Rail accident investigators have raised serious safety concerns after a train near Inverness struck a 130-metre length of rail that had been left on the track following engineering works.
At 9.47am on 25 February, a Virgin Trains passenger train travelling from Inverness to London struck the end of a rail that had been left on the up line at Cradlehall.
The train hit the rail at 53 mph (85 km/h) and pushed it into the cess, managing not to derail in the process. The rail had been moved from the cess on the opposite side of the line during engineering works the previous night.
The RAIB said: “Network Rail has company standards that require that, on completion of engineering work, a nominated competent authorised person must undertake an inspection of the track to confirm that it is safe for trains to travel over at the authorised speed. It is not yet clear why this requirement was not effective on this occasion.”
Network Rail has been issued with “urgent safety advice” by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), which said there had been a number of incidents over the last four years where lines had been handed back in an unsafe condition.
RAIB also cited a train striking a cabinet door in Watford tunnel in 2014 and a passenger train hitting a wooden sleeper near Somerleyton Suffolk.
“In light of these incidents, and given the serious nature of the most recent incident, the RAIB advises Network Rail to take urgent steps to review the effectiveness of the steps it has already taken to address this risk, and to implement any additional measures that are required to ensure the safety of the line following engineering works.”
ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes added: “We launched a full investigation after this incident and have taken immediate steps to highlight the seriousness to all our employees. Those staff involved directly in the incident are currently not working in front line roles, while they assist with the investigation.
“We have emphasised to our track maintenance teams the importance of thoroughly inspecting all completed work before any trains are allowed to run and are reviewing how we manage this type of maintenance work.
“The safety of our customers should never be put at risk. We are learning from this incident and putting additional measures in place to prevent a similar incident occurring in Scotland in the future.”