On this day - September 22nd

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The vanishing train

The Lindal railway incident happened on Thursday 22 September 1892 near Lindal-in-Furness, a village lying between the Lancashire towns of Ulverston and Barrow-in-Furness. A locomotive shunting at sidings disappeared into the ground after a large, deep hole opened up beneath it.

East of Lindal station on the Barrow-Carnforth route, the two main lines and two goods lines ran along an embankment, with five sidings to the north. The 7am Barrow-Carnforth goods had stopped at the sidings behind Furness Railway locomotive No.115, a D1 class 0-6-0 built by the firm of Sharp Stewart between 1866 and 1885.

The 'Sharpie' (as the class were nicknamed) was busy shunting when the driver, Thomas Postlethwaite, saw cracks opening up in the ground right below. Knocking off steam, he jumped for his life, no sooner clear than the earth opened up to expose a sheer-sided hole 30 feet across and similar in depth. The driver and his fireman stared in disbelief as their locomotive fell into it front first, the funnel and front part embedded, with only the tender remaining visible above the surface. The rails on which the engine had been standing were snapped off and went down with it, while the supporting baulks under the main lines were laid bare. The adjacent up passenger line was left hanging lopsidedly, its ballast having cascaded into the abyss.

Breakdown gangs from the locomotive and Permanent way departments attended with a crane and tool vans. The tender was uncoupled and pulled clear, but the locomotive itself weighed 35 tons and getting it out would be a massive task. The hole had appeared just 45 minutes before a Barrow-Carnforth passenger was due, and rumours soon went round that a whole passenger train had been swallowed up and scores of people had been killed and injured. People flocked to look, but were kept from going too close by railway staff and police.

Trainloads of ballast continued to arrive and though most thought the worst had been seen, the full extent of the subsidence could only be guessed at and no one yet knew when rails might start to be safely relaid. The uppermost level of the mine workings were 500 feet down and No. 115 was considered to be lost forever. Others speculated that the train was only 80 to 90 feet down.

The hole eventually swallowed up around 300 wagon loads of ballast until a solid foundation was established. A Board of Trade inquiry was held under the auspices of Major-General C.S Hutchinson, veteran of numerous rail accidents including the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. Lindal may not have been a tragedy, but was a fascinating case all the same.

The event provided the inspiration for the Arthur Conan Doyle story, "The Lost Special", and, directly and indirectly, the TV serial Lost.