Boiler burst on the Rhymney Railway

Engine No 97 suffered a boiler explosion on the night of 20/21 April 1909. The safety valve supposedly set at 145lb had been re-assembled incorrectly after maintenance, and was as a result locked down tight. The driver took the locomotive out with a short train at 11.45pm and stopped at Cardiff because the pressure gauge was firm against the stop at 200lb and he could not get either of the injectors to work. He uncoupled the wagons there and returned to Cardiff Docks, where he went to the office to report the problem. Whilst the driver was in the office, the boiler exploded, throwing the boiler barrel over 50 yards and killing three men. The locomotive was scrapped as a result.

Source: Rhymney Railway Drawings - Nigel Nicholson, Trefor Jones & Mike Morton Lloyd - Lightmoor Press 2010


Mr W. L. Yorath. coroner, held the adjourned inquiry at the Law Courts, Cardiff, Oil Friday into the deaths of Thomas Parry (35), foreman shunter, 65, Coburn-street; Harry Hawkes :28), fireman, Caerphilly-street; and William Murphy (17), cleaner. 15, Windsor- road, who were killed by the explosion of a locomotive boiler, on the Rhymney Railway, at the East Docks, on April 21. The coroner was accompanied on the bench by Colonel Druitt, representing the Home Office, and Mr Carlton, boiler expert from tine Board of Trade. Mr. Donald Maclean. M.P., represented the Rhymney Railway Company, Mr. J. R. Thomas the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Mr. Warwick the Associated Society of Engineers and Firemen, Mr. T. N. Wilkins the Associated Society of Engineers. and Mr. G. F. Forsdike for the relatives of the deceased man Parry. Mr. T. Hurry Riches, locomotive superintendent of the Taff Yale Railway, was also present. Carlton T. Hurry Riches, locomotive super- intendent of the Rhymney Railway. Caerphilly, said that Parry was a shunter, and had been employed by the company for about ten years. His duties were to see to the shunting of the engines. Murphy was a cleaner, and had been in the employ of the company for about sixteen weeks. Hawkes was a. fireman, and had been employed about six years by the company. His duties were to see that there was water in the tank and that the injector was all right. Supposing matters were not in proper order, the fireman had to inform the driver at once, and the driver had to see that it was put right, and, if not, report it to the foreman, and put it down in the report book. If there was something wrong with any portion of the engine, and the fireman knew it, it was his place to inform the driver. If the driver could not go out, and considered it dangerous, it was his place to refuse to take the engine out. Where do these instructions come from the power to refuse? It is a recognised thing. There is no written law? I do not think so. The engine was of the saddle tank type. It was nine years old, but the boiler was practically a new one, having only started work on September 1, 1908. The boiler was tested by hydraulic pressure by the builders up to 240lb. to the square inch. After that his representative saw it again tested to to the square inch hydraulically. After that he had 1901b. steam put on that was to say, about 201b. above the boiler's working pressure. He had had no report to his knowledge saying that there was anything seriously wrong with the boiler, except ordinary running repairs. The safety valves were adjusted on September 1, 1908, to lift 1601b. working pressure. The nominal blowing-off pressure would be 1451b. to 1501b. The water for the boilers was got from the tunnel between Llanishen and Caerphilly, and was brought down along the line to Crwys-road. He had never found any special fault with the water.


Have you formed yourself any theory of this accident ? I consider it, in all probability. was owing to shortness of water in the first instance. Another gentleman and myself found the water gauge open when we examined the water gauge cock. How long after the accident? Two or three days after the disaster. Both cocks were torn away from the boiler, and picked up some distance from the scene of the accident. I had them put into an office and locked up, the key of which I kept myself until the inquiry opened. Is the water gauge an infallible indicator of water being in the boiler or not? Sup- posing I heard from any of the evidence that the water gauge showed there was water in the gauge, would that indicate shortness of water? If there was water in the gauge it does not indicate shortness of water, but 1 speak of the fact that both water gauges were broken before the explosion, and the water cook was found open. Do you advance anything else? I also fancy, in all probability, that Parry, who was a competent man, got the injector to work on his side. and found the water valve open, which leads from the tank to the injector. By allowing water to go in like that the chances would mean that with a small quantity of water in the boiler steam would be generated much quicker, owing to the thin layer of water on the fire-box. There was also a chance that the safety valve might have stuck, owing to grit. Colonel Druitt: Did you notice the two little lead plugs? Neither of them had gone. Would you expect them to go if the top of the box had been hot? They are put there for that purpose, but lead plugs have been known to fail Witness agreed with Colonel Druitt that if the steam pressure gauge was working and the safety f valves not blowing off the only theory for the cause of the accident was shortness of water. Mr. Riches stated that their boilers were cleaned out every oven or eight days.


In answer to Mr. Maclean, the witness said that, the driver having taken his engine out, and assuming that he found on going down the line that the pressure was between 1701.. and 1951b. and his injectors were not working, his duty was, unless he had a full glass, to drop fire immediately. It would not matter where he was. Mr. Forsdike: Were there any indications that you would expect if there had been shortage of water? The indications were there in the discolouration of the copper. Is it in consequence of the discolouration of the copper that you still put forward the theory of shortage of water? - I say still that that may be the cause. Which is the more probable theory safety valve stuck or shortage of water? I think the most general cause is shortage of water. There was no doubt, he continued, that the valves were not working correctly, and they also bad the fact that the water valve from the tank was left open, which clearly indicated that there had been an attempt to get the injector on. Mr. Forsdike: You giving reasons now, but I want to know which is the most probable theory of the accident? One is as likely as the other in this case. The safety valve might have been the cause of the accident, and another cause might have been the injectors failing and annealing the copper, and also giving the steam off very quickly. Mr. Thomas: Is the water valve a true indicator that the injector has been put on? I say they would have to open the valve if they were putting the injector on. Is it possible for 200lb. to be shown on the gauge and only 1401b. in the boiler? It is possible if the gauge is stuck. Otherwise the gauge cannot go wrong. Is it a common thing to have what is known as a light gauge? I cannot say that it is a case that would often happen. Continuing, witness said that it was the driver's duty, for the safety of the public, to see that he did not go out with an engine which was defective. Notwithstanding the fact that a responsible official of the company had his attention drawn to the fact, and If I was to tell that driver to go out, then it is his place to refuse. Do you say that if you had told the driver to go out he would be justified in refusing? Yes. What would be the consequences ? In all probability, he would come before me, and would then go before my general manager, where he would be upheld. Mr. Wilkins: During your experience in locomotive work have you known of any cases of safety valves sticking? I have heard of one or two cases. Have you had any experience? I have not seen any actual cases where the safety valve has stuck. Have you had any experience of indications of shortness of water by lead plugs giving out or having its effect on the top of the fire-box? I have not had that experience before. In answer to a question, witness stated .hat he did not think the concussion result- ng from the explosion would open the valves.


David Lewis, engine-driver in the employ of the Rhymney Railway Company, stated that he had been 21 years in the service of the company and eleven years as driver. His duty was to examine his engine before taking it out. On April 20 he booked on at 11.30 p.m. The particular engine in question was one which he had not driven regularly, but he examined it on the night in question and found that the steam pressure gauge was wrong. It was indicating 200lb. pressure, which was the maximum. Then he found what was wrong he went for a fitter. He came and tried the steam pressure gauge- cock, after which they went to the foreman's office to tell the latter about the steam pressure gauge. Witness was standing out- side at this time, and when Stewart came out he said it was all right and he could take the engine out. When witness saw the pressure at 200lb. he thought the gauge was "light" and that it. was registering very much less. The safety valves worked all right before he started out with the engine. The water gauge showed that the boiler was full up when he started at 11.45 p.m. The engine worked all right from the sheds until they got to Gaol-lane, when the injectors failed. He shunted the train he was drawing on to the back road at Gaol-lane and returned with the engine to the docks Wit- ness tried to get the in j actors on by opening the valves, but could not make them work.


Having put the engine on the pit, Parry up tad told him to get another engine ready. Witness then left his engine, but had hardly gone five or ten yards when the explosion took place. Witness was knocked down and stunned. The question as to whether the safety valves were working properly or not had not crossed his mind. By Mr Macleau. He would not have taken the engine cut if he thought there was a risk of explosion, whatever the foreman said. The boilers being shown full of water, he could not nee the injectors, but he always tested the cocks. He had never seen the steam pressure gauge at 200lb. on this engine when he had it out before. Why. with your knowledge of that engine as a good working engine before, did you take the risk of taking it out with the pressure gauge at 200lb? Because I thought the gauge was light. Continuing, he said he had never known the gauge on this engine to be light before and on this occasion he went and saw the fitter before he went out. At Gaol-lane he knew that he had sufficient water to carry him to the docks, which was the proper place to drop fires. He did not think it was his duty to drop fire at once where he was. In answer to Mr. Forsdike, witness said he had never been told that the fitter was tie man he should go to in difficulties, but it was the custom always to do so with himself and others. At the time when he found the injectors would not work the boiler was more than three-quarters full. One inch and a half of water in the glass was perfectly safe working water. In answer to Mr. Thomas, witness stated he reckoned it was quicker to run the engine back to the shed from Gaol-lane than to draw the fires at the latter place. Had he expected, however, a block on the road he would have drawn the fires in Gaol-lane.


Edward Chambers, fireman, 136, Railway- street, in the employ of the Rhymney Railway Company, stated that just before the explosion he saw Lewis's engine coming down on the wrong road, and thinking there was something wrong he got off his footplate and went to try and assist Lewis. When be got an the footplate of the latter's engine Lewis told witness that the injectors had failed. A gauge glass burst shortly after- wards, and witness then got off the plate. When he returned again to the footplate the second gauge glass burst, just before the engine went over the pit points at the sheds. Daniel Rees. fitter, 74, Keppoch-street, stated that on April 20 he went to this particular engine in order to repair the safety valve dome joint. He made the joint and re-placed everything as it should have been, but he had no instructions to examine the safety valve, and it was not his duty to do so unless told. John Stuart, the night fitter, started that Lewis reported to him something was wrong with his engine on the night of April 20. He said the pressure gauge had gone wrong. He failed to shut the stop-cock. He then west to the shed foreman and told him something was wrong with the engine, and asked what were they to do. He replied that it was all right, and witness then turned round to Driver Lewis, who was standing near by, and I said, All right, Davey."


John Williams, night foreman at the Rhymney Railway Sheds, said he remembered the last witness coming to him and telling him something was wrong with the steam gauge on the engine. Witness told Stuart to toll the driver "All right." What did you mean by that? He did not say anything about the safety valve. Why did you say it was all right? I did not say it was all right. But you have just said so. You said, "Tell the driver all right." What do you mean by that? I don't know. Surely, you must know. Just think of it, man. Stuart comes to you with Driver I Lewis and says that the pressure gauge is wrong. What do you mean by saying All right"? I do not know, I am sure. What is your duty, and what is the object of going to you? If a driver came to me I would have to stop the engine. Did you know whether the driver was with Stuart? I heard a conversation outside. Didn't you hear Stuart say. It is all right, Davey" ? Yes, after I gave him consent to try to do the best he could. You did not move? No. Is it not a part of your duty if anything is reported wrong to you to stop an engine going out?-Yes, it is. Why didn't you stop this engine? The driver never fetched me. I don't take notice of what every Tom. Dick, and Harry says, or I should be there all night. I expect the driver to come and tell me. What you say is tantamount to telling us that you allow men's lives to be risked because the driver does not come to tell you? He is in charge of the engine. And because he does not come and tell you it is no part of your duty to stop an engine going out? If I knew there was anything wrong. The Coroner: If the Rhymney Railway Company have many men like you they will be in a serious position some day, perhaps. You also want me to believe that there must be a report to you by the driver I himself ? Yes. You heard the driver outside the door? Yes. I heard him talking. I The Coroner: I should have warned this witness, Mr. Madean. I Replying to Colonel Druitt, the witness said that it never crossed his mind that there was anything serious, or he would have stopped the engine at once. He did not realise that the thing was so bad. The Coroner, after consulting with Colonel Druitt. said that, perhaps, he had magnified the importance of this matter, because he was now told that it was not a serious thing for the gauge to go wrong. Witness, replying to Mr. Maclean, said he did not realise that there was anything - seriously wrong with the pressure gauge. Mr. Wilkins: Didn't you think it your duty to go and see? Not being a mechanic I must not interfere with them. Dr. Walker, Windsor-esplanade, said he was called to the scene at 12.55 am., arriving a quarter of an hour later. He was shown the three bodies. Parry was scalded all over his skull was fractured, his left arm torn off, and his clothes blown away. Hawkes was blown to pieces, and Murphy had the top of his head blown off. This was all the evidence, and the Coroner summed up at some length, and stated that as far as the actual cause of death was concerned there was no doubt, but the chief point of difficulty would be whether there had been shown any kind of act which came within their scope, that was to say, an act of such a character as would make it culpable or criminal. He pointed out that where there was life to be considered it came to this: that nothing should be accepted in apparently an indifferent manner. He hoped, whatever view of the matter the jury might take, that the witness Williams, who must evidently be a very good man, for he had been employed by the company for 46 years, would, whenever any- thing was reported to him again, whether on the face of it it was important or not. leave nothing that could be done towards the rectifying of it. He did hope that he would see that a thing in future was not overlooked in the manner in which it appeared to have been done in the present instance/ Having directed the jury's attention to the main points of the evidence, the Coroner, in conclusion, conveyed his thanks to Colonel Druitt and Mr. Carlton for the assistance they had given him in the inquiry, and also to Mr. Carlton Riches and others connected with him for having given him all the information they could. He thought it was only right tha.t he should say that, more particularly on behalf of the Rhymney Railway Company.


The jury then retired, and after an absence of about ten minutes returned into court, when the Foreman stated that the deceased were kilted by the explosion of a locomotive boiler on the Rhymney Railway. They found that the cause of the explosion was 'due to the fact that the man left by the driver on the engine when he came off the footplate at the shed succeeded in getting the injector to work just a-s the driver-left the engine, causing cold water to flow in on to the already over-heated boiler plates, and by so doing suddenly generated a very large amount of steam. They thought that the mishap was purely accidental, and held no one culpably to blame. They recommended that a more active and expert man should he in charge of the shed at night and one with some experience of engines; and also that definite rules should be posted up for the guidance of all concerned. The jury further thought that whenever a safety valve was being repaired, if it was necessary to leave it for any length of time, the part so exposed should be covered up view of the fact of the amount of coal dust flying about at the Docks. Mr. Maclean thanked the coroner very much for the kind remarks he had made with regard to those concerned in this case, and wished to say on their behalf, that they appreciated his courtesy during the very lengthy inquiry. They wished also to express their appreciation of the ability and clearness with which toe coroner had conducted a very complicated case.

Source: Weekly Mail May 15th 1909 (Welsh Newspapers Online)