THIS Week in Yester Years, we look back 55 years to a tragic train crash.

On May 13 1966, David Horrigan was the young box-lad at Acton Grange signal box on the West Coast Mainline roughly between Acton Bridge station and Moore.

It was a day that he would never forget. On this day, he was working the night shift with the signalman, known in the trade as the ‘Bobby.’

Travelling from the ICI Wallerscote Works at Northwich was a long goods train comprising hoppers filled with soda ash for the Ravenhead glassworks at St Helens. Behind it and held for a short while was the Euston to Stranraer boat train called the ‘Northern Irishman’.

It was hauled by a powerful diesel engine, D 322. The driver was George Atkinson Cannon, aged 47, of Folly Lane Bewsey, and the second man, once called the fireman, was Frank Harold George Bell, aged 24 of Carlisle.

Warrington Guardian:

The heavy soda ash train started to travel up the incline to the high bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. Partway up the rise, the last 29 of 32 wagons with the guard’s van broke free as the couplings came apart. The wagons started to roll down the slight incline as Mr Murphy, the guard, realised what had happened and started to apply his brake in the van.

It was ineffective due to the weight involved; sparks were seen shooting from the locked wheels, and seeing the oncoming train, he jumped clear and landed on the grass bank. The guard whose family and my parents were good friends was Daniel ‘Paddy’ Murphy.

The express was only travelling at around 30 mph due to being held up. Had it not been held up, it would have been travelling at approximately 70mph; It was a tragedy that would have been a major disaster had it been doing 70 mph.

Warrington Guardian:

But even at that speed, it gave a rough joint speed of 50+mph when it ran into the oncoming 29 heavy wagons. The guard's van was splintered, and the body of locomotive D322 was ripped off and driven up over the first carriages.

Soon after, the locomotive burst into flames. The two men in the cab had absolutely no chance of survival.

In fact, removing their bodies had to wait until the engine was taken back to Crewe.

The following year the locomotive was scrapped. Only four of the 100 passengers on the express were injured but not seriously and were allowed home shortly after, and for weeks after, the area was white with soda ash.

The cause of the accident was faulty coupling, followed by a head-on crash.

Paul Hurley has jointly compiled three railway books with Phil Braithwaite, two being flagship books for the History Press.

Two of the photos here are from their books. He also has a successful Facebook group called Mid Cheshire Through Time