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Rail workers in near miss with 80mph train

Rail investigators are looking into a near-miss incident where nine track workers were forced to jump clear of on oncoming train on the West Coast Main Line.

Eight contract staff and a controller of site safety (COSS) employed by Network Rail were packing ballast under sleepers on a small bridge on the line south of Hest Bank between Carnforth and Lancaster last month when the incident happened.

At about 14.23 on 22 September, the 12.12 Edinburgh to Manchester Airport service approached the site from the north (on the up line) but the group were provided with no advance warning and were forced to take immediate evasive action when the train first became visible – four seconds before it reached them.

Some staff were unable to reach a safe position and “pressed themselves against the bridge parapet” as the train passed at an estimated 80 mph.

Due to the work crew having a restricted view of oncoming trains because of the curvature of the track, a lookout operated warning system (LOWS) was being used. This system is designed to allow lookouts to signal the approach of a train by operating two toggle switches on a LOWS lookout unit. This then transmits a radio signal to a LOWS static unit which then gives both visual and audible warnings.

On the afternoon of the incident the LOWS equipment was being operated by two Network Rail lookouts. The lookout watching for trains on the up line was located 780m from the site of work, in a position which gave him a good view of trains approaching from the north, but no signal was received by the work crew.

The LOWS is reported to have been both tested and operating normally prior to the incident.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is conducting an ongoing investigation of the incident.

The RAIB said: “Our investigation will examine the reasons why no warning was provided to the track workers. It will consider the sequence of events and factors that may have led to the incident, and identify any safety lessons.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of RMT, said: “This incident once again illustrates the dangers that confront track workers on Britain's railways on a daily basis.

“We have repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of the LOWS and this RAIB report should force the pace for Network Rail to come up with a safer alternative.”

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