|Crowborough and District Historical Society||
|Burnt Oak Rail Crash of 1916 by Alan Allbuary, Archivist for the Tunbridge Wells & Eridge Preservation Society published March 1997|
|original publication by West Crowborough Society|
On the morning of 5th April 1916 a permanent way gang were busy working on the stretch of track just short of the Burnt Oak bridge on the South side of Crowborough tunnel. At the same time the 8 am. Tunbridge Wells to Brighton pulled by a D Class tank loco, 'Domden', was attempting to make up time after a steer had been found roaming on the track. On leaving the tunnel within sight of the Burnt Oak bridge the driver noticed the gangers and sounded his whistle, which prompted them to move out of the way. As the train passed the point where the permanent way gang had been working, the coupled wheels left the rails and the engine crashed on to its side some 70 yards further on, with the wheels spinning madly. All the carriages were badly damaged except one, but surprisingly there were only minor casualties except for driver Paige, who was seriously injured, having stayed at the controls.
The subsequent enquiry revealed that Dornden had run 1,104,746 miles since being built in 1880, and 75,359 miles since a general overhaul in the Brighton Works in March 1913. An inspection at the scene revealed that a spiral driving wheel was fractured and had been for some time before the accident, but this was not thought to have caused the crash. The blame was put on the permanent way foreman, as the track had been left unsuitable for trains travelling at speed, and no detonators or flags had been positioned to warn the driver. There were, in retrospect three factors which contributed towards the fate of the 8 am. from Tunbridge Wells; the steer roaming on the line causing some eight minutes delay, the subsequent increase in speed to make up the lost time, and lastly human error.
The engine was repaired after the Burnt Oak crash and eventually was withdrawn for scrap in July 1936. In fact Dornden appeared to be an accident prone engine. It crashed into a rock fall at High Rocks in 1883, and then in the following year was involved in an incident with a drunken major who climbed along the side of the train and into the cab whilst the train was in motion!