1967: 49 Died In The Hither Green Rail Crash

By Karen Harris

Hither Green Traction Maintenance Depot in August 1980. (Leaozinho/Wikimedia Commons)

On November 5, 1967, 49 passengers on a British commuter train were killed when the train derailed. In addition to the fatalities, more than 80 people were injured in the Hither Green rail crash while others emerged unharmed but forever changed, including Bee Gees member Robin Gibb.

The Hither Green Rail Crash

On that clear and apparently trouble-free Sunday evening, a twelve-coach express train from Hastings to Charing Cross struck disaster between the Hither Green and Grove Park stations, in the most literal sense of the word. It turned out that a rail had fractured, and when the train hit the broken rail, it went right off it.

All but two of the coaches flipped, and the sides of two were ripped clean off. In the process, 49 people were killed and 80 more injured, many of them seriously. Survivors later recalled hearing "terrible screams" as "the lights went out" and the train "rocked and swayed and went over on its side" while "stones came chipping up from the track." When the B.B.C. reported the news of the crash, which was the sixth-worst in British history, rescuers were still trying to pull survivors from the twisted wreckage in the pouring rain. Eerily, the crash occurred just about one mile from the Lewisham train crash that killed 90 people 10 years earlier.

One of those who survived was Robin Gibb, then 17 years old and fresh off the Bee Gees's first big hits. He was escorting his then-fiancée from Hastings to London and, thanks to his recent success, was pleased to be able to purchase first-class tickets on the train. The splurge likely saved both their lives. In 2012, Gibb wrote that surviving the crash—which he described as a harrowing experience surrounded by people "screaming and moaning," though he and his companion were unharmed—"changed [him] forever."

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.