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ORR reviewing safety certification of West Coast Railways

West Coast Railways (WCR) is in danger of losing its safety certification and could even be prosecuted for a possible breach of health and safety law as the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigates the company in relation to the recent SPAD at Wootton Bassett Junction.

WCR has already been served with a suspension noticed by Network Rail banning it from operating its own services due to “ongoing safety concerns”.

While the Network Rail suspension is temporary, the ORR is now considering removing WCR’s safety certification, which would be a permanent ban on operating services.

The company could even be prosecuted if the ORR determines that health and safety laws were broken.

An ORR spokesman said: “The rail regulator has notified the West Coast Railway Company that it is reviewing the company’s safety certification – needed to operate trains on the rail network. This follows a serious incident on 7 March 2015, when a train passed a signal at danger near Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire. Our initial investigation has found significant weaknesses in the company’s safety management systems.

“ORR is carrying out further assessments to determine whether health and safety laws were breached, and the appropriate enforcement action required.”

In a letter sent to WCR, Paul McMahon, director of freight at Network Rail, said the incident ranked as the most serious SPAD that has taken place this year when the industry risk ranking methodology was applied.

The letter added: “The response by the senior management of WCR to the issues raised in the meeting of 30 March 2015, where WCR demonstrated that its controls, communication and commitment following the recent SPAD were inadequate.

“Network Rail also has serious concerns about the fact that WCR unilaterally suspended the response to Network Rail’s review of WCR’s Safety Management System undertaken in January 2015.

“The restriction imposed on WCR while this suspension notice is in force is that no services may operate on any routes.”

The SPAD occurred at 5.25pm on 7 March when the 13-carriage Cathedrals Express service, pulled by engine Tangmere, failed to stop at a danger signal on the approach to the double line junction near Wootton Bassett, and missed its mark by 700 yards.

It came to rest at the Wootton Bassett junction just one minute after the previous train had passed.

The Battle Of Britain class steam loco was travelling between Bristol Temple Meads and Southend Victoria, and it is believed it was First Great Western’s 15.28, Swansea to London Paddington high-speed passenger service it narrowly avoided.

RAIB has revealed that during its investigation it has seen evidence the driver and fireman of the cab took steps to negate the effects of the automatic braking system.

A report into the incident on the RAIB website says: “This brake application should have resulted in the train being brought to a stand. In these circumstances, the railway rule book requires that the driver immediately contact the signaller.

“The RAIB has found evidence that the driver of 1Z67 did not bring the train to a stand and contact the signaller after experiencing this brake application. 

“Evidence shows that the driver and fireman instead took an action which cancelled the effect of the AWS braking demand after a short period and a reduction in train speed of only around 8mph. The action taken also had the effect of making subsequent AWS or TPWS brake demands ineffective.”

The process to review WCR’s safety certification started on 17 April and takes 28 days. During this time the ORR will consult with train operators, unions and other interested parties to get their views.

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