This copy of part of the River Avon accident report was found at Barnstaple in 1934. No other documentation has been uncovered. Many papers appear to be missing.



Ministry of Transport

7, Whitehall Gardens, London, S.W.1

October 3rd, 1925



            I have the honour to report, for the information of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with the Order of the 26th of September, the result of my Inquiry into the circumstances of the separation, and subsequent runaway and collision, of a coal train, which occurred between 9.15pm and 9.20pm, on the 21st of September, near to Stoke Pero station, on the Minehead and Barnstaple branch of the Southern Railway.

            The 8.45pm coal train from Malmsmead to Wootton Courtenay, having departed Stoke Pero at 9.15pm, became divided at a point some 450 yards east of the station, with the result that the last four vehicles of the train, including the guards van, came to a halt approx 100 yards beyond the point of separation, by the application of the automatic brake. The same automatic brake failed to engage on the forward part of the train, but the driver realised his situation and brought his engine and the remaining four vehicles to rest some three hundred yards on from the position of the stranded section. The rear section of the train subsequently overcame its brakes and ran down the falling gradient, colliding with the standing part of the train.

            As a result of this collision I regret to report that the driver of the train was seriously injured, and was taken to the George Luttrell Hospital in Minehead for attention. He was in good enough health to be able to testify to me as to this incident, under observation from an attending physician, on the 28th of September.

            Some 25 yards of track were damaged due to the collision. Damage to the stock concerned was extensive, three vehicles of the standing portion of the train becoming compressed against the locomotive, with the fourth being completely destroyed. Two of the runaway vehicles were similarly compressed, with the last coal wagon and the guards van derailing and running down the steep slope beneath the railway at this point, coming to rest against trees in an adjacent smallholding. The engine received moderate damage. Further details of damage to (A) permanent way and (B) rolling stock are given in Appendix I.

The 8.45 coal train from Malmsmead was drawn by engine E.666 “River Avon”, which is a unique 0-6-6-0 compound tank engine of the articulated pattern developed by Anatole Mallet, weighing in working order 45.5 tons. The train consisted of seven eight-wheeled bogie wagons and an eight-wheeled bogie guards-van, the tare weight being altogether 155 tons. The engine and train were fitted throughout with vacuum brakes, both engine and train brakes being simultaneously controlled by means of the lever in the cab, or by the same in the guards van. The isolation valve was found to have been closed on the rearmost vehicle of the standing portion of the train. The engine and all vehicles in the train were fitted with the Jones-Calthrop pattern of ‘Norwegian’ coupling, which was found to be broken on the leading vehicle of the rear section of the train. Subsequent searches located fragments of this coupling’s chopper link at a spot identified as Oare Manor Cutting, being approx 10.5 miles from Woody Bay Junction, and the buffer plate was located at the approximate point of separation, 450 yards from Stoke Pero station.

On the 21st of September two heavy storms of rain broke over the area, the first between 3.5 and 5.0 pm, and the second in the evening about 9.0 pm. The evidence of the signalmen at Stoke Pero, Outer Alscott, Malmsmead (Glenthorne Sidings) and Malmsmead (County Gate) was to the effect that light rain and drizzle occurred intermittently throughout the day.



The incident occurred on the Southern Railway’s narrow-gauge line connecting Barnstaple to Minehead, which is a line of 46 miles and 6 furlongs in length, to a gauge of 1 foot, 11.5 inches. The line at the point of separation is carried on a three-arch viaduct of some thirty yards in length and fifty feet in height at the centre, located on a curve of some 10 chains radius, curving from south-west to north-east, and is followed by a reverse curve of 6 chains radius, returning the line to a south-easterly course. This is followed by a straight stretch of line some 300 yards in length, on which the point of collision is located. A plan drawing (Fig 1) is attached.

The gradient throughout the scene of the accident is nominally 1-in-40 descending, but inspection on foot shows there to be considerable variance from the official gradient diagrams (Fig 2). The point of separation lies at the eastern end of the viaduct, which I have found to be on a short rising gradient of 1-in-50, followed by a descent at 1-in-35 to return to the official alignment. Discussion with the Manager suggests that during the railway’s construction, the contractor deviated from the deposited plans at this point in order to avoid blasting down through the dense rock which forms the roadbed here, instead opting to build the line over the top.  A diagram outlining my findings in section form (Fig 3) is attached.