October 24

This Day in History

Disaster

Oct 24, 1947:

Commuter trains collide in England

Two rush-hour commuter trains collide in South Croydon, England, killing 32 people on this day in 1947. Heavy fog and a serious mistake by a signalman caused the deadly crash.

The fog was even thicker than usual on the morning of October 24 outside London. The train from Tattenham Corner to London Bridge was full, carrying passengers taking their daily trip to work. The train from Haywards Heath into London was also full and the two trains were sharing the same track at certain points in the journey.

In 1947, keeping trains from colliding with each other was the job of signalmen using semaphone signals. A more effective colored-light system was not used in London until shortly after this incident. On this day, the Haywards Heath train stopped at the South Croydon station and was held up there for five minutes. Although the signal system indicated to the signalman on duty that the Tattenham Corner train should stop, the signalman forgot about the Haywards train and the heavy fog obscured his vision of the South Croydon station. Thinking it was safe to proceed, he overrode the system—contrary to procedure—and gave the Tattenham train the all-clear signal.

The Tattenham train came through the South Croydon station at 40 miles per hour, slamming right into the back of the Haywards Heath train. The powerful collision did serious damage to both trains, especially the Tattenham train, the first car of which was crushed. In addition to the 32 people who lost their lives, another 183 were seriously injured and required hospitalization.

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