Fri, 22 October 1869
Runaway wagons collide with passenger train killing the Driver and Fireman.
A train had arrived at Branspeth colliery from Tyne dock and deposited empty wagons in the sidings ready for loading. The locomotive then proceeded to shunt full coal wagons to form a train to go back to tyne dock. This involved the wagons being pulled out onto the main running line and back into the sidings, unfortunately the fireman who was unfamiliar with this operation inadvertently allowed the full wagons to continue on the main line and not turn them into the sidings.
The wagons already had some forward momentum after being pushed onto the main line, continued to pick up speed on the downhill gradient, when the signalman realised that the wagons were still on the main line, he shouted to the fireman and both took chase to try to catch up and apply the breaks, but they were not quick enough.
The driver moved the locomotive to the up main line, picked up the fireman and drove towards Willington in the hope that they could switch the wagons onto the up main line further down the line. The wagons continued to pick up speed and it is estimated that they passed through Willington station at 40mph. The locomotive had begun to catch up with the wagons before they reached Hunwick.
The 6pm passenger train to Durham had left on time from Bishop Auckland, and had stopped at Hunwick for passengers to alight. The train had just started from Hunwick and reached a point about 400yds north of Hunwick station when it collided with the oncoming wagons, the locomotive was derailed and fell onto its right side onto the opposite track, the driver and fireman were both killed as they tried to jump from the footplate. The Locomotive suffered damage to the buffer beams and front frames, the first few wagons were completely destroyed. Twenty three of the passengers on the train were treated for cuts and bruises but non suffered any broken bones.
The accident was attributed to several factors, Firstly the bad practice of shunting on the main line at Branspeth due to lack of sidings, unfamiliarity of the train crew with local practices and lack of telegraph equipment between Branspeth and Willington so the signalman could not warn stations down the line of the incident.
The traincrew who died were:
Driver William Moore, 36
Fireman Robert Greaves, 24
A song about the train crash has been written by 'Brother Crow' called 'As children we would run'