Home Rail News 2014 begins with fatal accident and more...

2014 begins with fatal accident and more…

On January 22nd John Wright was looking out for an ultrasonic inspection team at Newark Northgate on the East Coast Main Line. Writes Colin Wheeler

He gave warning that a train was approaching and the team moved to a place of safety as a train approached. He was then struck by the passenger train travelling from the south. Sadly he died several days later from his injuries.

Robin Gisby and David Higgins of Network Rail have asked for the following to be shared with the industry:

“We are deeply saddened to learn that our colleague John Wright has passed away due to the injuries sustained while working at Newark Northgate Station on 22nd January.

‘The swell of colleague support and concern for John since the accident has been overwhelming. He will be missed by all those who had the pleasure of working alongside him during his very many years with the company.”

I understand that both the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) will be investigating further and I recommend looking for the yet to be released investigation alert from the latter. Our prayers and thoughts meanwhile will be with his family and colleagues.

Kitchen Hill, West Coast Mainline 3 miles north of Penrith

RAIB have released an alert following the accident ten days earlier on Sunday January 12th 2014, resulting in a seriously injured engineer’s train driver. At 1325 hours he was driving a train with ten ballast wagons and a locomotive at each end into a worksite.

Realising that a collision with a stationary ballast train was imminent he applied the emergency brake before he jumped from his cab. He sustained serious injuries.

His train was travelling at 19 mph when it hit the stationary one. The buffers of the first wagon overrode those of the leading locomotive and the leading bogie of that wagon together with the trailing bogie of the locomotive were derailed.

“Share the Pain”

I congratulate Steve Featherstone on his initiative which appears to go a very long way towards fulfilling the need for track workers to be regularly briefed on incidents and accidents.

From his Shrewsbury group comes a report of a night-time Down Road possession to carry out arc welding repairs at Harlescott just 4 miles northeast of Shrewsbury on the Shrewsbury to Crewe line. Bridgeway User Crossing was used to get the welders’ trolley on track.

Having arrived at 2309 on Thursday January 16th, the COSS (Controller of Site Safety) spoke with the Signaller at 2342 to confirm he had placed his protection on the Down Line and the Signaller advised the signals were set to protect the team. The repairs were to be on the Up Line. which was still open to traffic awaiting the passage of the last train.

At just 7 minutes after midnight Arriva Trains Wales Class 175 DMU Manchester to Shrewsbury train struck the welders trolley at 85 mph on that Up Line. According to the RAIB Alert one of the team jumped away from the trolley just before it was hit and the van was parked so close that it narrowly escaped being struck too. Fortunately the train did not derail but it suffered significant damage including a ruptured fuel tank. Fortunately only one person received any injuries, and they were minor.

Network Rail Safety Alert Dislocated shoulder

Yet another timely sharing of pain is highlighted by Network Rail’s report of a “major RIDDOR” accident that occurred at Cwm Blaenau Gwent on January 12th this year.

A team were working to release a blockage in a flume drain on a steep bank. One member of the group was descending to the foot of the bank when he lost his footing and as a result dislocated his right shoulder. He was taken to hospital.

The final “Share the Pain” item I have seen refers to an incident that will be familiar to many. A young and inexperienced driver was driving a Network Rail Hilux vehicle on January 13th.

On a road with a 50 mph speed restriction he rounded a bend at 30 mph in wet conditions. The rear of the Hilux started to slide and he slid across the other carriageway before coming to rest in a ditch. Fortunately he escaped injury apart from bruising.

I am pleased that all these incidents are available for other rail workers to take note of. I remain firmly of the belief that so doing increases awareness and will help reduce accidents in the future.

I was not surprised by learning on January 27th that RAIB intend to “strengthen both its front line staff and support teams by recruiting new professional staff”. Being an eternal optimist I am still hoping for the day when accidents and incidents become so infrequent that both the RAIB and the ORR need to offer voluntary early retirement to staff!

Castle Donington 21st January 2013

At 19.55 a little over a year ago a freight train hauling 26 empty wagons derailed. RAIB have recently published their report which is laudably concise.

The freight locomotive hauling 26 empty wagons was travelling from Crewe Basford Hall to Toton. There had been a number of driver reports of rough riding. It was agreed that repairs and re-ballasting were needed. The latter were programmed for 2016/7.

The 18th wagon was the first to derail, followed by the 19th and when the 20th followed suit, the brakes were automatically applied and the train divided. The RAIB report identifies the underlying cause of the derailment as “track inadequately supported leading to recurrent cyclic top”.

It comments on the “fouled ballast” at the site. Stone blowing through the area had been carried out as pre-planned on November 20th 2012 but was stopped short of the point of derailment “due to a shortage of time.”

The train continued for another mile with two more wagons drawn into the derailment as it passed a trailing crossover. It finally came to rest near Hemington with the 20th wagon obstructing the adjacent line as can be seen in the picture above.

Time for a change

In the last few years our progress towards zero serious and fatal accidents (let alone zero harm) has stagnated. Our safety efforts and indeed our legislation and investigation processes concentrate on improving working practices, equipment and using more sophisticated plant.

When the “red zone” and “green zone” working definitions were adopted for working with and without trains running, plans for keeping lookouts out of harm’s way by systems providing automatic warnings were given high priority in what was then Railtrack’s safety plans. But these were never realised.

Ten years ago I recall visiting Zurich main Station and going onto track. The leader of our group opened a cabinet at trackside and used his key to activate the permanently installed warning system – no lookouts, advanced, intermediate or touch required. The system was simply an extension of the station signalling.

When High Speed 1 was opened the ORR rightly ruled that working on track whilst trains are running would not be permitted at their line speeds. I suggest that the time has come to extend that ban to all main 100 mph and above lines in Britain.

We ought to go further and insist that all busy junctions, high speed junctions, areas with more than two tracks, and station areas be equipped with automatic warning systems driven by the signalling. Wherever this cannot viably be achieved possession working must be the rule.

Using flags, whistles and horns to warn of approaching trains as in Victorian times ought to end this year. These measures will reduce the risks but the challenge will remain; namely how we can raise everyone’s (especially management’s) awareness of and commitment to railway safety.

I don’t actually believe we will ever be able to disband the RAIB, but we ought to work to reduce their staff numbers! Remember they are now recruiting again!!

If you disagree please come and tell us why at the Safety Summit on April 28th which this year is in central London.

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