The Buttevant Rail Disaster, a train crash that occurs at Buttevant Railway Station, County Cork, takes place on August 1, 1980. More than 70 people are injured, and 18 die, resulting as one of Ireland’s worst rail disasters to ever occur and the country’s worst rail disaster during peacetime history.
At 12:45 the 10:00 am Dublin (Heuston) to Cork (Kent) express train enters Buttevant Railway Station carrying some 230 bank holiday passengers. The train is diverted off the main line across a 1:8 temporary set of points into a siding. The locomotive remains upright but carriages immediately behind the engine and generator van jack-knife and are thrown across four sets of rail lines. Two coaches and the dining car are totally demolished by the impact. It results in the deaths of 18 people and over 70 people being injured.
The accident happens because a set of manual facing points are set to direct the train into the siding. These points are installed about four months previously and have not yet been connected to the signal cabin. The permanent way maintenance staff are expecting a stationary locomotive at the Up platform to move into the siding, and set the points for the diversion to the siding, without obtaining permission from the signalman. Upon seeing that this has been done, the signalman at Buttevant manually sets the signals to the Danger aspect and informs the pointsman to reset the points. The train is traveling too fast to stop in time. The train is moving at approximately 60 mph when the derailment occurs.
The train consists of one locomotive, a generator van and eleven coaches. Six of the coaches consist of wooden bodies on steel underframes. Four of these are either destroyed or badly damaged in the impact, the two which survive being at the rear of the train. The remainder of the coaches are light alloy Cravens stock and most survive the crash.
This event, and the subsequent Cherryville junction accident, which kills a further seven people, account for 70% of all Irish rail deaths over a 28-year period. CIÉ and the Government come under severe public pressure to improve safety and to modernise the fleet. A major review of the national rail safety policy is held and results in the rapid elimination of the wooden-bodied coaches that had formed part of the train.
The passengers who are most severely injured or killed are seated in coaches with wooden frames. This structure is incapable of surviving a high speed crash and does not come near to the safety standards provided by modern (post-1950s) metal-body coaches. The expert bodies that review the accident discover that the old timber-frame carriage bodies mounted on a steel frame are totally inadequate as they are prone to complete collapse under the enormous compression forces of a high-speed collision.
The more modern steel-framed carriage bodies survive due to their greater structural rigidity. On this basis the decision to purchase a new fleet of modern intercity coaches based on the British Rail Mark 3 design is quickly made. The Mark 3’s longitudinally corrugated roof can survive compression forces of over 300 tonnes. These coaches, an already well proven design, are built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) in Derby, England and, under licence, at CIÉ’s own workshops at Inchicore Railway Works in Dublin between 1983 and 1989.