Sunday marked the centenary of one of the most fatal trackside incidents in the history of UK rail.
The incident saw five killed and another injured working on the Great Western Railway.
An eight-man team of track workers, carrying out operations near Stapleton Road station in Bristol, was hit by a passing train. The group didn’t hear the train coming. Investigations carried out at the time placed blame on the leader of the gang, saying he should have appointed a look out.
The men who died were Charles Edmonds, 49, George North, 47, Charles Oakhill, 51, Joseph Barrett, 58, Arthur Hobbs, 24, and Stephen Francis, 34. One of the two who survived, 42-year-old Charles Hobbs, was injured.
Lookouts, even as late as the 1950s, were optional. The consequence, researchers say, was many more deaths working on the railways.
Dr Mike Esbester, senior lecturer in history at the University of Portsmouth, has been investigating the accident as part of the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project. This is a collaboration between the University of Portsmouth, the National Railway Museum and the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick. The project researches accidents involving British and Irish railway staff occuring before 1939.
He said: “A hundred years ago, railways were amongst the most dangerous places to work. In 1913 alone there were around 30,000 casualties, including around 500 deaths. Today, track workers are much better protected but there are still ongoing issues. Tragically, there has already been a track worker fatality this year – which is one too many.”
He added: “Remembering is important and helps us to understand the human impacts events like these have on ordinary people’s lives. It enables us to see these people not as a statistic but as individuals. Uncovering the untold stories of these everyday workers helps us relate to our ancestors.
“Today, working on the railways is much less risky. Statistically it’s now much safer but there continue to be accidents and improvements are still required. It’s not an issue that’s gone away despite the progress made by the industry over the last 100 years.”
Dr Esbester and the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project have been working to ensure the men of Stapleton Road are remembered.
On Sunday they were mentioned at St Peter’s church in Pilning, where four are buried. Network Rail and the Railway Chaplain covering Bristol released a recorded tribute to the men.