Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Big One: Ronald Biggs and the Great Train Robbery

The Fix

The Glasgow  mail train
The Glasgow mail train

The Glasgow-to-London mail train, known simply as the up postal train, comprised 12 carriages pulled by a single diesel locomotive and was a mobile mail sorting office that carried general mail items and large amounts of cash en route to London from various banks and financial institutions in Scotland.  The cash and other valuable items was stored and sorted in the High Value Package coach which was two carriages back from the locomotive.

Given his underworld contacts, it wasnt hard for Reynolds to acquire the trains schedule, the location of the cash and the number of staff on the train.  From his research he deduced that the amount of cash carried was considerably larger following a bank holiday.  One such holiday fell on Monday August 5, 1963, which suited Reynolds perfectly.  The only thing he didnt know for sure was on which day after the weekend the money would be transported to London.   That information would be supplied by an inside man, yet another Irishman later referred to by the media as the Ulsterman.  With most of the plan in place, Reynolds set the tentative date of the robbery for August 6, 1963. 

One important detail still left to be worked out was one of the most critical.  The original plan called for the robbers to board the train, disconnect the locomotive and the first two carriages from the rest and drive them to a predetermined location where the booty could be transferred to waiting trucks.  The real challenge was how to stop the train without creating too much suspicion.

During a planning meeting at the home of gang member, and part-time racing driver, Roy James, the answer was provided by an associate of Buster Edwards named Roger John Cordrey.  At first look, Cordrey seemed an unlikely accomplice for a robbery that demanded courage, a cool head and split-second timing.  An obsessive gambler, Cordrey was a neurotic with other deeper emotional problems but his redeeming feature was that he knew trains and was an able electrician.

His solution was simple. He would fix the signals forcing the train to stop as required.  A quick assessment of the route indicated that the best location for the fix would be an area known as Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.  Just outside of the town was a signal known as the Distant Signal, which, depending on rail traffic and the state of the track, can show either a green signal, indicating it is clear to proceed, or an amber signal which means proceed to the next signal slowly and be prepared to stop.  The next signal, called the Home Signal was located some 1,300 yards further on at Sears Crossing.  The timing was also perfect as it meant that the train would reach Leighton Buzzard at 3:30 a.m., which would give the robbers sufficient time to stop the train, unload the money and make their getaway under cover of darkness.

If Cordreys plan was met with early skepticism it was quickly dispelled when he demonstrated the device he had created for the task.  It consisted of several batteries, lengths of wire, leather gloves and pieces of black paper.  The gloves and black paper would be used to cover the legitimate green signals and the batteries would be used to light the amber signal at Leighton Buzzard and the red signal at Sears Crossing.

An added bonus was that a half a mile further on from Sears Crossing the rail line crossed Bridego Bridge, a narrow arched structure spanning a quiet country road, the perfect spot to unload the train.

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