In 1950, the nation’s newspapers and radio were full of news of a major railway disaster in the quiet Snowdonia town of Penmaenmawr. A little after 3 am on 27 August, a train from Holyhead with over 500 passengers from Ireland, collided with the rear of a small railway locomotive which had travelled from Llandudno Junction to collect a number of stone wagons from the sidings. The engine was crossing the main line to gain access to the sidings.
A fireman on board the small engine heard the Holyhead train coming and signalled to the signal box with his lamp that a collision was about to happen. The signalman changed the signals for the Holyhead train to red, but it was too late. The passenger train collided with the rear of the small engine pushing it forwards for about 240 yards, ripping the tracks. The force of the collision shattered the sleeping carriage of the passenger train, which was immediately behind the locomotive, and five people inside were killed. Several further carriages were thrown off the rails.
Both the running lines were blocked and a second collision was prevented when a freight train approaching from the east was stopped just clear of the wreckage by the prompt action of the driver of the Holyhead train who knew the freight train was due and, on his instructions, the fireman went forward, despite painful injuries from which he would later be hospitalised, and protected the line with detonators to warm the oncoming train. The goods driver saw the signal change and then heard the detonators, and braked hard, stopping 120 yards before he would have hit the coaches lying across the down line. It was particularly fortunate that the goods train was stopped because its load included ammunition.
After the crash, local people came to the station with blankets and a cafe nearby opened to dispense tea and coffee to the rescuers and survivors. Penmaenmawr station was used as a casualty-clearing area until ambulances arrived to take the injured to hospital in all 36 people were injured and six killed (five at the site and one later in hospital) – a remarkably small number.
A Pathé newsreel shows a video of the aftermath of the crash test.