Railway safety and crime

25.03.19

Failings found as passengers on stranded train walk on live track in ‘potentially lethal’ incident, RAIB says

Dozens of passengers left “increasingly uncomfortable” on a stranded train at Lewisham left their train and walked along icy tracks still open to traffic, a “shocking” RAIB report has revealed.

The RMT stated it was “only pure luck that no one was killed or seriously injured” following a long list of failures, and the RAIB has set out a host of criticisms for the train operator, Network Rail and the staff involved.

Passengers stuck on a Southeastern train for over an hour near Lewisham station last March decided to exit the train and walk onto the track.

The train was unable to move across a key junction due to the icy conditions on the track – leaving seven other trains unable to move - and passengers on the crowded carriages with no toilets became “increasingly uncomfortable.”

The report said “ultimately the motivation of the passengers to leave the train outweighed the effectiveness of encouragements to stay on board” and one passenger left to walk along the track which was still open to rail traffic and next to a rail traction power system which was still live.

Electric power was turned off within three minutes of the driver informing the signaller that a passenger was on the track, but a further three passengers also left the train and crossed lines that were live.

The RAIB said a further 30 passengers exited the train of their own accord and went onto the tracks – and within 45 minutes passengers had got off at least two other trains.

c. Victoria JonesPA ArchivePA Images (2)

The “uncontrolled nature of the detrainment” saw trains stranded for four and a half hours, and whilst no-one was seriously injured, the conditions on all the stranded trains became “very difficult for passengers and staff.”

The RAIB criticised the “inadequate management of the disruption” caused by the icy weather, with a delay in declaring the train stranded, informal communication using inappropriate channels, poor presentation of key operational information, and ill-defined incident management processes.

The RAIB also warned the train operator it needed to ensure it provided a suitably large pool of staff to support train crews and the needs of passengers during weather emergencies.

Simon French, the RAIB’s chief inspector of rail incidents, said more should have been done to prevent a “relatively minor incident involving one train escalating to involve numerous other trains and thousands of passengers.”

He said that on high density routes such as these, serious delays can see on-board conditions deteriorate rapidly, with people “taking matters into their own hands and putting themselves at risk of being struck by a train or electrocution.”

In a joint statement, Network Rail and Southeastern said that they have improved the way they manage extreme weather and updated communication procedures in cases such as last year’s Beast from the East.

"Unfortunately, this led to a serious incident in Lewisham which has taught us many lessons and inspired positive change, especially in how we've prepared for this winter.

"We're really sorry to passengers who were on board for what was an unpleasant and distressing experience.”

French said the railway industry’s ability to manage incidents needs to be significantly enhanced, but noted: “I fear that this opportunity will be lost unless the railway develops an overarching ‘control and command’ strategy.”

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