Railway safety and crime

23.05.18

RAIB: Driver nearly hit by train due to miscommunication in Stafford

A misunderstanding between a signaller and a driver led to the driver narrowly avoiding being struck by a train, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has found.

On 2 March 2018, the 12:35hrs Manchester to London Euston passenger service came to a stop on the Up Stafford Fast line due to an unsolicited brake application.

Each time the driver released the train’s brakes and began to move, the brakes automatically applied again, and so the driver informed the signaller responsible for the Stafford area that the train had a recurring brake fault.

After seeking advice over the radio from maintenance support staff, the driver requested to route the train into platform 1 so that he could examine it, but the signaller was unable to do this due to its proximity to a junction north of Stafford.

Instead, the driver was told to move the train to the next signal on the Up Stafford Fast line, located in Stafford station.

In a further conversation between the driver and the signaller, the driver asked the signaller to block the Down Stafford Fast line and the line through platform 1, stating that he would need these line blockages to gain access to the outside of his train in order to isolate the brakes on a carriage towards the rear.

The signaller – who understood the request to mean that the driver required trains to be stopped so that he could walk along the track to the rear of his train – gave the driver the numbers of the signals for the line blockages, but ended the conversation before granting any of the blockages as he wanted to clear a backlog of trains outside Stafford station first.

Around five minutes later, the signaller contacted the driver to grant the line blockages, but when arranging them he modified the start of the line blockages to a set of points at a junction to the north of the station.

The blockages ended at signals at the southern end of the station, blocking up the Stafford Fast line, which the signaller believed would be sufficient. However, the line blockage should not have been granted as regulations state that a line can only be blocked when it is clear of trains, which it was not, as the faulty train was standing on it.

The signaller is also required to record details of line blockages and remind any person requesting a blockage of any lines that are still open on which a train could approach – something that was not done on this occasion.

Consequently, while the driver was on the track, a train approached Stafford, travelling at around 85mph. The driver of this train saw a person on the track and sounded its horn.

The driver of the faulty train became aware of the approaching train and laid down alongside his own vehicle to avoid being struck, avoiding the train by around three seconds.

In August 2016 there was a similar event at Kyle Beck, resulting in a driver lying down alongside his train following a misunderstanding between him and the signaller when a line blockage had not yet been granted.

RAIB has issued a safety message reminding signallers and drivers of the importance of reaching a clear understanding when a driver needs to arrange protection to get down onto the track, with signallers ensuring that they explain which lines still have trains running on them.

It has also reminded drivers to check the status of each adjacent line with signallers if they do not fully understand the information that the signaller has given to them.

 

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