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West Coast Railway banned from running services over safety concerns

Continued safety concerns have caused the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) to ban the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) from running services on the mainline railway.

The ORR issued a prohibition notice following a number of incidents, including a case on 7 March last year when a 13-carriage steam train passed a signal warning at danger near Wootton Bassett junction and missed colliding with an express train by less than a minute.

The ORR is pressing charges against WCRC and the driver, and last year the regulator suspended the company’s track access rights before restoring them two months later.

It also decided to issue WCRC with an improvement notice rather than revoke its safety certification, but continued issues mean the company is now banned from operating trains on the mainline until the ORR is satisfied its governance and operations meet industry practice and are fit for the scale of its operation. 

Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways at the ORR, said: “A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.

“We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations. Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”

ORR has made several recommendations including the introduction of clearer governance structures with proper accountability for safety, more robust risk assessments, and enhanced processes for managing staff with a focus on safety culture.

Patricia Marshall, managing director at WCRC, told the BBC: “West Coast Railways will continue to work closely with the ORR to demonstrate that it can continue operations on the National Network in a safe and proper manner.”

In August 2014, Network Rail suspended WCRC steam trains from York to Scarborough after a fire was caused by the Hogwarts Castle, a steam train seen in the Harry Potter films.

(Image c. Peter Trimming)


Lee   19/02/2016 at 13:54

I think this is the right decision - given the seriousness of what happened, WC clearly shouldn't be operating services until there's absolute certainty they can do so safely. What's quite depressing about it is that it will clearly have a damaging impact on main line steam operation, and has probably made life much more difficult for the companies operating within the rules. Will it affect operation of this year's Jacobite services from Fort William to Mallaig? I sincerely hope not - the local economy has come to depend on the huge amount of money these services bring into the area. Non-operation will result in job losses and possible business failures.

Rupert Le Bere   19/02/2016 at 15:54

West Coast Railways needs to do more than just demonstrate to the ORR that it can operate it's trains safely. It needs to demonstrate it to me and the thousands of others who use their services. I was on the Wooton Bassett incident and still wonder what would have happened if the train has been running 60 seconds earlier. WCRC's public relations machine needs to step up a gear.

JOHN GREENWOOD   19/02/2016 at 16:21

Tangmere incident on the SWT main line caused havoc.

Shefphsodpipe   19/02/2016 at 23:20

Very sad to hear of West Coast Railway Co's loss of their licence, they have contributed so much to the railway charter scene, particularly with steam power and have gained massive support over the years. They need to re-rail themselves quickly, by installing (and retaining) a man who's competent and steadfast enough to lead them forward safely, once more. The man who's previous efforts helped launch Wcrc in 1998 by doing the donkey work in order to obtain their operating licence, a certain Peter Kirk, put into place all of the necessary health & safety and operating standards that was required by ORR at the time. These standards were maintained and strictly adhered to, ably assisted by his right-hand man of that time. These standards were never lowered or compromised whilst he was at the helm, which sometimes led to heated arguments with those involved. He wasn't always the most popular man around and sometimes made enemies because of his strict regime and style of management: Nevertheless, his knowledge and experience was second-to-none and by that he ensured Wcrc's ship was kept on an even keel. He was, without doubt, (then and would be now)the best man for the job. People like Mr Kirk are a special breed of railwaymen,they're not grown on trees, you can't just pick them off a shelf- they're born into the job and for these very reasons, near enough just doesn't become good enough. Bending, shaping and cutting the corners to fit someone into this highly responsible job doesn't work when it comes to railway operations-it becomes a risk too far. A manager of this calibre is what's required to sort out Wcrc's problems and to get them back on top-where they surely belong. It's a Big Ask and it won't be easy but it has to be done; A 'second best' 'one size fits all' attitude simply will not do when it comes to the running of trains. Please don't let this setback be terminal. Managers who are good at their job have to be allowed to manage, to enable them to achieve the required standards, without being made to compromise and without unwelcome interference from the top!!! Don't keep spoiling the ship for a 'haypnee' of tar! Commiserations to Pat Marshall....She certainly deserves better than this, after all her hard work,dedication,toil,sweat and tears.

David Butterworth   21/02/2016 at 23:51

Very sad to learn about this. It seems to me that this might be the final 'coup de grace'- will WCRC ever be able to meet the strict criteria imposed by the ORR or is the company fatally wounded? I hope not. Also what a blow it is to the steam charter operations, which have given much pleasure to many down the years. No doubt there has to be a 'day of reckoning' over the safety issues, but it all seems very heavy handed to me.

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