London Underground accidents

London Underground accidents

The London Underground network carries more than a billion passengers a year. On a system of this scale it is impossible to completely prevent accidents although a lot of measures are taken. When such things occur the chance of fatalities is very real. This doesn't mean the London Underground is unsafe; in fact, it is one of the safest mass transport systems in the world with just one fatal accident for every 300 million journeys [cite news|url=|title=The parlous state of the London Underground|date=2003-10-23|publisher=The Economist|accessdate=2008-06-05] . Per passenger carried, London Underground’s safety record is even better than that of British Rail, which in turn exceeds those of other transport modes. Only five accidents causing passenger deaths have occurred due to train operation in nearly 150 years, the last being at Moorgate in 1975; other fatalities have been due to wartime and terrorist bombings and station fires. A major contributor to this exemplary safety record is the automatic signalling system, including train stops which stops the train if it passes a signal at danger.

Up to World War II

Charing Cross

Two accidents occurred near Charing Cross (now Embankment) in 1938.

The first was on 10 March. when two Northern Line trains collided between Waterloo and Charing Cross, with 12 passengers suffering minor injuries.

On 17 May, two District Line trains collided near Charing Cross, killing 6.

Significantly, both accidents were caused by wrong-side failures of the signals due to signal linesmen's wiring errors.

World War II

Marble Arch

During The Blitz, on 17 September 1940, a bomb hit Marble Arch station and 20 people using it as an air-raid shelter were killed.


On October 14, 1940, during World War II, a bomb fell in the road above Balham tube station, with the blast penetrating into the tunnel 9 metres below. The water mains and sewage pipes were broken, causing flooding and the loss of 68 lives - 64 shelterers and 4 railway staff [cite book|last=Croome|coauthors=Jackson|title=Rails Through the Clay|publisher=Capital|date=2003|pages=275|accessdate=2008-06-05] . The station and the tracks between Clapham South and Tooting Bec (then called Trinity Road, Tooting Bec) were closed until January 1941.


On 11 January 1941 during World War II the Central Line ticket hall of Bank station suffered a direct hit from a German bomb. The roadway collapsed into the subways and station concourse, killing 56 people.

The Bethnal Green crush

On 3 March 1943, a crowd of people entered Bethnal Green tube station, which was used at the time as an air-raid shelter. An anti-aircraft battery, a few hundred yards away in Victoria Park, launched a salvo of a new type of anti-aircraft rockets, causing the crowd to surge forward. A woman tripped on the stairs causing many others to fall. Three hundred people were crushed into the stairwell, 172 of them died.

After World War II

Northwood crash

On 31 December 1945, two Metropolitan Line trains collided in fog on an open-air section near Northwood. The driver of the second train had passed a danger signal under the “Stop and Proceed” rule but did not see the preceding train soon enough to stop. A fire was started by electrical arcing. 3 people were killed. []

Edgware buffer stop collision

On 27 July 1946, a Northern Line train hit the buffers at Edgware. No passengers were killed; the driver died, but it was shown that he had suffered a heart attack at the controls before the collision. The dead man's handle had failed in its desired effect of stopping the train [cite web|url=|title= Report on the Collision which occurred on 27th July, 1946, at Edgware on the Northern Line of the London Passenger Transport Board|publisher=The Railways Archive|accessdate=2008-06-05] .

Stratford crash

On 8 April 1953 two Central Line trains collided in a tunnel section during disruption caused by a signal failure, killing 12 people.

Holland Park and Redbridge fires

Two train fires occurred on the Central Line in 1958 and 1960, due to electrical short circuits in the trains causing arcing. In both cases the trains had to be evacuated in the tunnels and passengers and crew suffered from smoke inhalation. One passenger died in the Holland Park fire on 28 July 1958 [cite web|url=|title=Accident at Holland Park on 28th July 1958 |publisher=The Railways Archive|accessdate=2008-06-05] . There were no fatalities in the Redbridge fire on 11 August 1960 [cite web|url=|title=Accident at Redbridge on 11th August 1960 |publisher=The Railways Archive|accessdate=2008-06-05] .

Moorgate crash

On 28 February 1975 a southbound Northern City Line train crashed into the tunnel end beyond the platform at Moorgate station. Forty-three people were killed at the scene and several more subsequently died from severe injuries, in what was the greatest loss of life on the Underground in peacetime. As the driver was one of the initial 43 dead, the cause of the incident was never conclusively determined, and an accidental death verdict was recorded at the official inquest.

Holborn rail crash

On 9 July 1980 a Central Line train failed to stop in time after passing a signal at danger and being tripped by a train stop. The train hit another train standing in the westbound platform at Holborn. No serious injuries were caused by the accident. An inquiry concluded that the accident was caused by the motorman of the rear train failing to control his train.

Oxford Circus fire

On 23 November 1984 a fire raged inside Oxford Circus station. It started at 9.50 p.m. in a materials store and was declared extinguished at 3 a.m. the next day. Fourteen people were treated for smoke inhalation.The probable cause of the fire was smoker's materials being pushed through a ventilation grille into the materials store. This ignited rags or paint thinner within the store.

King's Cross fire

On 18 November 1987, a large fire broke out in King's Cross St Pancras station. Thirty-one people died, killed by the toxic fumes and extreme heat of the blaze. The fire was the result of a discarded match or cigarette igniting debris, detritus and grease beneath the wooden escalators. As a result of this, the widely-ignored smoking ban was more rigorously enforced throughout the system. Almost all of the network's wooden escalators have now been replaced by steel ones, and other measures have been put in place to help prevent a repeat incident.

Chancery Lane derailment

On 25 January 2003, a Central Line train of 1992 stock derailed at Chancery Lane, injuring 32 passengers, after a motor became detached from the train. The entire line, and the Waterloo & City Line (which also uses 1992 Stock trains), was closed whilst the cause of the failure was determined and appropriate modifications made to the trains.

Hammersmith derailment

On 17 October 2003 the last carriage of a 6-car eastbound Piccadilly Line train of 1973 stock derailed east of Hammersmith tube station. The cause was a broken rail. None of the 70 passengers on board were injured.

Camden Town derailment

On 19 October 2003 the last carriage of a 6-car Northern Line train of 1995 stock derailed on the approach to Camden Town tube station. The derailed car hit a wall and the fifth car was partially derailed. Seven passengers were injured, 6 of which were minor injuries. The other injury was a broken thigh. The cause was found to be in the design of the set of points at locations with specific characteristics.

White City derailment

On 11 May 2004 the leading bogie of the 7th car of an 8-car Central Line train of 1992 stock derailed on a set of points during the approach to White City tube station. None of the 150 passengers on board were injured, a normal train service was restored the next day. The cause was found to be in the design of the set of points at locations with specific characteristics and a switch rail that had been replaced the day before the accident. []

Mile End derailment

On 5 July 2007 2 cars of an 8-car westbound Central Line train of 1992 stock derailed at 65 km/h between Bethnal Green and Mile End tube stations. Five hundred and twenty passengers were trapped below ground for 2 hours, until they were escorted from the derailed train by following one another along the tracks to Mile End tube station. Eight people required hospital treatment and a further 13 were treated at the scene for minor injuries. Most of the injuries were caused while walking along the uneven surface in the tunnel. The Central Line was suspended between Liverpool Street and Leytonstone until the end of the following day as a safety investigation was carried out and the derailed train was rerailed. The investigation found that the derailment was caused by a roll of fire-resistant material being blown onto the tracks from its storage place in a connecting passageway between the two tunnels. The blanket had not been adequately secured, since the workers had not realised how strong the winds blowing through the passage were. [ [ Rail Accident Investigation Branch: Report032008 ] ]

See also

Attacks on the London Underground - including 2005 terrorist bombings


* T. Ridley, "Oxford Circus - the Fire and its Implications" Mechanical Engineering Technology, Autumn 1985
* D. Fennell, "Investigation into the King's Cross Underground Fire." (Appendix J) The Stationery Office Books; ISBN 978-0-10-104992-4
* [| Derailments on London Underground at Camden Town and Hammersmith (HSE)]
* [|White City train derailment (HSE)]

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