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MEMORY LANE: Remembering the Chapel-en-le-Frith train crash of 1957

Buxton Advertiser archive, The Chapel rail disaster of 9/2/57, firebrigade on the scene immediately afterwards.

Buxton Advertiser archive, The Chapel rail disaster of 9/2/57, firebrigade on the scene immediately afterwards.

The disastrous events of a freezing cold winter morning in 1957 would go down in High Peak history as its most tragic train accident.

Shortly after 11am on February 9 that year, a runaway freight train thundered into Chapel-en-le-Frith South station in excess of 60mph and collided with the rear of a slow-moving goods train and a two-wagon diesel passenger train.

Two men, a driver and a guard, were killed. But the miracle of the crash that shattered the 185-tonne locomotive, 30 loaded goods wagons and a signal box, was that no other lives were lost or people injured.

The hero of the story was John Axon, a father-of-two from Stockport and driver of runaway train 48188, which was en-route from Buxton to Arpley.

Despite being horrifically scalded when the brake system of his engine failed and exploded, filling his cab with steam, Axon remained on the footplate in an attempt to slow his massive train and avert disaster.

Fireman Ron Scanlon leapt from the moving locomotive and applied handbrakes to as many of the freight wagons as he could to slow its speed. Scanlon managed seven wagons before the train reached a downhill section at Bibbington and began to pick up speed on the approach to Chapel South.

Once there, engine 48188 hurtled with Axon into the goods train in front, tearing through the guard’s van and two carriages. On impact, the runaway’s tender whipped around, was flung on end and shattered the station’s signal box.

A flying piece of wreckage ripped into the front of the stationary passenger train, which fortunately had been evacuated moments before the crash.

Mr Axon, who was aged 56 when he died, was posthumously awarded the George Cross for bravery. Also killed in the crash was John Creamer, 46, of Stockport, who was the guard of the other goods train.

In the weeks after the crash, during a Ministry of Transport public inquiry at the Palace Hotel, Brigadier C. A. Langley, an inspecting officer of railways, put on record his admiration for the train crew’s devotion to duty.

After fireman Scanlon had given evidence, Brigadier Langley told him: “I want to tell you how much I admire the courage displayed by you and Axon.”

And of the driver, Brigadier Langley said: “Driver Axon acted in a manner which has become traditional with railwaymen faced with such an emergency.

“He must have fully realised the danger of sticking to his post without thought for his own position, and he was quite ready to take charge and do what he could to get his train under control again.

“Unhappily he lost his life, but his example and courageous devotion to duty will long be remembered.”

In 2007, to mark the 50th anniversary of the rail crash, a special plaque was unveiled at the station as a permanent monument to the heroism of the men who lost their lives in the disaster.

 

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