Latest Rail News


Lookout failure led to track workers’ 100mph train near-miss

Nine track workers repairing a section of the West Coast Main Line were just seconds away from being hit by a passenger train approaching at almost 100mph because a lookout did not give a warning, an investigation has revealed. 

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s (RAIB’s) report into the incident on 22 September 2014 revealed that a previous recommendation intended to mitigate this type of risk had not been implemented due to “administrative errors”. 

The work site, just south of Hest Bank level crossing near Lancaster, was on a bend that restricted visibility of approaching trains. 

RAIB stated that: “Warning of approaching trains was intended to be given by lookouts, located remotely with good visibility of the track, using a radio-based lookout operated warning system (LOWS).” 

Prior to the incident, the LOWS system had been working but the workgroup did not receive a warning about the oncoming train. 

It was only because the track workers saw the approaching train, with just enough time to clear the track, that an accident was avoided before the train passed them while travelling at 98mph. 

No-one was injured, but the workers were shaken by the incident. 

“The incident was caused because a lookout did not give a warning, either because he operated the wrong switch on his radio transmitter by mistake, or because he forgot about the need to send a warning during an intended delay period between seeing the train and operating the warning switches,” said RAIB. 

“This delay was because he was positioned on a long section of straight track and could see approaching trains for significantly longer than the time required for the workgroup to move into a position of safety.” 

The Hest Bank incident could potentially have been avoided if a recommendation made by the RAIB in 2011 following an investigation into an accident at Cheshunt Junction was followed, relating to managing extended warning times due to extended sighting distances. 

In the latest report, RAIB has recommended that Network Rail should reassess the working time limits and duration of breaks for lookouts and provide staff with updated instructions and guidance. 

Additionally, the rail infrastructure owners should reassess the safe system of work hierarchy, taking account of evidence from LOWS-related incidents and the risk associated with using unassisted (flag) lookouts. 

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “Our railway is the safest in Europe but we are not complacent and are always looking at ways to improve safety for the benefit of those who work on the railway and those who travel on it. We have received RAIB’s recommendations regarding the incident at Hest Bank and are preparing action plans to implement them as quickly as possible to help prevent similar incidents in the future.”

(Image: c. FTPE) 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


Andrew Gwilt   17/07/2015 at 15:04

That is why Rail workers do risk their lives working on the railways that trains do travel between 70-125mph including 125mph speed limit on the West Coast Main Line, East Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line.

Colin Thompson   17/07/2015 at 17:58

History repeats itself... ad infinitum??? Pity about the demise of the ill-fated Inductive Loop Warning System (ILWS): this would have saved over 2/3 of recent on-track fatalities and near-misses. Best thing since sliced bread. (Yet whilst it passed every Safety Systems and Cost/Benefit Analysis, who'd have wanted to pay for its installation around privatization???) Someone please speak to ORR this day!

Add your comment


Rail industry Focus

View all News


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >

'the sleepers' blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio 4's BBC’s flagship news programme that he would not rule out his organisation issuing future r... more >
Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

08/05/2019Advancing the rail industry with management degree apprenticeships

In answering the pressing questions of how current and future generations of managers can provide solutions to high-profile infrastructure projects across the UK, Pearson Business School, part of... more >