Railway safety and crime

13.03.19

DB Cargo fined £2.7m as electrocuted boy suffers ‘life-changing injuries’

DB Cargo UK has been fined £2.7m after a 13-year-old boy suffered “life-changing injuries” at a Tyneside depot, with the rail firm found guilty of “systematic failings.”

The boy had to have both of his legs amputated after he was electrocuted by a 25,000-volt overhead line, when he and three friends managed to enter the Tyne Yard depot near Birtley in June 2014.

The company denied health and safety breaches, but following a trial Newcastle Crown Court DB Cargo UK were found to be guilty and were issued a fine of £2.7m. Judge Stephen Earl said there had been “systematic failures” in managing safety risks.

The 13-year-old had entered Tyne Yard with two other 13-year-olds and an 11-year-old, and after climbing on top of a stationary wagon – part of a 22-wagon train due to leave the yard later that day – the boy made contact with the live current.

He suffered what the judge referred to as “life-changing injuries in every sense of those words” whilst another boy received minor burns.

In sentencing, Judge Earl said that all witnesses accepted that operating railway yards is a dangerous business and more could have been done, stating that: “Systematic failings increased the risk of serious harm.”

An ORR investigation discovered that trespassers often visited a disused signal box at the yard which was known as the “haunted house” because DB Cargo UK had failed to ensure that non-employees were not exposed to risks to their health.

It found that the firm knew the site attracted trespassers which was evidence by graffiti, fly-tipping, and vandalism, but there was no fence or gate stopping people leaving a public bridleway and walking onto the yard.

Security guards only worked during daylight hours, CCTV cameras were switched off and there were no warning signs to deter people.

Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of railways, said: “Our thoughts remain with the victim who suffered such awful injuries, the other children injured and traumatised, and also their families and friends who will have been deeply affected by this harrowing incident.

“We welcome the sentence which clearly indicates the seriousness with which this offence is viewed and we expect DB Cargo and the rail industry as a whole to look very hard at their sites and make sure they are doing everything possible to ensure they are secure.

“This incident is a reminder to adults and children that railway sites can have many dangers, often not obvious, and that trespass on railway premises can lead to serious injuries.”

The ORR brought the prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act, and DB Cargo also has to pay almost £200,000 in costs.

The company said it had made safety improvements to all of its sites following the incident.

 

David Ethell, DB Cargo’s head of safety and operations, said: “Our thoughts are with the young man who was injured in this unfortunate accident.

"We will continue to work with the Office of Rail and Road and other industry stakeholders to raise greater public awareness of the potential dangers of trespass at operational sites and on the wider rail network."

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