HS2

10.12.15

West Coast Railway and driver to be prosecuted over SPAD

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has decided to press charges against train operator West Coast Railway Company Ltd (WCRC) and one of its drivers after an “extremely serious” health and safety braches on a busy junction of the Great Western Main Line.

The criminal charges relate to a 13-carriage steam train, pulled by locomotive No. 34067 Tangmere, passing a signal warning at danger near Wootton Bassett junction, Wiltshire, on 7 March.

This resulted in the train coming to a stop 550 metres after the signal, right across a busy junction on the GWML and “directly in the path of high speed trains”. It came to rest at the junction just one minute after the previous train had passed.

Network Rail served WCRC with a suspension notice as a result, temporarily banning it from operating services – although it soon announced it would still run trips using the licence of other operators. The ban was lifted in May.

The rail regulator launched an investigation at the time, identifying shortfalls in WCRC’s safety management system. In May, ORR inspectors issued the operator an improvement notice to ensure it improved potential risks, but decided against revoking its safety certification.

But the driver is now being charged with allegedly misusing the train protection and warning system (TPWS) equipment intentionally. The regulator alleges that the driver told a colleague to turn off this “essential safety system”, created to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes a mistake.

The operator itself is facing a separate charge under the same Health and Safety at Work Act on account of its alleged failure to implement managerial controls, procedures, training and monitoring to keep staff from turning off the TPWS equipment.

Ian Prosser, chief inspector of railways at the ORR, said: “Britain’s railways have a good safety record. However, there have been a number of incidents over the past year involving WCRC trains. The incident at Wootton Basset junction, where a WCRC train passed a signal at danger, was caused by alleged intentional misuse of a key safety system. This could have easily led to a catastrophic train collision.

“ORR inspectors are working with the rail industry, in particular the main line heritage sector, to ensure that lessons are learned, and public safety is not put at risk.”

A spokesperson for the company said safety "remains our paramount priority" and that it is working "to ensure that we have learned lessons to enhance our safety performance".

The first hearing in this criminal proceeding will be held at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on 11 January.

Just two weeks ago, on 25 November, the regulator also temporarily prohibited the operator from running steam trains on the GWML network.

This specific enforcement action followed an initial investigation into an incident near Doncaster on 2 October, which found that staff on board locomotive 45231 had turned off its TPWS isolation equipment.

(Photograph: Library image)

Comments

Terry K   16/12/2015 at 09:24

Any Driver who disables safety equipment is mentally unstable and should be prevented from driving any further trains. If a fault occurs with the equipment there are rules to follow.

Simon   16/12/2015 at 14:42

Given what has been said on this subject elsewhere and whilst I am an irregular passenger on any charter operated by the company it does for me personally give me a lack of confidence to travel with WCRC given the recent events which have taken place. Interesting to see the outcome of the hearing and further ramifications which are likely to be made public as consequence of the court hearing and eventual publication of the final ORR report into the SPAD in March this year.

David R   29/12/2015 at 16:51

While I agree with the result of the investigation, it astounds me that any essential safety equipment can actually be switched off, without taking other precautions.

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