St.Albans and District Model Engineering Society

February 2024 Club Night Report

It was a bit wet but not that bad for this month of the year.  Our speaker for the evening was Professor John Uff. KC. CBE.

The subject:  The Southall Rail Crash Inquiry.

If you were not there, you missed a treat!

Our speaker was in charge of the inquiry and a Queens Council at the time.  He wrote the report and this evening he went on to tell us what happened from his point of view.

The crash happened because the driver of the Intercity 125 service went through two warning signals and then a red one and hit an empty goods train being manoeuvred into a siding across the main line.  He survived by getting off his seat and sidling back down the power car when he saw what was inevitably going to happen.  However, 7 passengers were killed and a lot more injured.

Much hinged on whether the AWS warning system had been correctly used as it was in the isolate position.  Did the driver disable it because he did not like it, which was not uncommon amongst the drivers, or had it failed?  The driver was not trained on the other protective system so it was not in use.

It had also been witnessed that the driver was seen with his feet up in front of the window passing through an earlier station!  The driver should have his foot on the floor holding down a 'dead man's handle'.  If his feet were up high there must have been something holding down the floor lever.  It was noted that the driver was very keen to retrieve his personal bag back, but no one ever found out what was in the bag!

The way the legal process was handled was hampered by the Rail Police who declared it a crime scene, which did not help the technical investigation from doing measurements and accessing control equipment.

John would go off on an anecdote to illustrate a point he was making and then come back.  He told us that the police prosecution part was holding up the start of the inquiry and eventually it was scheduled to be in the July.  Then he heard both the prosecution and defence agreed they wanted a delay.  John 'phoned a friend', as you do, and the two sides found that their agreed adjournment request was denied by the judge!

The two safety systems were explained to us and as John said the real research was listening to what the engine drivers would be talking about as they came off duty.  He gave us another anecdote about a driver passing a red light (SPAD), which was in an place for no apparent reason.  The driver confessed he had been watching an amorous couple in a field!  The next day another driver also had a SPAD at the same place!

As it was declared a crime scene the driver was arrested but released on bail for two years.  The police wanted to accuse Great Western of corporate manslaughter.  This was eventually disallowed as it would not fall to a single person to be named as guilty.  Things changed in 2007 to make it an offense.

The operating rail company pleaded guilty to the Health and Safety charges and were discharged with a heavy fine.  This left just the driver to be blamed!  The CPS stepped in and all charges were dropped.

From the inquiry came many recommendations for improvements in operating systems and safety standards for the entire network.  Most are in place and since the end of the inquiry there have been no fatalities due to safety failures.

John told us he received a CBE afterwards for services to safety on the railways.

The talk lasted 90 minutes including questions and was very much enjoyed and afterwards John said it had brought back many memories and he had been very pleased to talk to us.

We had a tea break and then quickly back for our Chairman's postponed talk about progress on his Panzer tank build.

It had not been without problems, the suspension system being one of them.  He had put together a nice set of photographs which showed off the points he made.

Mike was quite happy to talk about his various learning curves where the build had to be re-thought out.  The tank was running at our last exhibition much to the delight of the visitors.  But to Mike's eyes it lacked the Blitz Kreig effect he was after and in video looked too much like a toy.  One solution offered from the audience was to run the video at a slower speed!

Mike's obvious live interest came across very well and it was a shame that we could not have had another half an hour of his talk.

Mike ended with a quick run through of actual battlefield statistics on the performance of a batch of 45 tanks that went to war in early 1945.  The German war machine was never set up for repairs, (not for aircraft either), so broken down tanks had to be disabled with explosive charges.  In the main they had an expected 'life' measured in days only.  Operating them was fraught with danger if not from having to crudely fill the petrol tank it would be having the exhaust gases being blown back onto the crew inside the tank.

However, the gun, a re-worked anti-aircaft gun, was very accurate at a longer range than allied tanks had and it was then ‘one shot, one kill’, so the Panzer earned its reputation on that basis.  German war industry never managed the mass production abilities of the allied countries.  Also they had problems trying to get occupied countries to work for them in their war effort.  (Well fancy that!)

Mike hurriedly brought his talk to a close and received a warm round of applause.

Next time I will make sure the Tiger tank gets a premium slot for projected work yet to be done.

A recording of Mike's talk is available and a link will be sent out to all members  shortly. 

A video of Part One of Mike's talk is also available on request to the Webmaster

Thanks must also go to the chair shifters and of course our small but perfectly formed catering staff!  Thank you all for making this a good evening.  I should add that we had a new member with us, Ian Hebdon.

His declared interest is Tanks but never revealed which side he was on!

David, my other half on the greeting side, was with him and we look forward to seeing him again.

Next month we have all you did not know about firing your very own rockets from Brothers Scivyer, Chris and Jim.  Then Guy has some pertaining club information to discuss with all members.

I hope you enjoy it all, I shall be in sunny Australia for 5 weeks until early April and will be back for the AGM when we shall have the club auction.  Guy will be the auctioneer and Clive controlling the finance.  More info nearer the date but last year’s rules prevail.

Roy Verden  16th  Feb 2024