Bentley Colliery Paddy Train Disaster
Doncaster Area. 21st November 1978
The Bentley Colliery was one of ten collieries in the Doncaster Area of the National Coal Board and was about three miles north of Doncaster. At the time of the accident the output was 14,000 tons per week of saleable coal with 920 men employed underground and 280 on the surface.
There were two shafts sunk in 1908 to a depth of 624 yards to the Barnsley Seam and later deepened to the Dunsil Seam at a depth of 642 yards. Production from the Barnsley Seam started in 1909 when the coal was transported along the haulage in tubs hauled by ponies, then along the endless rope haulages to the pit bottom. By 1943 belt conveyors had been introduced to transport the coal from the faces to the tub loading stations and endless rope haulages continued in use from there to the shafts. Diesel locomotives had been used there since 1939 for the movement of men, and in 1945 extended for coal haulage and supplies which eliminated the use of the endless rope haulages.
Diesel locomotives were used up to 1968 for hauling men and materials when trunk conveyor belts were introduced to transport minerals from the workings directly to the skip winding installation at No. 2 shaft. Locomotives were then retained for hauling men and materials only.
At the time of the accident coal was produced from three mechanised faces in the Dunsil Seam, the D34’s in the northern part of the mine, together with D10’s and D14’s in the north eastern section. Manriding to these sections was by diesel locomotives hauling Wickham manriding carriages along the East Travelling Road as far as D04/D06 junction which was about 2 miles from the shafts. At this point trains travelling to D34’s turned left along D06’s road. Manriding trains for D10’s and D14’s districts continued along D04’s roadway which rose inbye at an average gradient of 1 in 16. The manriding terminus ‘5’s Paddy Station’ was approximately 800 feet up D04’s gate but locomotives hauling supply trains continued beyond this point, through 5’s cross slit and into the respective districts.
A fleet of 12 locomotives were used and they varied in aged from 22 to 33 years. They had been manufactured by Hunslet Limited and all were fitted with single cabs. Four of them were 50 H.P. and the remaining eight were 65 H.P. models. Seven had only mechanical brakes and were restricted to moving only materials and the other five had both mechanical and air brake systems and were used for manriding. Two speed gearboxes were fitted to all the locomotives which had a top speed of 4.42 m.p.h. and 9.15 m.p.h.. They were regularly serviced in a garage near the pit bottom. Locomotives were normally operated on a single track system with a rail gauge of two feet three and half inches. The East Travelling Road was a common length of roadway used for all faces in the Dunsil Seam from the pit bottom as far as D04’s/D06’s junction. As a consequence, a control point was set up at the diesel garage and manned by a traffic controller. The East Travelling Road from the garage to D04’s/D06’s junction was divided into six equal zones of 500 yards, and each zone was given a different colour.
Marker boards were hung in the roadway to denote the change from one colour zone to another. Each of the five manriding locomotives was equipped with a system of radio communication to the control point and the drivers were instructed to call the controller when they passed a colour zone notice. Their positions were logged on a colour board by the controller so that adjacent trains could maintain at least one colour zone between them. When the locomotives passed inbye passed D04’s/D06’s junction, their movements were controlled by telephones at the junction and at the Paddy Station. On occasions when the radio was defective, communication was entirely by telephone.
Wickham carriages were used for manriding and each was divided into four compartments. Each compartment could hold six men but a local agreement limited this to five making a maximum capacity of 20 men per carriage. The Manager’s Transport Rules stipulated a maximum load of four carriages each containing 20 men.
Normally there were four carriages. At the beginning of each shift, one train travelled to each of D34’s and 5’s Paddy Station followed by a third train with two carries which transported any surplus men to one of the other districts as was required.
The carriages were coupled to each other by a horizontally placed figure “8” rigid steel link with a vertical pin through the eye. The carriages were also provided with twin air breaking systems which were capable of being operated in the service mode, emergency mode direct from the locomotive and in emergency mode from two carriages. Each carriage was provided with a wheel which operated a mechanical hand brake for parking and as a further safeguard, safety chains were between adjacent carriages and the locomotives.
There had been development work to find a suitable friction type, energy absorbing arrestor for a number of years and in April, 1977, a Godwin Warren type of arrestor was installed near the bottom of the D04 incline to stop runaway vehicles. The device consisted of an impact head, mounted on auxiliary rails, arranged to engage 12 successive pairs of friction clamps. The auxiliary rails were secured between the main rails. The operation head protruded above the rail level so that it could make contact with runaway vehicles. It had an operating level which had to be held in the down position to lower the impact head below rail level and allow vehicles to pass slowly under controlled conditions. The impact head was counterbalanced so that when the operating lever was released, the head rose and went into its arresting position. A quadrant plate had been fitted into this device at the colliery with holes drilled in it to correspond with the holes in the lever. It also had red and green lights which indicated to the drivers, the position of the impact head. Many arrestors of this type had been installed in mines throughout the country and there was ample evidence to show that they worked well.