The cab gave way as if it was a cardboard box. It would have been a wonder if any of the people in it were alive.”
The harrowing words from a 15-year-old trainspotter were reported in the Birmingham Post 50 years ago as it covered a train crash which claimed the lives of three railwaymen at the tiny Knowle & Dorridge railway station, near Solihull.
The tragedy unfolded on August 15, 1963 after a signalman’s error saw a luxury Pullman express run into the back of a goods train.
The dead men, who were in the cab of the diesel Pullman, were all from Wolverhampton.
Driver, Sidney Bench, 63, of Ringwood Road, Bushbury, co-driver Thomas Morris, also 63, of Winchester Road, Fordhouses, and fireman David Corkery, 31, of Stafford Road, were killed.
One was rescued immediately, but died later. The others were trapped for 25 minutes before being carried out.
Tragically, Mr Corkery was only on the train to cover for the sickness of another fireman.
The Birmingham to Paddington express, pulling nine coaches with 100 passengers, crashed seconds after approaching the station at about 40mph. It then hit the back of a shunting engine which was loaded with Land Rovers for export. The vehicles were flung across the main Snow Hill to Paddington line by the force of the impact.
The Birmingham Post and our sister paper the Birmingham Evening Mail reported on the crash.
The Mail spoke to Donald Holland, one of the conductors on the Pullman. He said: “There was no warning. We were speeding between 40 and 50mph and had just started to slow down when there was a crash and a succession of two or three further shocks before the train came to a standstill.”
Conductor in charge Charles Bailey, then 51, was sitting in his compartment in the middle of the train when the collision hit.
He said: “The first indication of the crash was a series of jolts as the brakes went on.
“There was a sudden final jolt and everything shot off the table.
“There was no panic at all. Everyone seemed quite composed, though shaken up.” Going forward in the train to see if help was needed, Mr Bailey found the carriages in “a complete state of disorder.”
None of the passengers were hurt but chef Peter Harrold was severely scalded when he was thrown across his kitchen by the impact.
A steel erector from Walsall, John Clarke, aged 45, with two other passengers tried to prise open the twisted metal at the front of the train where the impact had taken place.
He said: “We climbed up one side of the loco and found one of the crew with one of his arms hanging out of the window and bleeding badly.
“He died while I was holding his hand before we could release him.”
A crash inquiry, later reported in the Post, heard two young train spotters give evidence.
Peter James, then 14, of Torrington Avenue, Coventry, said the Pullman turned round the bend towards Knowle Station at 30 to 40 mph but the signal at the far end of the platform was at danger.
His friend, then 15-year-old Paul Sliwinski, of Templar Avenue, Coventry, said the train had slowed to 20mph when the crash happened.
He said: “The cab of the diesel just crumpled in and we saw the driver knocked to the back of the cab. It was terrible. I would hate to think what would have happened if the diesel had been going any faster.
“The diesel just hit the end coach of the goods train and ploughed into it, knocking the wagons aside. The cab gave way as if it was a cardboard box. It would have been a wonder if any of the people in it were alive.”
Signalman Evan Jones, 55, said he had started a shunting move which brought the freight train into the path of the Pullman. “I did not appreciate that I had given a line clear call for the Pullman,” he said.