Railway safety and crime

18.12.18

Workers who narrowly avoided death had no one in charge and ‘ineffective’ safety arrangements

“Ineffective” safety arrangements and a number of unofficial working practices contributed to a group of track workers narrowly avoiding being hit by a train, an RAIB investigation has found.

A train service travelling towards London Euston on 11 March narrowly missed the group of track workers whilst they were placing trolleys on the track alongside South Hampstead station.

Nearby colleagues shouted a warning to the group, and the workers managed to remove the trolleys and get clear just two seconds before the train passed after the driver had applied the brakes.

The RAIB reported that one member of the group received a minor injury and many were distressed, and launched an investigation into the incident.

It found that the work group did not have anyone designated as the ‘person in charge’ who has the sufficient knowledge and competence to manage all the risks associated with the work, including the danger of moving trains.

The RAIB reported that the work group were using a number of unofficial working practices and that established safety arrangements were “ineffective.”

The incident occurred because the track workers had placed the trolleys on the wrong line that was still open to trains instead of the intended adjacent line that had been blocked, and the person asked to take charge of safety for the work group believed that the open fast lines were the blocked slow ones.

Chief inspector of rail accidents, Simon French, said: “There have been too many near misses, such as this one at South Hampstead, in which people have had to jump for their lives at the last moment. In the case of the near miss at Egmanton in October 2017, a multi-fatality accident was only avoided with two seconds to spare.

“The recent tragic death of a track worker on the Brighton Main Line at Stoats Nest Junction is a stark reminder of the risk of working on the railway tracks. Prior to this accident, it had been nearly five years since a track worker was struck and killed by a train.

“The number and type of near misses in recent years is hugely disappointing given the efforts made to address track worker safety during that time. Every near-miss, however caused, should be viewed as a failure of the system to deliver safety.”

Following its report, the RAIB has made a number of recommendations to Network Rail, such as clarifying the responsibilities of the ‘person in charge,’ improving location information and signage at the access point at South Hampstead, and reviewing the changes from previous issues.

French said it was disappointing that the re-introduced ‘person in charge’ concept had been implemented with a “lack of clarity, and the result of this was confusion on site,” along with “disorientated staff.”

He added: “I am concerned that, despite much effort and many initiatives, we are not seeing the hoped-for improvements in safety for track workers.”

The full RAIB report can be read here.

Image - CCTV footage from the incident

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