HomeRail NewsNear fatal accident at Poole and my concerns for the future

Near fatal accident at Poole and my concerns for the future

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This summer is much better than the last couple of years, but no-one can feel the same about railway safety either here or in mainland Europe.

I must begin with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) alert, (sadly not yet featured on Safety Central) of the contractor working on a Network Rail Infrastructure Projects signalling job near Poole Station, Dorset. He is a very lucky man!

At 1030 on Friday 12th July he was struck by a train but miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. He was working at a line-side equipment cabinet 380 metres London side of the station. He collected some equipment and was walking alongside the Up Line when struck a “glancing blow” from behind by the steps of a five car Class 444 train travelling to Poole.

No lookout or?

I am indebted to a reader for his observations from an over-bridge at Petts Wood Junction on the Charing Cross to Dover line. The gang were on the Slow Lines with the two Fast Lines open to traffic. When a train passed the sounding of the train horn was not acknowledged.

The gang appeared to have taken my enthusiasm for the abolition of the use of lookouts with flags, horns and whistles too far. There was no sign of any form of protection at all as you can see in the pictures!

More instructions and rules?

Last month I featured reader’s comments under the heading “New Initiative Overload” questioning the quantity of new initiatives and the lack of involvement of track-workers. Back in 1993 Graham Eccles produced a report on trackside safety. Under the heaading “Rules, regulations and other Instructions” he comments that these are; “produced by management to protect itself from criticism, too many of them and written in language difficult to understand and open to misinterpretation, never fitting the local situation” .

His research revealed that over 70% of those killed had never been involved in a reportable accident before and 72% of those were “compliant people who would always try and find a way of completing a task.”

He comments that working with the adjacent line open to traffic “cost the lives of 12 people in the last 10 years and that the introduction of the red/green zone concept or the implementation of a speed restriction on the adjacent line makes little difference to the outcome”.

The campaign that resulted was successful. It relied on a track safety group drawn from all over the railway but almost exclusively of front line troops. It had the power to propose, reject or approve ideas for safer working.

Supervisors and local engineer members were respected by colleagues and the reputation of the group meant that everyone would be listened to when they questioned proposed improvements.

My memories are that the most effective changes came from track staff. Most important was the awareness and commitment that resulted due to the respect of track staff for the group. Consequently I have serious reservations about the Headquarters’ “Workforce Safety & Compliance Team” that has produced the “Adjacent Lines Open” instructions for compliance by August 5th.

Skills valued and people trusted?

Instructions, risk assessments and method statements etc. are all useless, unless there is a commitment from everyone. Site audits with a tick box pro-forma are not the way either. Visiting when least expected and listening to track workers is crucial.

Being seen to take on board their concerns, do something about them and returning to listen again will result in improvements. The enemies to this are cynicism, disbelief in management’s motives, short-cut culture and commercial pressures.

I question whether safety concerns are best addressed by headquarters groups developing “better safer” ways of doing things? Anyone charged with doing so must spend at least a third of their time on track working with and listening to track staff employed by contractors and subcontractors as well as the infrastructure owner.

The biggest mistake is taking away the opportunity for skilled people to interpret instructions and use their expertise. Too many are saying their skills are no longer valued so they just do as they are told!!

Fatal accidents around Europe

There have been dreadful accidents in France, Spain and Switzerland. At Bretigny-sur-Orge in France the train derailment of the rear part of the train was caused by a loose/detached fishplate that ended up jammed in the crossing. Six people lost their lives and 62 were injured.

Around 80 people were killed when the high speed train derailed on a curve in Spain whilst travelling at over twice the permitted line speed of 80 kph (50 mph). It is unclear whether or not the driver was still talking to the Ticket Collector on a mobile phone as his train derailed.

I am interested having been involved in the investigations into two train derailments on the 50 mph restricted Morpeth Curve (both of which were caused by speeding).

The head on collision in Switzerland between two passenger trains was unexpected given that country’s pride in its railway system. The lesson is that there is no room for complacency.

From what we have heard any of these accidents could have happened here. Unless we do more our turn for a serious accident may come. Recent RAIB reports and alerts make sobering reading.

RAIB alerts and reports

On May 31st an accident occurred at Balnmore automatic half barrier level crossing at 0305 in the morning. Although the

track over the crossing was under possession, the half barriers remained in the raised position and the road traffic control signals were not operating.

As a Road/Rail Vehicle towing a trailer with weed spraying equipment went over the crossing a car was forced to swerve to avoid hitting it and ran into adjacent metal fencing resulting in minor injuries to its two occupants.

At Butterwood level crossing on Tuesday 25th June this year an “incident” occurred at 0735. The barriers were in the up position when a single car Class 153 unit crossed. A power supply failure the previous evening had disabled the automatic barrier mechanism.

The showing of a flashing red rather than steady white light should have warned the train driver but this was missed. The driver realised the barriers were up when he was 160 metres from the crossing travelling at 40 mph but was unable to stop in time. RAIB are investigating both incidents.

The derailment of a freight train at Shrewsbury on 7th July 2012 makes disturbing reading. The leading bogie of the 16th wagon derailed all wheels as it passed over a set of points at just 14 mph. The derailed train ran on for 65 metres causing “significant track damage”.

The cause according to RAIB – “points were unsafe due to wear and damage”. The report states that the defects were neither identified by inspection nor prevented by maintenance!

It goes on to say that the regime in place at Shrewsbury Maintenance following modification of the standard in 2008 was “inconsistent” and that regular detailed inspections ceased in 2008, leaving only weekly patrolling and 13-weekly supervisor’s inspections.

RAIB has published their report on the incident that happened at Bradford Interchange at 6-50 am on the morning of March 25th 2012. As a road/rail dumper was being lowered back onto its road wheels it ran away for 380 metres downhill coming to rest when it hit the platform 1 buffer stops. Thankfully the operator managed to jump clear.

The report concludes that the dumper was not fully braked as it was removed from track and adds a concern about “the level of safety assurance when modifying road/rail vehicles.”

Recent level crossing incidents strengthen my concerns that local delegation and good relations with neighbours to the railway need to be reinforced.

On Sunday July 14th a Class 170 DMU collided with a car towing a trailer on the user worked crossing known as Jetty Avenue 18 near Woodbridge in Suffolk. The train was travelling at slow speed and there were no injuries. The crossing provides access to a boatyard and mini warning lights were being installed at the time.

Two days later at Buttington Hall, a user worked crossing near Welshpool, the Birmingham to Aberystwith/Pwllheli train hit a tractor and trailer on a private crossing used by a farmer for field access. Two agricultural workers, the tractor driver and just two of the train’s 140 passengers were slightly injured.

The farmer had brought in a harvesting contractor who had appointed an attendant for the crossing. The RAIB say the “system of work had broken down”.

There was nothing wrong with the user’s approach to crossing the railway using Lindridge Farm Level Crossing near Bagworth in Leicestershire on March 22nd last year. He asked and received the signaller’s permission to cross but as he walked to open the far gate he saw a train approaching.

The signaller’s workstation commissioned over two months earlier on, showed the crossing in the wrong place and a track circuit was wrongly named.

The use of track workers skills and enthusiasm all need to be improved. The plethora of instructions has brought the industry to the point where “just do what I tell you” is the general message. Now surely everyone can see that it will never work?

Report by Colin Wheeler


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