Today in 1975, 43 People Died on the Northern Line

By Holly Brockwell on at

At 8.45am on the 28th of February 1975, hundreds of people were on their way to work on the Northern City Line, as the Highbury branch of the Northern Line was known at the time. Instead of smartphones and tablets, they were absorbed in the newspaper, perhaps reading about US President Gerald Ford's historic golf tournament that week, or the 35% pay rise coal miners had just received from the government.

A minute later, the train came into Moorgate station at between 30 and 40 miles per hour. Instead of slowing, the train carried on at full speed through the buffers and into the dead end wall where the line terminated, at the end of the overflow tunnel. The driver was killed, many people were crushed, and a total of 42 passengers lost their lives. Many more suffered terrible injuries.

A report from the journal Anaesthesia [warning: distressing photos] makes for grim reading:

A small resuscitation team consisting of a surgical registrar, an anaesthetic registrar, and two nurses was sent to the accident site, complete with emergency equipment.

On arrival at the site of the accident the members of the team made their way towards the front of the train, where they were confronted with scenes of utter devastation beyond their previous experience. The third carriage had been cleared of all but one live casualty trapped by her limbs. This passenger was successfully released about one hour later by the surgical member of the resuscitation team.

The second carriage had been cleared of the living but there were several victims who were trapped
and obviously dead. The front carriage was an indescribable tangle of twisted metal and in it the living and the dead were heaped together, intertwined among themselves and the wreckage.

It was impossible to estimate the number involved with any degree of accuracy because the lighting was poor, the victims were all tangled together, and everything was covered with a thick layer of black dust.

Some injured passengers were inside the train for more than twelve hours. 19-year-old Margaret Liles had to have her foot amputated while still sitting in her seat, in order to free her. She had just ketamine for pain relief.

There's more info and lots of photos on the London Fire Brigade's blog today, and an explanation of the theories around how the crash happened at the National Archives. Whatever the reason, the Moorgate disaster - the worst ever London Underground crash - improved safety for all future passengers: as a result, the speed limit at dead-end stations was reduced permanently from 15mph to 10, and three years later a new feature was introduced that automatically applies the train's brakes if the driver doesn't. It's called Moorgate Protection. [LFB]

Main image: Londonmatt via Flickr Creative Commons