The Moorgate Tube Crash Deconstructed
In the same spirit as my column on the Dyatlov Pass Accident I thought I’d cover another historical disaster mystery, the 1975 London Moorgate tube crash. This was a subway train cash where 43 people died immediately, a few more subsequently dies of their injuries. It is the second worst subway disaster in English history. In some ways there’s no mystery at all, in other ways it’s completely baffling. How the accident happened is very simple, a subway reached the end of the line and, instead of stopping, the driver drove through the station into a dead end tunnel. There was no attempt made to stop the train, the train’s throttle was of the “dead man switch” type and the driver kept it at full speed until he hit the wall, he didn’t even throw his hands in front of his face before the impact.
What the hell? Mechanical problems were ruled out. The driver was healthy, with no history of drug use or alcoholism, and none was found in his body. Could he have just spaced out and driven through the station into the wall? It has happened before, but in this case the train hit quite a bump going through the station at normal speed, some passengers were thrown from their chairs, some standing passengers fell down. It’s hard to imagine a jolt like that not snapping him out of a revery. One exotic possibility is that he suffered a type of seizure known as “transient global amnesia” or “dissociative fugue”, a subject I have touched on in another post. In this case he might have been “frozen” in position and been unable to move or even unaware of where he was. However these types of events are very very rare and he had no history of such.
Suicide was also ruled out, the driver was a reliable worker with no history of suicide. He was happily married with family. And he had £300 (approx. $500 USA) in his pocket with which he was going to buy a used car for his daughter on the way home. He certainly had no reason to commit suicide and no indication that he was suicidal. And that basically was that, the cause of the crash remains officially undetermined to this day. At least some good came of it, after this accident all passenger trains and tube trains in Britain were equipped with a device that would apply the brakes if a train was approaching a dead end.
One railroad author and former tube driver, Piers Connor, thinks inattentiveness was the cause of the crash, it apparently caused a similar crash in 1971. In that case the train was empty, and the driver did apply the breaks at the last moment. Unfortunately not soon enough, and he died before reaching the hospital. I suppose it’s possible, maybe the jolt did snap the Moorgate driver out of his revery but he was still disoriented until too late. I dunno though, witnesses on the platform said the driver appeared to be remaining straight up and staring forward even after the bump. Which leads back to suicide, author Laurence Marks, whose father died in the crash and subsequently spent a year investigating it, thinks the crash was deliberate and preplanned since apparently the driver had overrun a platform on at least one other occasion. I dunno though, while people do plan their suicides, they don’t usually take a bunch of folks with them unless they have some terrible grudge.
Myself, I think it was suicide. I think it was a very impulsive things are, as many suicides are. I suspect he was a lot more depressed than people at the time realized, this was 1975 and depression was not as often recognized or diagnosed in those days. And he was an older man, 56, from an era where one simply did not admit mental problems and seek counselling. In fact I think that the daughter’s car money in his pocket is what really points to this, on some level that symbolized his child leaving the nest, this can be extremely stressful for some parents. And stressors can trigger a suicidal impulse, every year a few college students fling themselves off dorm roofs because of a failing grade, it happens.
All in all though, the cause of this crash is mysterious and may always remain so. I just find genuine mysteries interesting. I mean, it has to have a prosaic explanation, doesn’t it? There’s a few other big unexplained accidents and plane crashes and stuff I’ll write about by and by.
God rest the souls of those that died that died, let their families find peace.
(The above image of rescuers at the Moorgate crash site is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, it is not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the image. There’s very few pictures of this crash on line, I guess this was just before “image journalism” or whatever it’s called began to explode.)