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The Severn Rail Bridge Disaster
The Severn Rail Bridge after the collision
The Severn Rail Bridge after the collision
Last updated: 26 October 2004 0829 BST
line Monday 25th October marks the 44th anniversary of the Severn Rail Bridge disaster...
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Facts

The bridge was constructed between 1875 and 1879.

It was located a little upstream of Lydney and Sharpness.

The bridge was 1,400 feet (425 Metres approx) long and had over twenty-one spans supported by huge cast iron cylinders.

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Old photos of the Forest of Dean
(includes more pictures of the Severn Rail Bridge)

 

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The rail bridge was constructed late in the 19th century and connected Sharpness with Lydney over the River Severn.

The Severn Rail Bridge from Sharpness to Lydney
The Severn Rail Bridge from Sharpness to Lydney
(picture courtesy of Gerald Cook)

On the evening of October 25th 1960, high tide was at 11.15pm and there were a number cargo barges on the river which were looking for the entrance to Sharpness docks. Navigation was hampered by a thick fog which covered the river.

Collision

Two barges - the Arkendale and the Wastdale - came up the river together and missed the navigation lights for the dock due to the fog. They went on to collide with the rail bridge, taking out one of the upright columns and causing two spans to fall onto them.

The remains of the Severn bridge

The resulting impact caused the barge's cargo of around 5,000 gallons of petrol to ignite, setting the Severn on fire in the area around the bridge.

In addition, a 12 inch gas main which crossed the bridge from Sharpness to Lydney was also severed.

The whole river, side-to-side, was ablaze for about a mile up stream and flames could be seen as far away as Coaley Peak (near Dursley) through the fog that night.

Five men lost their lives as a result of the collision but it could have been much worse.

Lucky escape

Workers were strengthening the spans across the bridge on that particular night but they chose to take a break because Henry Cooper was fighting in a heavyweight boxing match.

The workers had retired to the signal box at Severn Bridge station to listen to the boxing match on the radio. Had they not done that, the death toll could have been far higher.

The bridge was never repaired and stood for several more years with the missing spans. It was finally dismantled in the late 1960s.

As a reminder of that night the remains of the two barges still lie in the River Severn just off Purton.

Listen to Ian Thomas talk
about the Severn Rail Bridge disaster

To listen to audio content on the BBC you will need to have a program called RealPlayer installed on your computer. Download it for FREE by clicking here

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