25th October 1960. When the Severn Blazed.
In 1955 an examination was held to see the possibility of carrying heavier engines on the Severn Railway Bridge, and so at a cost of £125,000 Fairchilds were contracted to strengthen 500 diagonal braces.
However strengthening ironwork was to be the least of the Bridge’s problems as seen Today a Tuesday in 1960, which started as a normal working day for the crews of two oil barges, the Wastdale H out from Avonmouth carrying 350 tons of volatile petroleum spirit, and the Arkendale H carrying 300 tons of black oil.(1)
For by the day’s end life would never be the same for many people, when at about 10 pm on a flood tide, in the fog around Berkeley Power Station, three miles from the bridge, the bows somehow became entangled.
This caused the vessels to drift helplessly towards the Rail Bridge (built 1875-79), demolishing the central arches, bursting the gas main, resulting in the death of five men in a catastrophic explosion.
The Sharpness to Lydney Bridge, then the farthest downstream over the Severn, was built by the Severn Bridge Railway Company to carry coal from the Forest of Dean to Sharpness Docks.
Then the Great Western Railway built a 4 mile tunnel between 1873-86, so by 1893 declining revenues forced a new venture in the Joint Severn and Wye Joint Railway, which line continued to carry both freight and passengers until the 1960.s (2)
British Railways tinkered with the idea of rebuilding, but after spending millions on damage caused by construction vessels, decided to cut its losses and in 1967 decided to demolish.
Though the disaster was horrific, and no consolation for the families involved, casualties would have been worse as the last train of the day had crossed just before at 21.45.
(1) Skippers were James Dew of the Wastdale, and George Thompson of Arkendale.
(2) The longest tunnel for a 100 years.
forgottenrelics,co,uk/Pic at bottom.
news.bbc.co.uk/local/gloucestershire. Remembering Severn Valley Disaster. Andy Vivian/ Pics.