HomeRail NewsThe times, they are a-changing

The times, they are a-changing

I am convinced that both the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) are performing well. Legal considerations, however, can result in delays to the implementation of RAIB recommendations. In the worst cases accidents may occur which might have been avoided if earlier accident or incident recommendations had been accepted and more timely action had been taken.

Arguably, the Covid pandemic has significantly changed both work patterns and the lifestyles of many people, which together with the financial situation is affecting us all. I expect it to gather momentum. The challenge is how we move forward with an improved and safer railway for freight, passengers, and those who work on our railways.

Runaway engineering train

On 20 October, the RAIB published a news story about an unattended runaway engineer’s train at Liverpool Street Station. The incident occurred on 2 October at 11:52. The train ran away from platform 3 and the signaller was alerted to the train’s movement by track sections in the throat of the station showing occupied unexpectedly. The train travelled for 150 metres but stopped within the engineering possession limits. Although there were no injuries, the train ran through and damaged a set of points. RAIB has decided to publish a Safety Digest.

False flanges and a cement wagon in the river

Also published on 20 October, another RAIB news story described a freight train derailment that occurred the previous day at Petteril Bridge Junction, Carlisle. The freight train that derailed was a Class 66 locomotive hauling 14 loaded cement wagons. Five of the wagons derailed and one of them came to rest in the river below. Substantial damage was caused to the railway infrastructure and the wagons. The Newcastle to Carlisle railway was blocked as a result. The RAIB has said that the cause “was almost certainly a result of a wheelset with false flanges encountering a set of switches that form part of the junction”. In explanation it adds that false flanges form when wheel treads are flattened by wheels ceasing to rotate whilst a vehicle is running.

An 800-tonne capacity crane was assembled using a smaller crane and was then used to lift the three 80-tonne capacity cement wagons back onto the railway during the Remembrance weekend. The RAIB was then able to complete its site examination and work began to restore the rail infrastructure which included track, signalling, and some 41 metres of parapet plus associated bridge repairs. The replacement shuttle bus service continued with a target date for full restoration of train services by the beginning of December. RAIB’s investigation will establish the sequence of events, track and wagon conditions, wagon characteristics, the trains braking system, and “any underlying management factors”.

When the report is released, it will be interesting to see whether there are any new lessons to be learnt and just how this derailment compares with previous freight train derailments including those at Llangennech and Sheffield Station. With the developments made in digital automatic coupling systems and even driverless freight trains, surely the time is ripe for the provision of reliable and accurate hot axle box detectors, and for steps to be taken to ensure that all freight carrying trains are better equipped and maintained, with due regard to the nature of their cargoes?

For the future, I believe the UK needs to update and improve its freight trains (both wagons and locomotives) and by so doing reduce the environmental impact of moving freight around the country. Environmentally, there is a strong case for the latest Rail Minister to push ahead with switching more freight traffic to the railway.


The Llangennech accident was caused by a freight train wheelset becoming locked. The RAIB report published on 13th January this year made nine recommendations. They included a review of braking system designs, and the processes for regulatory oversight. There are two recommendations for the “improvement of the management of wagon maintenance on the railways of Great Britain”. Also “a review of the technology and systems used to alert traincrew, signallers, and control offices to wagon defects that may lead to derailments.” Equally important, I suggest, is the call for a review of “arrangements for regulatory oversight of entities in charge of maintenance and certification bodies that are not based in the UK.” I suggest the rate of progress on all the recommendations needs to be a priority. For environmental and safety reasons, a national initiative to increase rail freight dramatically is needed, but rail freight derailments due to inadequate wagon maintenance must become just a bad memory first.

Nottingham tram derailment

On 28 October the RAIB reported this tram derailment that occurred near Highbury Vale Tram Stop on 30 September. The tram derailed at a set of points just south of the tram stop. It had travelled north from David Lane and was to take the left-hand route towards Phoenix Park. Although the tram was in service when the derailment occurred, there were no passengers on board. As the tram reached the toe of the switches the points moved to a mid-position causing the derailment. The tram was travelling at 11kmph. There were no injuries but there was damage to both the tram itself and the infrastructure. The RAIB has decided to publish a Safety Digest after their initial investigation.

Trench excavation injury

Network Rail’s Safety Central website includes a Safety Bulletin NRB 22-07 about yet another injury accident involving a trench collapse. Two groups of five workers were using trenches 1.6 metres deep in the highway for new ducting whilst the trenches were supported by a proprietary trench support system. Instead of coming out of the trench to install the next section of support, one worker chose to walk along the unsupported trench. The trench side of clay fell on the worker bruising his hip as it did so. Maybe that individual should now be asked to tell others about the mistake made in attempting to short cut the work plan.

Passenger train accident at Enfield Town

On 9 November, the RAIB published an unusual news story following completion of their investigation into a collision between a passenger train and a buffer stop at Enfield Town on 12 October. At 08:21 that morning the train ran into the platform 2 buffer stop and “came to a stand with its front end raised on top of the buffer stop”. It was the 07:45 service from London Liverpool Street. Seventy-five passengers were on the train and two received treatment at the scene for minor injuries. The RAIB has completed its investigation but received representation from the Crown Prosecution Service about active legal proceedings. Consequently, the RAIB “decided not to place a copy of the final investigation report on their website at this time”.

Paddington Station RAIB Safety Digest

This recently published Safety Digest refers to “ensuring deviations from planned safe systems of work are authorised by the responsible manager”. It emphasises that Controllers of Site Safety (COSS) should always remain with their work group while they are on or near the line to ensure they can personally observe and monitor them”. When the two blue helmet wearing workers were involved in the very near miss, they were part of a four-person team maintaining signalling and communications equipment led by a COSS. Two teams were planned for the possession work. When the workers met at 18:00 hours they were short on numbers, and it was decided that they would work as a single team under the one Person in Charge (PIC). The manager was not informed and safe work packs were not updated.

A “lifting incident” fatality

This accident was reported on Safety Central in a Safety Bulletin published on 25 October. On the evening of 21 July, work was underway at Gatwick Station on a project to install lift shafts. Before the planned possession began, the team were laying out the small sections of steelwork. During the last crane lift, the connection plate at the foot of the glazing frame (weighing around 500kg) became caught on the underside of a movement joint approximately 65mm above the deck. Consequently, the glazing frame turned and the lifting strop supporting it snapped due to the continued force from the crane. “This caused the frame to fall, resulting in fatal injuries to the Slinger Signaller.”

The bulletin goes on to refer to the need for adequately planned lift plans, supervision during lifts, understanding, and levels of assurance. It ends with the message “if the lift plan cannot be worked to, things change, or it is not safe – STOP WORK”.

In a frank interview some time ago, Network Rail’s Andrew Haines said, “the industry’s tendency of talking up its brilliant safety culture is often wide of the mark. There are still too many instances of people on track who are not supervised and where lapses and breaches occur.”

I live in hope of a safer railway for both rail workers and the users of all rail services. Political delays to the reorganisation of our railways, the necessary focus on the environment and rail finances provides new opportunities, but also risks.