Clapham Junction rail crash

Clapham Junction rail crash
Clapham Junction rail crash
Clapham Junction Railway Accident - Hidden Report cover - HMSO.jpg
Date and time 08:10, 12 December 1988 (UTC) (1988-12-12T08:10Z)
Location near Clapham Junction
Rail line South Western Main Line
(Network SouthEast)
Cause Signal error arising out of poor electrical engineering work practices
Trains 3
Deaths 35
Injuries 500
List of UK rail accidents by year

The Clapham Junction rail crash was a serious railway accident involving two collisions between three commuter trains at 08:10 on the morning of Monday, 12 December 1988.

The collisions occurred 800 m (half a mile) southwest of Clapham Junction railway station in southwest London, England, UK. Thirty-five people died and five hundred were injured,[1] making the crash one of the worst in the UK in recent times.



The first collision occurred after the driver of the 07:18 from Basingstoke to London Waterloo saw a signal in front of him abruptly change from green to red. As required, the driver stopped his train at the next signal post telephone to report to the signalman at Clapham Junction 'A' signal box that his train had passed a red signal. He was advised there was no fault and that he was free to proceed. The driver told the signalman that he intended to make a formal report when he reached Waterloo. As the driver hung up the phone his train was hit from behind by a following train at a speed of 35mph to 40mph (56 km/h to 64 km/h),[2] the late-running 06:14 from Poole, running under false clear signals.

A second collision, consequent on the first, involved the second, third and fourth coaches of an empty train leaving Clapham Junction (travelling on an adjacent line in the opposite direction) which hit the wreckage of the Poole train, causing derailment and separation of the first carriage of that third train. A fourth train approaching, also under false clear signals at the time, managed to stop about 70 yd (60 m) clear of the rear of the Poole train. This fourth train had lost power as the accident had shorted and discharged the traction current from the third rail[3].

Pupils from the adjacent Emanuel School were first on the scene of the disaster. They were commended for their service by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.


The immediate cause of the crash was incorrect wiring work in which an old wire, incorrectly left in place after rewiring work and still connected at the supply end, created a false feed to a signal relay, thereby causing its related signal to show a green, double yellow or single yellow aspect (depending on the position of traffic around Clapham Junction station) when the track beyond it was occupied when it should have shown red.[2] Indeed, the signal continued to display a single yellow aspect after the accident even though there were now three trains occupying the section beyond it [4]. The larger cause of the accident was the failure by British Rail senior management to recognise that the re-signalling of the Clapham Junction area – and indeed the re-signalling of all the lines out of Waterloo, of which this was a part – should have been treated as a major, safety-critical project, controlled throughout by a single, senior, named project manager. Instead the job was left to middle-level technical staff, stressed, poorly supervised by their seniors and poorly supported by their juniors. Staffing levels were inadequate and the staff, dulled by months of voluntary seven-days-a-week work, were carrying out the complete re-signalling of the largest and, on some measures, busiest junction on the whole British rail system. British Rail were forced to overhaul their signal works testing regime and adopted the tried and tested method employed on the London Underground.

A Class 423 (4-VEP) unit. Two of the three trains involved were formed of units of this type

The inquiry into the Clapham rail crash, chaired by Anthony Hidden QC, also recommended the introduction of the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system; however the inquiry's recommendation was not acted on. Subsequent crashes such as at Southall in 1997 and Ladbroke Grove in 1999 led to further recommendations for the introduction of ATP, and although it has been installed on some lines, it has not to date been specified for the entire network. In the statement on the Ladbroke Grove crash, the Department for Transport sought to make the point that "no workable system was available in Britain" at the time.

A memorial marking the location of the crash site is atop the embankment above the railway on Windmill Road by Spencer Park, Battersea.


  1. ^ Hartley 2001, p. 21; Reason & Hobbs 2003, p. 82.
  2. ^ a b Hidden Inquiry Report (PDF), from The Railways Archive
  3. ^ Railway Disasters, Stanley Hall -ISBN 1-85648-049-6
  4. ^ Railway Disasters, Stanley Hall -ISBN 1-85648-049-6


  • Glendon, A. Ian; Clarke, Sharon; McKenna, Eugene F. (2006). Human Safety And Risk Management. CRC Press. ISBN 0849330904. 
  • Hartley, Hazel J (2001). Exploring Sport and Leisure Disasters: a socio-legal perspective. Cavendish. ISBN 9781859416501. 
  • Reason, James; Hobbs, Alan (2003). Managing Maintenance Error: A Practical Guide. Ashgate. ISBN 075461591X. 
  • Whittingham, R. B. (2004). The Blame Machine: Why Human Error Causes Accidents. Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0750655100. 

External links

Coordinates: 51°27′26″N 0°10′28″W / 51.4571°N 0.1744°W / 51.4571; -0.1744

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