Railway safety and crime

15.05.18

Firm slapped with £40,000 fine after child nearly fell through rotten toilet floor

South Devon Railway (SDR) Trust has been slapped with a £40,000 fine following a potentially life-threatening incident which saw a child nearly fall through the missing door of a train toilet.

In a hearing at Newton Abbot Magistrates’ Court, the organisation admitted that it put passengers at risk by failing to properly bar the entry to a toilet cubicle which was missing its floor.

As a result of the oversight, Anna Patch’s three-year-old son almost suffered a serious injury when he fell through the missing floor and was snatched back to safety by his mother. His feet were just inches away from the rotating wheel below.

The accident took place on 22 June last year when the family had been out enjoying a ride on the heritage steam railway between Buckfastleigh and Totnes in Devon.  

Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, who is part of RTM’s Editorial Board, argued that SDR took an “exceptionally casual approach” to ensuring the safety of passengers and created a “genuine and unacceptable risk to the public.”

“In this instance it is only by good fortune and the swift action of the boy’s mother that this incident was not a fatality,” continued Prosser.

“The fine issued today sends out a powerful message to the heritage sector that the safety of passengers is absolutely paramount, and that thorough risk assessment and monitoring must be carried out.”

In an investigation, regulator ORR discovered that the entire cubicle floor had been missing since 2 April. The company pinned an ‘out of use’ sign to the door and tried to keep it shut with two screws, but these eventually broke along with the door post.

There were no ongoing checks to ensure the door was still secure and staff working on the train were unaware of the missing floor.

The carriage was in need of structural repair and only remained in service once the issue was discovered due to the busy Easter period, during which the company would normally run nine trips per day. It continued using the carriage for three days after the incident.

The ORR also found that SDR had an inadequate Safety Management System n place, which was around 10 years out of date and unfit for purpose.

In a statement, the organisation said it “fully acknowledges the shortcomings which occurred” and entered a guilty plea to the ORR’s charges.

 “The SDR accepts and regrets that improvement was needed at the time of the incident – hopefully it can be seen that the Trust has reacted appropriately and seriously in the circumstances,” it added.

“Whilst the fine we received today is a significant one, we have been making contingency plans for it and also have a helpful period of time in which to pay.”

Top image: Stephen Craven

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