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Is this still a learning curve? A Northumberland town has seen much tragedy in the form of railway crashes and the potential for another in the future remains, due to the notorious Morpeth'curve'. MIKE KELLY looks at the stories behind each incident.

THIS year marks the 45th anniversary of the Morpeth rail crash.

And, for that matter, the 20th, the 12th, the 10th and, going back in time, the 137th.

As is obvious, the Northumberland town has endured more than its fair share of crashes which have resulted in 12 deaths, and scores of injuries.

The root cause of each of the incidents remains and observers admit that it is not beyond the realms of possibility another could occur at any time.

John Earl, deputy chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group, said: "There is a danger here. I find it unlikely but, in the end, who knows? Systems go wrong."

Anyone who has travelled to or passed through the town by rail will be aware of the notorious Morpeth 'curve'. Just west of the station on the East Coast Main Line it lasts for roughly a quarter of a mile and incorporates a sharp 98 degree turn - believed to be the sharpest on the British rail network.

Even at a slow speed, those who have experienced it have a sense of overbalancing even as they sit causing them instinctively to push their feet down firmer on the floor.

At greater speed the G-force effect causes a pronounced lean among passengers. So much so that a maximum 50mph speed limit has been imposed on the curve which comes in an otherwise very fast stretch of track. Any time a train has exceeded that limit, disaster usually follows.

In living memory, the worst such accident happened on May 7, 1969, as the London to Aberdeen sleeping car express headed up North, passing Newcastle and in the early hours of the morning approached the Morpeth curve.

Because of the time, many passengers were asleep in their bunk beds, some were reading or having a cup of tea. There were a lot of servicemen aboard.

Suddenly there was a shudder and the train leant over at "a hell of an angle" said Recruiting Sergeant John Skinner, of the Scots Guards, at the time.

"I hit the roof as the coach came to rest on its side. I went into the corridor to see what was happening, but everything was confused. I remember seeing part of the track, a length of rail, sticking through one end of the coach.

"There were two men and two girls sprawled at one end of the corridor. They seemed to be very badly injured."

In the subsequent derailment, six people were killed and around 121 were injured. The train had been travelling at 80mph, despite the limit on the curve being 50mph.

According to reports, the driver at the time had been distracted on the journey by an official letter he had Turn to Page 22


The 1969 Morpeth derailment, in which six people were killed, 21 were injured and the roof of the station's northbound platform was damaged
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 10, 2014
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