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By Robert Gwynne on

Back to Irk Valley with the L&Y signalling school

Relive a dramatic railway disaster with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Signalling School.

Our Lancashire & Yorkshire (L&Y) signalling school, the world’s oldest operating model railway, returns to home territory this coming Saturday (7th November) with a look at the Irk Valley crash of the 15 August 1953.

Picture courtesy of Manchester Evening News (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/hunt-for-irk-valley-rail-crash-892940)
Picture courtesy of Manchester Evening News (http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/hunt-for-irk-valley-rail-crash-892940)

The ‘Signalling School’ layout was built to train signallers and installed at the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway’s headquarters at Manchester Victoria station in 1913. It was in use in Manchester until 1995 and then moved to the museum where it was restored and is now regularly operated.

The Irk Valley crash happened at 07.40 am close to Manchester Victoria. A train from Bury driven by a railwayman of long experience (and ex-Mayor of Bury) passed a signal at danger. The resultant crash killed nine passengers and the driver, the impact caused the front carriage of the electric train to fall off the Smedley road viaduct into the river. The steam engine involved in the crash was knocked on its side. (Subsequently repaired it continued to run, and was not scrapped until 1964).

A Lancashire and Yorkshire electric train of the type that was still in use at the time of the Irk Valley accident
A Lancashire and Yorkshire electric train of the type that was still in use at the time of the Irk Valley accident

The official enquiry found that approaching Manchester the ‘distant’ signal was normally at caution but the ‘home’ signal, which protected the junction, had normally cleared by the time the driver got to it. It also found that while the driver was clearly in error, the signalman was also, for allowing the steam train to cross in front of the approaching electric train.

Being within living memory the crash still has resonances today, even though trains on the route have changed as the line is now the Manchester Metro Link route to Bury.

The signalling school in our Warehouse
The signalling school in our Warehouse

The L&Y signalling school continues to give good service and is still occasionally used for training, thanks to the volunteers that maintain and demonstrate it. This demonstration is part of their normal monthly operating day.

The accident as reported by British Pathe news can be seen here.


Find out a bit more about our signalling school in our Warehouse.


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