyn station, on the Festiniog Railway.

In this case as the 10 a.m. passenger train from Portmadoc to Festiniog was approaching Penrhyn station, the engine and two carriages next to it left the rails and ran along the ballast for about 24 yards before the train was brought to a stand. Fortunately the rest of the train remained on the line, and as the two carriages which came off were empty, no passengers were injured, and the driver and fireman also escaped unhurt.

The train consisted of a four-wheels-coupled tank passenger-engine, a four-wheeled tender, a workmen's carriage, a third-class, a first-class, two composites, and a van, the last three being bogie vehicles, and the remainder four-wheeled stock. It was fitted throughout with the vacuum automatic-brake, which was in good order.

Some slight damage was done to the engine, tender, and front carriages, particulars of which will be found in the Appendix. The permanent-way was dislocated for a few yards, one rail being bent and seven chairs broken.


This well-known line was originally constructed for slate traffic only but for the last 30 years or so it has been authorised as a passenger line. It has nominally a gauge of two feet, but the actual gauge is 1 foot 11¼ inches on the straight and 1 foot 11½ inches on the curves and there is practically a uniform gradient of 1 in 82 from end to end, falling from Festiniog to Portmadoc. The loaded slate trains are worked down to Portmadoc by gravity alone, without engines being under control of the brakes on the waggons, which are operated by the brakesmen who accompany each train. But all passenger trains, either up or down the incline, and empty waggon trains returning to the quarries are drawn by engines.

The permanent-way is laid with double-headed steel rails, weighing 50 lbs. to the yard, and 24 feet long, resting in chairs weighing 18½ lbs. each, and fastened by spikes (4½ inches x ? inch) to half round sleepers, of which there are nine to each length of rails.

Approaching Penrhyn from the direction of Portmadoc there is a short distance west of the former station a right-handed curve of seven-chains radius, and it was while travelling round this curve that the engine mounted the rails towards the left or high-side, dragging after it the next two vehicles. The engine after leaving metals first of all struck a low wall on the left of the line, and then turned obliquely across the line and came to rest against the right-hand side of a low cutting which is between the curve and the station. The line at each end of the curve had been resleepered about four months previously, but the curve itself for a length of about 75 yds had not been repaired at that time, more urgent work elsewhere having, it is said demanded the attention of the permanent-way gang. It was however, intended to put new sleepers at this curve at an early date.


Jarrett Davies, driver, states: I have been in the Company's service seven years and I have been driver for about a year. On Friday 28th August I came on duty at 9.30 a.m. to work till 7.15p.m. I have an hour off in the middle of the day. On the date named I left Portmadoc at 10 a.m. with the regular passenger train. My engine was a four-wheels-coupled tank-engine, with four-wheeled tender.

The train consisted of two bogies and one open carriage, one third, a workmen's carriage, and a van, the last being a bogie. The van was at the rear of the train. The engine was properly fitted with the vacuum-brake, and the brake was in good order. Everything went right till I got close to Penrhyn station. I then felt the engine begin to swing a bit and while swinging it went off the road to the left. I at once put the vacuum-brake handle down and at the same time shut off steam. I think the engine ran about 10 or 12 yards after I applied the vacuum before coming to rest. The engine struck the wall on the left-hand side of the line first, and then it swerved across to the right and struck the wall to the right, and it was leaning against that wall when it stopped. The tender was off the rails, and the workmen's carriage and one end of the third class carriage were also off. The coupling between engine and tender was broken, the buffer of the tender broken, and the front of the engine framing was damaged. The two carriages that left the rails were empty. The permanent-way was knocked about. As far as I know the cause of the accident was that the road was in bad order. I felt the road very shaky the day before when running over that portion of the line. I did not report the road to any one on that occasion, because I did not see the foreman. I was going at about 13 to 14 miles an hour when we left the rails. I am 22 years old.

Rowland Owen, stoker, states: I have been in the Company's service 12 months and I have been stoker 3½ months, and on the 28th August I was firing for driver Davies. My hours of duty were the same as his. On nearing Penrhyn I felt the engine give a lurch and going against the wall. I was firing for driver Davies the day previously. I felt the engine lurch the day before. I am 17 years old.

Charles Beresford, passenger guard, states: I have- been in the Company's service 33 years and guard all the time. On the 28th August I came on duty at 6.35 a.m. to work till 7.15 p.m. guard of the 10 a.m. train, Portmadoc to Duffws. The train consisted of engine, tender, workmen's carriage, one third-class carriage, one first open carriage, two composite bogies, and a van (the last being a bogie also). It was fitted with the vacuum-brake, which was in good order. It was tested before starting. When nearing Penrhyn I felt the train unexpectedly come to a standstill. The vacuum was suddenly applied full force and I believe was put on by the driver. There were about 31 passengers in the train, but the two front carriages were empty. I at once got out of the van and could see that the engine was off the road. I at once let the passengers out of the carriages. I found the engine off the line and partly on its right side, leaning up against the wall, and the tender was off the rails also, and so was the workman's carriage, and one end of the third-class. All the rest of the train was on the rails. No passengers were hurt and no complaints were made to me. The four-wheeled engines do not run so steadily as the large bogie-engines. One passenger spoke to me about getting on, and I told him there was every chance of his getting on, but I could not say how soon.

Evan Morris, foreman of the permanent way, states: I have been in the company's service for about 5 years and I have been foreman about six months. My beat is about 4¾ miles long, and extends from Portmadoc to a mile the east side of Penrhyn station. On the morning of the 28th August the brakesman of the 9.25 a.m. down slate train spoke to me about the state of the road near Penrhyn station. He said it was rather shaky there. That was the first complaint I had had about it. I was at Minffordd station at the time he spoke to me, and I at once walked up to Penrhyn to see what was the matter. I found one of the joints on the curve west of Penrhyn a bit slack. I went back towards Minffordd to fetch my men in order to put it right. I met the 10 a.m. train from Portmadoc on my way down. Soon afterwards a man came down to call us up to the spot, and I then found the 10 a.m. train off the line. I found a mark on the left rail, showing where the engine had left the road; it had run 24 yards from that point before coming to rest. The road on each side of that curve has been re-sleepered about three or four months ago, but the curve was not done at that time because I had to work somewhere else, but I intended to re-sleeper that curve as soon as I had an opportunity to do so. The rails are 50-lb. steel rails, double-headed, 24 feet long, laid in chairs weighing 18 lbs. each, and there are nine sleepers to each rail length. The road was not much damaged, only one rail was bent and seven chairs were broken, no sleepers were broken. The gauge was correct for a curve, being 1 foot 11½ inches. Since the accident I have removed all the sleepers on this curve. The old ones were not in very bad order, a few of the spikes were loose. I have had not complaints before that date of that portion of the road. It had been raining heavily during the day and night previous to the accident. The cant of the road was correct on the morning of the accident.


Although this accident was unattended by any serious results, it is one of considerable importance owing to the nature of the country through which, the railway passes, and the terrible consequences which might ensue should a derailment occur at a spot less favourably situated than that under consideration. Even in this case, if the engine had left the rails a few yards further west, or had it taken a different course after derailment, it is probable that the whole train would have gone over the retaining wall on the right-hand side of the line and fallen a distance of about 20 feet.

The evidence makes it clear that the accident can only be attributed to the faulty condition of the permanent-way at this spot, which was so bad that the brakesman in charge of the down slate train, which had passed the place an hour or so previously, drew the attention of ganger Evan Morris to the matter when he saw him at Minffordd station. Morris says that he at once walked up to Penrhyn to see what was wrong, and finding a " slack " place in the seven-chain curve near the latter place, he started back to Minffordd to call his men to make the necessary repairs. On his way down, the 10 a.m. train from Portmadoc passed him on its way up, but Morris did not warn the driver of the state of the line in front, as he apparently did not regard the " slack " to be in any way serious. His judgement was evidently at fault in the matter, and the result shows that it would have been better if he had cautioned the driver; moreover since it was his duty to maintain the line under his charge in a thoroughly efficient condition, it seems to me to be impossible to acquit him of all responsibility for the accident.

On reaching the curve, the engine, which was travelling at a speed of about 14 miles an hour, left the rails in the manner already described. The driver at once applied his continuous-brake, and the train came to rest in a short distance. No blame whatever attaches to driver Davies in the matter.

The line on each side of the curve had been re-sleepered some few months ago, but unfortunately a length of about 75 yards had been left untouched, and it was here that the derailment occurred, the "slack" place referred to having been caused, so it is supposed, by the heavy rain which had fallen during the earlier part of the week. Since the accident the whole of the curve has been relaid with new sleepers.

The mishap will, it is hoped, remind those responsible for the condition of the line of the paramount importance of maintaining the permanent way of this mountain railway in the most perfect condition possible, this being specially necessary, not only on account of the unusual risks due to the steep gradient and precipitous nature of the country, but also because the narrowness of the gauge reduces the bearing area of the sleepers on the ballast while the engines, which have only four wheels and possess a considerable overhang outside the rails, are necessarily unsteady in running.

Before concluding this report I feel it incumbent on me to draw attention to the extreme youth of the enginemen in charge of this train. The driver said he was 22 years old and the fireman 17, but they neither of them looked their age. The former has been a driver for about a year, and the latter a fireman about 3½ months. It does not seem right to entrust passenger trains, which doubtless are often heavily loaded during the tourist season, to lads of so little experience.

I have, &c.,

The Assistant Secretary, H. A. YORKE,

Railway Department, Board of Trade. Lieut.-Col., R.E.



Engine.—Front foot-plate, brake cross-bar, crank-pin, and side-rods bent; life-guard, ashpan, coupling between engine and tender broken, and back of cab damaged.. Tender. —Buffer mid axle-box broken, end, plate bulged in, and brake-pipe damaged Quarrymen's carriage. —Panel at end broken, and brake-pipes damaged

Printed copies of the above Report were sent to the Company on the 22nd October.

Report ends

See also[edit]


Initial incident page Subject to BoT report in National Archives file RAIL 1053/85

  1. ^ Johnson, Peter (2007). An Illustrated History of the Festiniog Railway. Hersham: Oxford Publishing Co. ISBN 0-860936-03-1. OCLC 180463433. p74