Gretna tragedy

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I disagree with Dr John Cameron on the Quintinshill railway disaster of 1915 (Letters, 25 May)

He writes that the jail sentences given to the two signalmen (George Meakin and James Tinsley) were “a disgrace to Scottish justice”.

Even conceding that there were contributory factors, the failures and neglect of their duties by these men were criminal, in the true sense of the word.

Just before the accident, Tinsley was making up for his late arrival on shift by hiding his lateness through copying entries (jotted down by Meakin) into the train register – an unauthorised arrangement between the two men to make Tinsley’s life easier by arriving on one of the trains involved in the accident.

Meakin was reading the newspaper and chatting to two guards who were forbidden from being in the box, under rules well known to the signalmen.

Both signalmen were thus distracted from their duties, from no-one’s fault but their own.

I dispute Dr Cameron’s claim that better coaches were being used to “take the public to the beaches”; it was not a bank holiday, as he claims; that occurred a week later.

It was wartime and the railways were being sorely pressed with movement of troops and materiel. The gas-lit coaches of the troop train were still very common in 1915.

Both were employed for the safe running of the Caledonian Railway Company, operating under the strict rules of the government regulators, developed to avoid the repetition of past disasters.

They completely failed to use several compulsory safety measures specifically designed to prevent exactly this type of accident. Some 220 people died as a direct result of their neglects of duty.

David K Allan


East Lothian