The day I went off the rails

train crash

ian bain

The current heatwave and melting railway lines reminded former Daily Express news sub IAN BAIN of a day when he and super-sub colleague Jack Atkinson were travelling to work from Tonbridge in Kent where they both lived.  

It was sometime in the early Seventies. For more than a week, southern England had suffered Saharan temperatures which caused roads to liquify, rails to buckle and vast amounts of ale to be consumed. 

The main route into Charing Cross was closed because the rails had gone all wobbly so the train was rerouted to Victoria via Reigate.  “It was a longer journey,” said Bain, “and as we sat in the buffet car with cups of tea, we were fairly thundering along and I wondered if the driver was trying to make up time.

‘Suddenly, there was a horrible screech from the front of the train and our carriage rose in the air like a plane taking off. Then it lurched to the side and we fell against the window as it began to slide down the embankment.  Thankfully, it didn’t roll.

“When it came to a stop and we appeared basically unhurt, we opened a door and dropped to the ground.  Passengers began to emerge from three or four other carriages that had also come off. Miraculously, no-one seemed badly injured. We didn’t want to wait around for the emergency services, so Jack and I clambered over a fence to the road and thumbed a lift back to Tonbridge.

“I rang the newsdesk to let them know, only to be told: ‘Don’t worry, old boy. The electricians are on strike and there’s no paper.’”

With the heatwave continuing for several days, conditions in the office became deplorable. There was no airconditioning, nor even fans, and everyone was sweltering. Lloyd Turner, then a downtable sub, was clearly suffering more than most, possibly not used to such weather in Australia. Although he’d only just arrived for the start of his shift, he threw up what must have been about four pints of Fosters, all over the copy on his desk and Bain’s. It ran down the legs of the desk and across the floor, like a small river. 

Morris Benet rushed over, a look of great concern on his face. “Are you okay Lloyd?” he asked.

Quick as a flash, Lloyd replied: “Heatstroke, mate.” 

Ignoring the stench of sour beer, Morris, always a kindly man, said: “Well go and clean up, Lloyd, and I’ll organise a car to take you home.”

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre