The runaway tram

So recently I watched a film on my Dad’s recommendation. Now ordinarily I’d have approached this with extreme caution, but he very quickly managed to sell it to me. It had Denzel Washington in it he said. It had trains in it he said. What the hell is it called I said. He didn’t remember. Anyway, a quick search for trains and Denzel Washington later and I find myself watching the film “Unstoppable”, about a runaway train. It’s a worthwhile film to watch if you want to see Denzel Washington, trains, and several huge explosions. I mean, seriously, what more could you want?

The film itself is based on a real event known as the CSX 8888 incident, which is much like the film except with fewer explosions and less Denzel Washington. This reminded me of an accident I read about in a Victorian newspaper, a story more thrilling and tragic than ‘Unstoppable’ which I outline for you below. Sadly Denzel Washington doesn’t feature.

Bradford, Saturday 12th 1885. Driver John Umpleby is ordered to get up steam on Engine Number 5, a steam tram (what the devil is this steam tram of which you tell, you might be thinking, well here’s a video of one). Engine No 5 had been under repair. In the process of these repairs the braking and reversing gears had both been uncoupled. Much to Umpleby’s surprise, the engine suddenly started moving forward, left the tram depot, and then rattled at speed onto Manchester Road, which happens to be a steep downhill slope.

Umpleby remained on board and managed to reconnect the reverse lever. He threw the engine into full reverse, but the only effect was to slightly slow the 10 tons of suddenly liberated tramcar. Engine No 5 was now completely out of control. It was also about to turn into a killer.

In the vicinity of Dewhurst’s Mill the runaway engine came upon a horse and trap being driven by Jacob Wilkinson and Samuel Banks. Clearly there was no warning. No 5 smashed through the trap and killed the horse. Portions of the trap were scattered a radius of 40 feet around the collision. Wilkinson was killed immediately, his body literally ripped to shreds. Banks was flung onto the engine’s boiler, whereupon he was then badly scalded. Umpleby was still trying to stop the engine, which he managed to bring successfully to a halt on Jacob Street. Banks was taken away alive, but died later of his injuries. Umpleby,  suffering so badly from shock that he was physically paralysed, had to be helped off the vehicle. This should have been the end of the matter, but Engine No 5 had other ideas. With both men having been removed, the tram, because of the steep gradient, had started to move again.

Henry Culler, an employee with the tramway company, saw what was happening and tried to board No 5. But the engine was moving too quickly. He lost his footing and was dragged along the line before finally getting himself free. The engine was now coasting down the hill at 20mph towards town. Across No 5’s path this time was a horse and cart belonging to a mineral water manufacturer. The driver, luckily, saw the oncoming menace and jumped clear. His horse, however, was considerably less nimble and became the latest victim of No 5’s rampage. The engine then continued on with its course, narrowly avoiding two tramcars packed with passengers and several other vehicles along Manor Road.

Happily for everyone No 5’s careering was about to come to an abrupt end. Coming onto Market Street the engine failed to negotiate a sharp curve, left the rails, and finally came to a rest at the base of a large statue of Sir Titus Salt, noted manufacturer, philanthropist, and politician.

Anyway, I’ll end with a quote from Denzel Washington, who once famously said

“If I am a cup maker, I’m interested in making the best cup I possibly can. My effort goes into that cup, not what people think about it.”



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