Sutton Coldfield rail disaster memorial unveiled
There were some poignant moments today at Sutton Coldfield train station as people remembered those who died in the rail disaster of 1955.
At around 4:13pm the 12:15 express from York to Bristol carrying around 300 passengers derailed at Sutton Coldfield station with the loss of 17 lives.
Taking the left hand curve at a speed of approximately 60mph – twice that of the 30mph restriction at that point – the engine, along with nine of its ten carriages, left the track and continued for some 125 yards before colliding with the platform resulting in heavy damage to both the train and station.
The first carriage was crushed between the engine and second carriage while the fourth carriage was knocked into the air and dragged along the station roof.
In addition to the loss of seventeen lives forty people were taken to hospital where twenty-five were detained with injuries, some of which were described as very serious.
The deaths included the driver, twelve passengers and a fireman who were killed outright and two passengers and a second driver who died of their injuries in hospital.
Following the sixtieth anniversary in 2015 a campaign to remember the disaster with a permanent memorial at the station was picked up again after its initial launch in 2005.
Spearheaded by Gary Phelps of the Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer and supported by local councillors and businesses the permanent memorial was finally unveiled today, 24th January, 61 years and 1 day after that fateful afternoon.
The granite plaque was provided by the Midcounties Co-operative Society who heard about the public desire for a memorial through Sutton Coldfield Local’s report on the sixtieth anniversary. Samantha Fallon of Co-op Travel teamed up with the Sutton Coldfield Observer to help make it happen.
The station hall was full as people gathered for the unveiling, some of which had either lost relatives or had attended the accident.
One notable attendee was David Harrison. David was a passenger on the train along with his parents, 5 year old sister, eight year old brother, grandfather and 22 year old aunty. His brother, sister and aunty didn’t survive the accident. Six year old David was treated at Good Hope Hospital where he stayed for a number of weeks.
Brian, another gentleman who was there on the day, told me of how he and his friends, all aged around 17, were lifted over the fence to help remove the roof of one of the carriages… “do you think you can get this roof off, someone shouted. We said yes – we were all farm boys and strong – so they lifted us over the fence to help.”
Gary Phelps spoke of those who lost their lives while also remembering the people of Sutton Coldfield who rushed to their aid. He also read from a letter sent by the Lord Mayor of York:
“On behalf of the City of York and all its citizens I send our sincere condolences on the anniversary of the tragic rail crash that occurred on the 23rd of January 1955. It was a tragic event that bound our communities together, both those loved and lost and those who worked at the scene to prevent further disaster. It is heartening to know that a lasting memorial has been created to ensure this event in 1955 is not forgotten by the generations to come in your local community.”
A letter of similar sentiment from the Lord Mayor of Bristol was read out by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Raymond Hassall, prior to the unveiling of the plaque which will be fixed to the wall in the main entrance.
Ian McLaren of LondonMidland also said a few words before guests moved to the Station Pub for light refreshments provided by Midcounties Co-operative Society and a showing of the original British Pathé News report followed by a minute silence. The team at the Station Pub have volunteered to maintain the memorial.