Site of fatal canal breach, Sun Bank

Site of fatal canal breach, Sun Bank, near Trevor

In 1945 a fatal train crash occurred below the canal near here, caused by a breach of the canal bank.

The hillside position of the canal provides great views across the valley for us today, but it caused headaches for canal engineers. Measures to keep the canal intact included diverting one section closer to the hillside before 1850.

After a day’s heavy rainfall, at 3.30am on 10 September 1945 the canal bank gave way a few metres east of where there’s now a picnic bench by the towpath. An hour or so later, a manager at the Monsanto chemical works in Acrefair noticed a sudden drop in the water supplied by the canal.

Water had rushed from the canal and broken a large gap under the railway line which ran below the canal. At 4.51am the first train of the day, conveying parcels from Chester to Barmouth, approached the gap in darkness at c.60km/h (c.35mph). The locomotive, Great Western Railway “Mogul” no.6315, flew across the gap and half buried itself in the bank on the far side.

Driver D Jones died instantly as the cab was crushed. The fireman (stoker) was thrown from the cab and buried in falling earth but freed himself and walked, with a broken wrist, to raise the alarm. The leading parcels van rested on top of the engine. The other 15 goods vans piled up and cinders from the loco’s fire set fire to everything except the brake van.

Mr Edwards, landlord of the Sun Trevor Inn, summoned the fire service. The wreckage burned for almost 4.5 hours. It took nearly six days to clear the wreckage, with the help of the Royal Artillery Mechanical Transport School which had been evacuated to Rhyl for the war. Wartime emergency timber, stored at Ruabon, was used for a temporary bridge to help engineers rebuild the railway embankment.

The accident inquiry didn’t blame the London Midland and Scottish Railway, which owned the canal. The basic problem was that the boulder clay of the hillside was always unstable because of water travelling down to the river Dee (beneath the canal). Some of the water emerged in springs near the canal. GWR track maintenance men took drinking water from one of the springs.

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Canal & River Trust website – Llangollen Canal