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RailStaff July: Tragedy

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Sadly, shortly before this issue went to print, the industry was hit with the news that two railway workers were killed by a passenger train at Margam, near Port Talbot in South Wales. BTP named them as Gareth Delbridge (right), of Kenfig Hill, and Michael ‘Spike’ Lewis (left), of North Cornelly. A third, unnamed person was treated at the scene for shock but was not injured.

Gareth, 64, was described as “the kindest and most loving husband, father, brother, grandad and great-grandad” by his family, a man who loved life, work, holidays and most of all, his family. 

Michael, 58, who was nicknamed ‘Spike’, was said to have been “known by everyone, and loved by everyone.”

The two were part of Network Rail’s Port Talbot track team and had a combined 84 years of experience on the railway. 

The day after the tragedy, a number of public figures shared their condolences, including prime minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines also released the following message to staff: “This is a heart-breaking reminder of how dangerous it can be to work on the railway. Please, always continue to challenge anything that seems unsafe, tackle risks as soon as you see them and take personal responsibility for you and your colleagues' safety and well-being.”

Industry colleagues from Network Rail, Transport for Wales and Great Western Railway held a minute’s silence to remember Gareth and Michael a week after the incident.

Although there has been a long-term reduction in the number of workers dying on the railway, the incident is a stark reminder of the dangers that remain and how we cannot be complacent when it comes to safety. It was only in November that an unnamed 37-year-old track worker died as a result of being hit by a train at Stoats Nest junction, between Purley and Coulsdon South stations, on the main line from London to Brighton. Prior to that it had been more than four years since a track worker was struck and killed by a train.

Our sympathies go out to the friends, family and work colleagues of Gareth and Michael, the railway family mourns with you. Our thoughts are also with the train driver and industry colleagues who attended the scene in the aftermath.

Lead investigator BTP believes that, unless a safety critical matter comes to light, it will be some time before it reports back on exactly what happened in the moments leading to this fatal collision. RAIB is also conducting independent investigations and Network Rail has since launched a £70 million track worker safety taskforce to accelerate its near miss reduction programme.

When the reports are finalised, let’s hope investigators get to the bottom of what went wrong so that no one else dies as a result of being struck by a train while working on the railway. 

Something went horribly wrong and the industry must learn lessons to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

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In further tragic news this month, it is with great sadness to hear rail legend Per Staehr, a former chief executive of Bombardier Transportation and chair of Rail Media, has passed away. Per was a great supporter and friend to the rail industry and I know he will be sorely missed by family and friends. 

Tom O’Connor, managing director, Rail Media

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