BENTLEY. Doncaster, Yorkshire. 21st. November, 1978.

The Bentley Colliery was one of ten collieries in the Doncaster Area of the National Coal Board and was about three miles north of Doncaster. At the time of the accident, the output was 14,000 tons per week of saleable coal with 920 men employed underground and 280 on the surface.

There were two shafts sunk in 1908 to a depth of 624 yards to the Barnsley Seam and later deepened to the Dunsil Seam at a depth of 642 yards. Production from the Barnsley Seam stared in 1909 when the coal was transported along the haulage in tubs hauled by ponies, then along the endless rope haulages to the pit bottom. By 1943 belt conveyors had been introduced to transport the coal from the faces to the tub loading stations and endless rope haulages continued in use from there to the shafts. Diesel locomotives had been used there since 1939 for the movement of men, and in 1945 extended for coal haulage and supplies which eliminated the use of the endless rope haulages.

Diesel locomotives were used up to 1968 for hauling men and materials when trunk conveyor belts were introduced to transport minerals from the workings directly to the skip winding installation at No. 2 shaft locomotives were then retained for hauling men and, materials only.

At the time of the accident coal was produced from three mechanised faces in the Dunsil Seam, the D34’s in the northern part of the mine, together with D10’s and D140’s in the northeastern section. Manriding to these sections was by diesel locomotives hauling Wickham manriding carriages along the East Travelling Road as far as D04/D06 junction which was about 2 miles from the shafts. At this point trains travelling to D340’s turned left along D06’s road, manriding trains for D10’s and D140’s districts continued along D040’s roadway which rose inbye at an average gradient of 1 in 16. The manriding terminus “50’s Paddy Station” was approximately 800 feet up D040’s gate but locomotives hauling supply trains continued beyond this point, through 50’s cross slit and into the respective districts.

A fleet of 12 locomotives was used and they varied in age from 22 to 33 years. They had been manufactured by Hunslet Limited and all were fitted with single cabs. Four of them were 50 H.P. and the remaining eight were 65 H.P. models. Seven had only mechanical brakes and were restricted to moving only materials and the other five had both mechanical and air brake systems and were used for manriding. Two-speed gearboxes were fitted to all the locomotives which had a top speed of 4.42 m.p.h. and 9.15 m.p.h. They were regularly serviced in a garage near the pit bottom.

Locomotives were normally operated on a single track system with a rail gauge of two feet three and half inches. The East Travelling Road was a common length of roadway used for all faces in the Dunsil Seam from the pit bottom as far as D040’s/D06’s junction. As a consequence, a control point was set up at the diesel garage and manned by a traffic controller. The East Travelling Road from the garage to D040’s/D06’s junction was divided into six equal zones of 500 yards, and each zone was given a different colour. Marker boards were hung in the roadway to denote the change from one colour zone to another. Each of the five manriding locomotives was equipped with a system of radio communication to the control point and the drivers were instructed to call the controller when they passed a colour zone notice. Their positions were logged on a colour board by the controller so that adjacent trains could maintain at least one colour zone between them. When the locomotives passed inbye passed D040’s/D06’s junction, their movements were controlled by telephones at the junction and at the Paddy Station. On occasions when the radio was defective, communication was entirely by telephone.

Wickham carriages were used for manriding and each was divided into four compartments. Each compartment could hold six men but a local agreement limited this to five making a maximum capacity of 20 men per carriage. The Manager’s Transport Rules stipulated a maximum load of four carriages each containing 20 men. Normally there were four carriages. At the beginning of each shift, one train travelled to each of D340’s and 50’s Paddy Station followed by a third train with two carries which transported any surplus men to one of the other districts as was required.

The carriages were coupled to each other by a horizontally places figure “8” rigid steel link with a vertical pin through the eye. The carriages were also provided with twin air braking systems which were capable of being operated in the service mode, emergency mode direct from the locomotive and in emergency mode from two carriages. Each carriage was provided with a wheel which operated a mechanical hand brake for parking and as a further safeguard, safety chains were between adjacent carriages and the locomotives.

There had been development work to find a suitable friction type, energy-absorbing arrestor for a number of years and in April 1977, a Godwin Warren type of arrestor was installed near the bottom of the D04 incline to stop runaway vehicles. The device consisted of an impact head, mounted on auxiliary rails, arranged to engage 12 successive pairs of friction clamps; the auxiliary rails were secured between the main rails. The operation head protruded above the rail level so that it could make contact with runaway vehicles. It had an operating level which had to be held in the down position to lower the impact head below rail level and allow vehicles to pass slowly under controlled conditions. The impact head was counterbalanced so that when the operating lever was released, the head rose and went into its arresting position. A quadrant plate had been fitted dint this device at the colliery with holes drilled in it to correspond with the holes in the lever. It also had red and green lights which indicated to the drivers, the position of the impact head. Many arrestors of this type had been installed in mines throughout the country and there was ample evidence to show that they worked well.

On the night shift of Monday 20th. November 1978, one hundred and fifty-two men descended the mine at 10.15 p.m. to commence normal work. Some stayed at the pit bottom area but 42 boarded the D34 manriding train and were taken to the district and 87 boarded two trains and were taken up the D04 gate to 50’s Paddy Station.

Drivers of the trains usually worked with their regular conductors. Of the two trains going to 50’s Paddy Station, the first was hauled by No.13 Locomotive driven by R.L. Wade with his regular conductor, H.A. Wells. The train consisted of four carriages, the following train of two was hauled by No.18 Locomotive was driven by G. Shone but his regular conductor did not come o work and his place for that shift was taken by S. Allott. The pit bottom deputy looked at the notice board in the diesel garage where there was a list of names posted of authorised conductors and nominated Allott as the conductor. He confused Allott with another conductor names Aylott; Allott was not trained for the work.

These journeys were satisfactorily completed in a normal manner. For much of the remainder of the shift, the locomotives were used to transport materials up and down the D040’s incline. At about 4 a.m., three locomotives left the diesel garage to go inbye ready for manriding at the end of the shift. No.13 was the first one driven by Wade hauled two carriages which had been repaired during the shift. Wells was his conductor. Repairs had been carried out to the left-hand brake on carriage No. 1660 and a new leaf spring had been fitted to carriage No. 1401. These two carriages were to become the first and second carriages in the accident train.

The first locomotive to go inbye stopped at the arrestor. Wells, the conductor, lowered the impact head and inserted a pin in the handle to hold it in the lowered position. He remounted the empty rain and continued up the incline leaving the arrestor in the lowered position as he saw the headlight of a following locomotive, and assumed that this locomotive would follow him up the incline. In the event, this locomotive did not follow him but turned left to D43 District before reaching the arrestor.

Shone was driving no. 18 Locomotive inbye as a light engine approached the arrestor and on seeing it to be retracted, he drove over it without stopping. He decided to leave the arrestor in the pinned down position and continued to the top of the incline.

On reaching the top of the incline, Wade, diving No, 13 Locomotive and hauling the repaired carriages, stopped at No.50’s Paddy Station and applied the parking brakes to the carriages which were boarded by workmen waiting to travel out. Shone arrived at the top of the incline where his locomotive was coupled at the two carriages already containing workmen. As it was the custom for the first train to consist of four carriages, he shunted these two carriages further up the incline to collect two of the four carriages which had been parked throughout the shift. These carriages also contained a number of workmen. Wade and his conductor, Wells, assisted in the coupling of these carriages and locomotive as they were aware that Allott, the substitute conductor, was not fully conversant with the operations.

It was intended to form a four carriage train leaving the spare locomotive, No. 13, to follow behind with the remaining two carriages with the remaining workmen, Allott was told by the regular drivers and conductor to sit at the rear of the last carriage which was the customary position of the conductor, so he went to the last carriage, No. 6, and was left behind.

When Wells had completed the coupling of the carriages to make a four carriage train, he signalled with is cap lamp to Shone, the driver of No. 18 Locomotive to pull the train a short distance forward so that No.13 Locomotive could be brought out of 50’s cross slit and be coupled to the two remaining carriages to form the second train. According to the official timetable, manriding was not due to commence until 5.40 a.m, and as it was only 4.50 a.m. there was enough time to complete this operation. Shone said that he engaged second gear, released his brakes and started to move down the roadway.

There had not been enough time to make a full completion of each specific joint. The driver understood the signal and instead of setting off properly in first gear, he set off in second with the intention of stopping after 30 feet. He believed he then tried to stop using the mechanical brake and went into a skid. He then used the service brake several times applying sand, which was the usual technique to get out of a skid. As he neared the Godwin Warren Retarder, he realised that he was not going to be able to stop and then decided to try to drive on and around the turn, hoping that there would not be a derailment.

Meanwhile, nobody out of the 65 men on the train, had attempted to use the emergency brake system but two men had tried to wind on the hand parking brakes. Most of the men on board ducked with their heads between their knees after they passed the Retarder. Locomotive No.18 and the first carriage passed round the curve but there was an impact at the connection between the first and second carriages which were pulled violently at the weld mesh canopy of the second carriage. The joint between the carriages was broken and carriage two, three and four were derailed and left behind. The locomotive and the first carriage came to rest 67 feet further on when the severely shocked driver managed to select neutral and apply the mechanical brake.

Deputies T. Rush, T. McAlister and A. Kenny were riding in the third carriage with overman W. Payne and apart from being shocked; they were unhurt and started emergency recovery operations. Other men on the train rendered first aid and gave comfort to the injured men who were waiting at 50’s Paddy Station for the second train realised that an accident had occurred and ran down t help with the recovery operations. Soon afterwards a third manriding rain returning with men from D340’s arrived at the junction and these men also assisted. Deputy T. Rush ran back to the junction and alerted the controller that there had been a serious accident and medical assistance was required.

McAlister, the deputy, got off the train and ran back into the working district to collect supplies of morphia. in doing so he passed the arrestor and saw that the operating handle was pinned down by a bolt, shortly afterwards, N. Smithard, a fitter, also observed this.

At the scene of the accident men were pinned between the last there carriages and the roadside. Carriages 2, 3 and 4 were disconnected from each other and sided over in order to release the men.

Night shift senior overman,, R. McGuire, who was already at the surface, went down accompanied by a doctor and a nursing sister. They travelled inbye on a quickly assembled manriding train who was later used to transport the stretcher cases while those who were able walked out to the pit bottom.

All the injured men were brought to the surface within two hours and 18 men sent to the hospital for further medical treatment of who four were temporarily detained. A further 40 were treated for shock at the colliery medical centre. The seven who died were brought to the surface by 9 a.m.

The report for the Yorkshire National Union of Mineworkers stated:

After the accident, the workmen, management and officials joined forces in an exemplary manner and applied themselves unflinchingly to the task of recovering and releasing the dead an injured. The Area doctor and nursing sister arrived on the scene and about 9 a.m. all the casualties were on the surface.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Robert Aitchenson aged 54 years, face worker
  • Donald Box aged 39 years, faceworker
  • Kenneth Green aged 38 years, faceworker
  • David R. Hall, aged 21 years, face trainee
  • Geoffrey Henderson aged 39 years, face worker
  • Michael E. Hickman, aged 18 years, face trainee
  • James Mitchell, aged 55 years, face worker

The men who were seriously injured were:

  • Thomas J. Rush aged 26 years, supply man
  • Paul Thompson aged 26 years, ripper
  • J.Butcher aged 57 years, shift charge engineer

The investigation was begun and one of the first at the scene was Arthur Scargill, the  President of the Yorkshire N.U.M., the General Secretary, O. Briscoe, the Financial Secretary, R. Horbury and members of the Branch Committee. Three Inspectors and the management also made detailed examinations of the scene of the disaster. A detailed inspection of the rails over the whole section showed no defects. There were no skid marks and some dampness was found. The gradient of eight pairs of rails was steeper than the statutory limit of 1 in 15 although the average gradient was 1 in 16.1. Locomotive No.18 was undamaged and the engine easily restarted after it was placed on the rails. All three breaking systems were found to be functioning and further tests were carried out on it at the bottom when each of the braking systems was found to be capable of stopping the train within the recommended stopping distance. There was a 166m length if track available and it was decided to carry out tests at a gradient of 1in15.2 using locomotive No.18 in the condition it was found after the accident plus its 4 Wickham carriages with a simulated load of 65 men. The tests proved that the train could be stopped with the available braking.

The damage to the carriages was then examined and it was found that some coupling pins had not been connected and there was no screw in the coupling pin retaining devices between the first and second carriages. It was established that there had been previous accidents on this section of track. In August 1978, a train a loaded manriding carriages ran back out of control into the Retarder after passing to the rising side of it and on 7th. November 1987, just two weeks prior to this accident, a train of men had run out of control down the gradient and passed over the pegged down Retarder and negotiated the curve without a derailment but the incidents were not properly reported.

There was a large volume of evidence stating that the red and green warning light system on the side of the Retarder was frequently out of order and yet no official reports had been received by the Colliery Electrical Engineer and there had been only two such reports to the Colliery Manager in the 18 months if its operation. It was clear that there was no single act or collection of acts by any particular person who was solely to blame for the accident and recommendations were made aimed at avoiding an occurrence.

The recommendations:

1. Despite the braking capabilities of locomotive manriding systems do not afford automatic overspeed protection as do other manriding systems and safe operations are dependent upon the skill of the driver and directly related to the gradient. It is therefore recommended that the maximum gradient on which these locomotives are allowed to operate be reviewed and reduced

 2. Full operation of the braking systems of locomotive manriding trains is dependent on correct coupling and testing by driver and conductor and upon application, wheel locking and skidding may result It is recommended that automatic speed-sensitive track brakes are developed

 3. Drivers and conductors of locomotive manriding trains should not be confronted with the difficulties posed by marshalling, coupling, brake testing and moving off gradients. It is recommended that terminal manriding stations be established to provide level conditions or their equivalent

 4. The design of curves in roadways where locomotive manriding occurs and where there is a possibility of derailment should be examined. All means possible in terms of superelevation of the track and provision of check rails should be taken to reduce the risk of derailment. In addition a smooth-sided finish to the roadway should be provided and any obstacle removed which would either impact with or tear the side of any manriding carriage

 5. The design concepts of manriding carriages should be revised to ensure the shape and strength of the body affords maximum protection to passengers

 6. The design of carriage coupling pins and safety chains should ensure ease and certainty of coupling and remove the possibility of uncoupling by accident

 7. Advantage must be taken of modern information systems so that the possibility of errors in deployment and are eliminated

 8. The use of friction type arrestors should be expanded and their operation conditioned to fully control approaching locomotives and to automatically reset after locomotives had passed over

 9. Locomotive drivers and conductors in manriding situations carry a heavy responsibility and their training and authorisation needs to be reviewed in terms of its duration, compatibility of equipment employed, status and discipline of instructions and its relationship to the particular track and its problems where they are eventually to work

 10. Manriding trains should be provided with direct and efficient means of signalling between conductor and driver

 11. No person should ride in a manriding train without the knowledge of its emergency stopping procedure and equipment

 12. Locomotive brake testing procedures should be reviewed to ensure the most onerous braking requirements are covered

 13. Management should be resolute in taking whatever steps are necessary to achieve high standards of discipline and adherence to Transport Rules and Trade Unions should give full co-operation.


The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Bentley Colliery, Yorkshire on the 21st. November 1978.
The Locomotive Manriding Accident at Bentley Colliery, 21st. November 1978. National Union of Mineworkers (Yorkshire Area).

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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