More bad news for the West Coast Railway Company. The Office of Rail and Road have prohibited the heritage train operator from running rail services following repeated safety breaches.
Safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:
In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.
All these were after the earlier suspension following the Wootton Bassett incident involving “Tangmere”, which leads to the conclusion the WCRC’s management have not got their act together and made safety a sufficient priority, and indeed suggests that it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out and there was a serious accident with the possibility of multiple fatalities.
This leaves DB Schenker as the only licenced operator of steam trains on the main line.
As for WCRC, they’re now drinking in the last chance saloon, if that isn’t a highly inapproriate metaphor. It’s not hard to imagine the company going into liquidation, with their assets including locmotives and rolling stock sold to another operator.
The publication of the RAIB report for the Froxfield incident and the beginning of the court case of the Wootton Bassett near-miss is a reminder that both indicents put 750 lives at risk. They threw the book at West Coast Railways and the driver of “Tangmere”. What action will be taken against Eddie Stobart and their driver?
That thump you heard was the sound of The Book being thrown at The West Coast Railway Company. ORR is to prosecute over the incident at Wootton Bassett
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today started criminal proceedings against train operator West Coast Railway Company Limited (WCRC) and one of its drivers. The charges relate to breaches of Health and Safety Law which led to a train passing a signal warning at danger on 7 March 2015.
The prosecutions follow ORR’s investigation into an incident involving a steam locomotive operated by WCRC, which passed a signal at danger near Wootton Bassett junction, Wiltshire. This extremely serious incident resulted in the train coming to a stop 550 metres after the signal, across a busy junction on the Great Western main line, directly in the path of high speed trains.
The train’s driver is facing charges under section 7(a) and 8 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). This relates to his alleged intentional misuse of the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) equipment. ORR’s investigation found that the driver directed a colleague to turn off this essential safety system, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.
WCRC is separately facing charges under section 3(1) and 2(1) of the HSWA. This is on account of its alleged failure to implement managerial controls, procedures, training and monitoring to prevent staff turning off the TPWS equipment.
ORR has been closely monitoring WCRC’s operation since this incident. ORR has also today launched a review of WCRC’s safety certificate, which is needed to operate its trains on the rail network.
This comes after the West Coast Railway Company had it’s steam operators’ licence suspended a second time after another incident in which a driver isolated the TPWS system on a moving locomotive hauling a train carrying passengers.
The official report into the near-miss at Wootton Bassett (pdf) makes interesting reading, and demonstrates what I’ve often said about rail and air accident reports making useful reading for software testers.
In this case there were no injuries or indeed any damage to the train, although it could have been a very major accident; a collision at high speed with one train formed of 1950s-design rolling stock that doesn’t have the crashworthiness of modern trains.
The immediate cause of the incident was blatant disregard of rules and procedures which rightly raised questions about the levels of training and safety culture, so it wasn’t really a surprise that the operator’s licence was suspended.
Aside from the chain of events that led to the train overrunning a red signal, what makes it a worthwhile read is the details of how modern automated safety systems interface with literal steam-age techology in the shape of a 70-year old steam locomotive. It also highlights some user interface issues with the controls within the locomotive cab.
West Coast Railways have had their operating licence suspended following a signal passed at danger resulting in a near miss from what might have been a very serious collision.
As the RAIL piece says:
Network Rail has served West Coast Railways with a suspension notice effective from midnight on April 3.
It follows the Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) on March 7, when a 100mph collision between a First Great Western High Speed Train and a steam excursion operated by WCR was missed by barely a minute. The SPAD ranked as the most serious this year.
This is an unprecedented suspension. Operators have been banned from certain routes, but this is the first total network ban since privatisation, indicating the gravity with which Network Rail is treating the incident.
West Coast Railways provides crews and motive power for charter trains across Britain, including the well-known Fort William to Mallaig run, and this suspension is likely to force the cancellation of many steam specials on the main line in the coming weeks. Two scheduled for this coming bank holiday weekend have already been cancelled.
There have been incidents where a bus company has had its licence suspended after a fatal accident revealed serious issue with driver training and the roadworthiness of their vehicles. But nothing like this has ever happened on the railways.