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Passengers could have been killed walking alongside live electric track in stranded London Overground train evacuation, RAIB says

Passengers on a London Overground train could have died when evacuated and asked to walk alongside live rail lines, the rail accident investigator has found.

On 7 November 2017, around 80 people, including children, had to walk 30m on an overgrown path alongside the live track in wet and slippery conditions when the Overground service from Dalston Junction to Battersea Park came to a standstill shortly before reaching Peckham Rye station due to a fault which caused the train’s brakes to apply, with the driver unable to release them.

The train driver spoke over the radio system to the service controller, train technicians, and the signaller. Following these conversations, he began to evacuate the passengers from the train via a door at the front of the vehicle.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) found that the evacuation of the train— which was ran by Arriva Rail London and held 450 people in total— involved passengers climbing down vertical steps to ground level, very close to the 750-volt live electric conductor rail (third rail) and walking along the line to Peckham Rye station.

Shortly afterwards, an operations manager from Govia Thameslink Rail, which manages Peckham Rye, immediately instructed the driver to halt the operation, and instead put the driver in touch with control room-based technicians, who were able to isolate various train safety systems and move the train forward to Peckham Rye station almost an hour later.

It was then possible for all remaining passengers to depart the train normally. No one was hurt in the incident.

The RAIB found that the driver initiated the evacuation of passengers without the current in the lines being switched off because he had been given instructions from control room staff who misunderstood where the stranded train actually was.

The accident investigator also found that the train driver was under stress caused by passengers— 200 of them left standing— during the delay and size of the task, which “affected his decision making,” according to the report.

Some passengers were also seen stepping over the rail to take pictures, some of them to be posted on social media, the report found.

Chief inspector of rail accidents Simon French said the 80 people who went down to track-level were “very fortunate” that no one was hurt in the incident.

He explained: “Minor technical faults on trains are a daily reality on the railways, but sometimes these minor events, if not identified and dealt with promptly, can quickly develop into a potential safety incident.

“Following previous incidents, the railway industry has put in place policies for managing incidents in which trains become stranded. This incident has shown that when things go wrong, these policies may not be effective.”

French noted that over recent years there have been a number of incidents on the railway in which train drivers have not been adequately supported when managing a difficult situation in unfamiliar circumstances.

Underlying factors were that Arriva Rail London strategic command and Network Rail signalling staff “were not adequately prepared” to manage the incident, and the railway industry standards and procedures relating to stranded trains place “little emphasis” on the need for practical training for those involved.

The RAIB recommended that, “both locally and nationally,” the incident management arrangements should be reviewed and processes put in place to exercise them regularly.

“It’s not enough to have a plan - it must work when it is needed, and if it has never been practised the chances are it won’t work,” French said.

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