Staplehurst Train Crash

On June 9th, 1865 the replacement of the last timber baulk in the railway line at Staplehurst was aimed to be performed between the 14:51 and 16:51 pass of trains, and the procedures relating to the replacement included placing a flagman along the track at a distance sufficient for the train to stop, and placing detonators along the track at regular intervals.

Telegraph poles were used to determine the distance at which the flagman should be placed, and these poles were closer together than normal, resulting in the flagman being 550 yards rather than 1000 yards away.

Detonators were not placed on the track.

The train that connected to the cross-Channel ferry did not appear on the regular timetable as the times were governed by the tide. The foreman mistakenly believed that the train was due after the work would be finished, and had scheduled the maintenance around the existing timetable for traffic control.

The train reached the flagman travelling at 50mph, too fast to stop over the shortened distance to the work site. Although the timber baulk was in place, two lengths of rail had not been replaced, and a crash ensued.

The incident resulted in the deaths of 10 people and 49 more were injured.


Placing detonators was one of a number of layers of protection. Leaving one layer out placed a greater level of reliance upon the others.


One of the survivors of the crash was Charles Dickens, who wrote about it in the last paragraph of the postscript to "Our Mutual Friend".