western rail corridor
rail links



The Kiltimagh Railway Disaster of 1916

From "The Burma Road" (Swinford Historical Society 1996)

By Michael Comer

By 1900 the safety systems on Irish Railways were well developed to avoid collisions and to produce safe transport for passengers. Despite this, one of the worst accidents on Irish Railways occurred just outside Kiltimagh Station, on the Swinford side, in December, 1916, in which 6 railway staff were killed and ten injured, some very seriously.

Two goods trains collided head on, about three quarters of a mile from Kiltimagh station on a damp foggy December evening at about 5.45 p.m. One of the trains had left Limerick at 8 a.m. that Monday, 19th, en route to Tubbercurry a distance of 124 miles. It consisted of 21 flat wagons with drop sides each full of gravel sand and chippings (ballast), and a brake van at each end. In addition to the crew of driver, fireman, conductor and brakeman there were twelve permanent way workers in the front van.

The other train was a special from Sligo consisting of empty cattle wagons picked up at all stations along the route to be returned to Tuam for washing and disinfecting. The ballast train had already crossed trains at Ennis, Gort, Athenry, Tuam and Claremorris. The goods special up from Sligo was held at Swinford to allow the ballast to cross down to Tubbercurry. The ballast got stuck on the hill out of Claremorris skidding on the wet rails and had to be banked up the gradient (it got a push from another engine from behind). With the delay caused at Claremorris, it was decided to allow the special up to Kiltimagh and cross the trains there.

The Swinford staff would be exchanged at Kiltimagh to show that the section was clear. Unfortunately the ballast driver missed the danger signal at Kiltimagh and went through the station. He was from Limerick as were all the others, and was unfamiliar with the line. In addition the evening was damp, foggy and dark as he approached Kiltimagh so it is perhaps understandable that he missed both the danger signals. Five men in the front brake van died at the scene and another died on his way to hospital. Miraculously none of the crew of either train was badly injured. Some of them were able to jump out. The van was smashed so badly however, that heavy lifting gear had to be borrowed from M.G.W.R. and brought from Broadstone in Dublin to get the injured released and re-rail the damaged engines.

The dead were brought to Kiltimagh Station and laid out in the waiting room from where a special train brought the remains to Limerick. The line was repaired and opened for traffic on Wednesday, 21st, just two days later. An inquest was held in Swinford on the 28th December and found no blame attached to any of the staff of Kiltimagh Station but added there was neglect, not yet defined, of some official or officials of the company.

© Michael Comer, Swinford (1996 and 2006)