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“We can get this one out before she comes” … ignoring the Look-Out Man’s 3-minute warning of an approaching train, hard-working, risk-taking George Bradley made the fatal decision to try and lift one more length of iron trough from the railway line before the train passed over the track his gang were working on.
Bradley’s decision, probably influenced by the driving rain that had worsened over the course of the day and soaked him and his team to the skin, was to cost three lives on Boxing Day 1911, including his own.
In those days trains ran on Boxing Day, and track maintenance gangs still worked their usual 10 hour shifts. On the fateful day in 1911 Bradley’s gang of 5 men were replacing the water troughs between Walkden and Moorside stations, lifting out the cast-iron troughs in 4ft 6 inch sections so new ones could be laid the following week. The method of working was to loosen all the screws along a stretch of track, and then pivot metal pipes over the running rails to lever the heavy sections, each weighing over 3 cwt, up and away from the track.
George Bradley had a reputation for working his men hard. He was known for taking risks but also for his conscientious approach, good time-keeping and sobriety … something that could not be taken for granted then, even in safety critical jobs. Before his fatal misjudgment he had amassed over 20 years of lifting and repairing water troughs.
As the day had begun brightly Bradley had instructed his team to loosen the screws on 110 lengths of trough, setting an ambitious target for the team to remove them all the same day (in fact, a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway spokesman commented he had never seen so many sections lifted in such a short time). Unfortunately as the day wore on the weather steadily worsened and by 3pm the team were cold, wet, and resolved to complete the job as quickly as possible.
Just after 3pm Mr W. Lightbourne who was acting as look-out for the gang advised Bradley that the 2.40pm Liverpool to Leeds express was due shortly and told the gang to stand clear. But Bradley – who had been pushing the team hard all day and already survived one “near-miss” with an earlier train – told the team to continue working on the track.
At 3.10 the look-out reported that the signal had just been set for the express to enter the section of track where the men were working within the next 3 minutes, whereupon Bradley urged his men on to lift one more piece before it arrived.
It was then that George Bradley's luck ran out … one of the screws on the trough had not been fully loosened and it caught as the men tried to lift the section. Rather than withdrawing their pipes and standing clear, they proceeded to work the screw out and tried to lift the section again.
Too late they realised the train was upon them and desperately tried to drag their pipes out from under the trough and clear of the running lines. They got one pipe clear but the train struck the one remaining pipe, and Bradley and P. Glacken were killed instantly by the train.
A third man, T. Simcox, was hit first by the flying pipe and then by the train. He appeared to be recovering well in the first few days after the accident but sadly his condition worsened and he eventually died of his injuries.
Lt. Col. E. Druitt, the Assistant Secretary of the Railway Board, completed an investigation into the accident on Jan 9th 1912 where he sadly concluded “the accident was entirely due to Bradley disregarding the warnings of his Look-Out Man”.
Druitt’s report, upon which this article is based, can be examined in the archive of the National Railway Museum in York.