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Worst Rail Accident at Haywards Heath for generations

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Wednesday 05 September 1945


The worst railway accident in Mid-Sussex since 1899—when a Pullman express from Brighton to Victoria collided with the Continental boat train from Newhaven to London—occurred at Haywards Heath early on Sunday morning.

An empty train, comprising 13 coaches and hauling an N-Class engine weighing some 120 tons, travelling from London to Newhaven to pick up a British Army of the Rhine leave party, ran through Haywards Heath Railway Station on what is known as the “local” down line just before five o’clock, the main down line being required for gangers’ trolley work. Instead of stopping, it crashed through protecting buffers and hit the outer buttress adjoining Haywards Heath tunnel at a speed estimated between sixty and seventy miles per hour. The engine knocked the buffers down, jumped the rails and came to a full stop by becoming embedded in the tunnel wall. The force of the impact telescoped the first coach, which went underneath the engine, the roof landing on top. The second coach was cut in half, but the remainder of the coaches were scarcely damaged. The tender, however, was left in diagonal position in the air at an angle of 45 degrees. Driver R. Scrase, of 4 Geraldine Road, East Hill, London. S.W. 18. and Fireman C. Bartlett, of Putney Bridge Road, London, S.W. 15, were killed instantly, they being crushed between the tender and the drivers cab. Apart from a severe shaking, Guard Harold Prince, of Montacute Road, Morden, attached to Battersea Yard, escaped unscathed. He was the only other man in the train.


from Brighton and Redhill were quickly in action, and Stationmaster A. J. Archer, who had just returned from his holiday, came along as quickly as possible. Railway Departments represented were the Carriage and Waggon Department, the Traffic Department, the Engineers’ Department, the Electrical Department and S.R. officials were also present. Dr. C. W. L. Dodd (Haywards Heath), was in attendance, and National Fire Service men from Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill, under Company Officer L. Brown, turned out to render assistance if necessary. Private R. Brown and D. R. Heath, of the British Red Cross (Sussex 61) Men's Detachment, stood by as stretcher bearers. Police Sergeants J. Foster and G. Avis (Lindfield) were noticed on the scene, and a number of Constables and War Reserve Policemen were also present.

Many spectators from far and near lined the surrounding banks to watch operations.

Two steam cranes were requisitioned, and were at work for the greater part of the day. The main objective was to try and recover the bodies quickly but this was made difficult by the telescoped carriages. While one crane suspended the tender in mid-air, the other cleared away to the sides of the banks on either side. An engine assisted pulling away the wrecked carriage woodwork by means of steel chains, while parts of the wrecked coachwork were cut away by acetylene welders. The rescue workers laboured like Trojans, and merit great praise. The tender was eventually lowered, and the


were lifted from the engine cabin at 6.25 p.m.—a period of 13 hours. It was discovered that-the engine’s buffers were embedded a distance of three feet in the tunnel wall. The first man to be pulled out had a tea can in his hand. The work of clearing the line continued until three o’clock on Monday morning.

Intending holiday-makers and day trippers at Haywards Heath, Brighton and London Railway Stations received a rude shock when they were informed that their normal routes would be changed and that there would be some delay.

At Haywards Heath, the Southdown Motor Services, at the insistence of Mr. A. J. Wye (Southdown Traffic Manager at Haywards Heath), at first ran six buses to and from Burgess Hill, but finding those were insufficient increased the number to


Passengers disembarked at Burgess Hill for trains to Brighton, and normal Sunday service was run. Passengers from Haywards Heath to London had to be content with two trains hourly, while those travelling to London from Brighton were diverted via Worthing, Ford, Arundel, Horsham and Three Bridges, and trains from London to Brighton were also directed via Three Bridges and Horsham. Some trains ran two hours late. The Southdown drivers, conductors and conductresses merit warm praise for the way in which they responded to the early morning call—buses recommenced to run at nine o’clock for Burgess Hill. Passengers were got away smoothly, although there were long queues extending underneath the Boltro Road Railway Arch at Haywards Heath. A double-decker bus which started its run from Burgess Hill to Haywards Heath Station via Butler’s Green had its window smashed by overhanging trees, and consequently the service was diverted through Ansty and Cuckfield. The inquest on the driver and fireman was held at Haywards Heath Police Court yesterday (Tuesday) and will appear in our next issue.


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