Railway construction and operation is categorised as heavy engineering. Work is often undertaken in difficult conditions. Corkscrew was no exception and accidents occurred throughout the construction phase and during the operational period. Sadly, some of these were fatal.
Seven railway workers lost their lives in the construction period (two in the Southampton tunnel) and ten were seriously injured.
In Southampton a disused canal tunnel and the railway tunnel combined to create two major tunnel collapses. One occurred just prior to the railway tunnel’s planned opening date in May 1847.
Saturation of the ground around the area of the old canal tunnel caused a collapse of a recently constructed 100-yard section at London Road, Southampton on 23rd April 1847. As a result, two bystanders fell into the workings. Fortunately, they were unhurt and able to walk out of the eastern entrance of the tunnel.
There was a further problem on 30 May with a visible bulge observed in the railway tunnel. This meant that the tunnel could not be used until the problem had been solved. The opening of the Corkscrew was re-organised with the terminus temporarily located at the next station down the line from Southampton. LSWR trains were transported from the Southampton terminus to the Corkscrew station through the streets of Southampton!
A number of minor early operational accidents were caused by lack of training of new staff. On 8th June of the opening year in 1847, crossing gates were ‘dashed through’ by the engine. The crossing keeper had gone to his club leaving the gates closed. In the same year, on 9th June three cows were killed due to unfinished fencing. On 11th June the ‘Down Mail’ derailed at Ringwood due to a mistake by another pointsman.
There was a serious collision on 20 September 1847, near Wool. The mail train from Dorchester was very late in reaching Wareham. As a result, the stationmaster there sent a pilot engine out on the single line to find out what was wrong. At a point on the line where forward visibility was limited on a curve, there was a collision “of a fearful character”. There were apparently only two passengers on the mail train and they escaped without injury. However the accident report stated: “considerable damage is done to both engines, and several carriages are said to be shattered”
Corkscrew was quick to put in a telegraph system to allow communication between signal boxes on the line.