Lorry Drivers to Blame for Rail Crashes

Published on 28th September 2012

RAIB Investigation finds blame with lorry driver on Llanboidy level crossing accident

Readers may recall the dramatic accident on the morning of Monday 19 December 2011 when a train running from Milford Haven to Manchester struck a lorry and trailer on Llanboidy automatic half barrier (AHB) level crossing, less than a mile from Whitland in west Wales. RAIB’s investigation demonstrated that the crossing was working normally at the time of the accident. The area has also previously suffered mass railway trespass.

The train was an Alstom built Class 175 No. 175002 being operated by Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) leased from Porterbrook Leasing Ltd. The collision caused the lorry to be separated from its trailer and the train pushed it along the track.

The lorry driver left his cab prior to the impact but was struck by the trailer and slightly injured after he had stopped on the crossing as the barriers lowered for the approaching train.

Seen too late to avoid a collision

The train driver saw the lorry when the train was 270 metres away and was travelling at 68 mph and the driver immediately applied the emergency brake, but the train was unable to stop before reaching the crossing. After sounding the train’s warning horn and applying the emergency brake, the driver went back into the train and shouted a warning to passengers.

The train remained upright on the rails but 27 passengers were injured, one seriously, and four received treatment in hospital before being discharged later the same day. The train conductor and the catering host received minor injuries and were treated in hospital while the train driver suffered shock.

The train had slowed to 38mph by the time of impact and the lorry was pushed 78 metres along the track breaking it away from its trailer. The train driving cab was badly damaged and panels became loose and if he had not gone to warn passengers, would almost certainly have been injured. Emergency services were on the scene within 14 minutes despite the rural location.

No calls needed and previous form

The Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) say that the accident occurred because the lorry driver did not telephone the signaller for permission to cross and because local factors encouraged him to take a line towards the right of the road. Had the lorry driver phoned the signaller, the signaller would have instructed the lorry to wait for the train to pass.

The lorry driver considered that he did not need to contact the signaller. The company who own it, Meurig Davies Farm Seeds Ltd had previously been given a fixed penalty notice in the previous 13 months for transgressing traffic regulations three times.

Locals Ignoring instructions

Road signs, in English and Welsh, on the approach to the crossing instructed drivers of large or slow vehicles to phone the signaller for permission to cross the railway. The road signs defined the terms ‘large’ and ‘slow’ and the lorry and trailer were of such a length, and were likely to have been travelling at such a speed, that the lorry fell within the scope of both of these terms.

The driver lived locally and was familiar with the road and the railway crossing. Some Network Rail staff were working in the area and had parked their vans 42 metres from the crossing hindering visibility. These also forced the slowly travelling lorry onto the wrong side of the road and the exit barrier descended in front of him while he was on the crossing.

Contributory Factors

A number of factors forced the lorry and trailer to use the right-hand side of the road to pass over the crossing;

  • the orientation of the road over the crossing being misaligned with the rest of the road
  • the position of one of the road traffic light signals and the position of vehicles parked close to the crossing.
  • While travelling slowly over the crossing the barrier on the exit side came down in front of the lorry, causing the lorry driver to stop his vehicle.

The RAIB has made six recommendations as follows:

  • Network Rail in conjunction with the ORR to revise the crossing order and reduce the effect of road misalignment at the crossing;
  • The ORR to revise its guidance to cover misalignment of the road and the ability for a large vehicle to exit an AHB crossing when the barriers descend;
  • Network Rail to revise its risk management process for level crossings to include the effect of road misalignment;
  • Network Rail to give guidance to its staff and contractors on where to park when working on or near level crossings;
  • Angel Trains to examine how to mitigate the risk to the driver from detachment of cab panels during a collision;
  • Alstom and Angel Trains to review the coupler bump stop mounting and retention arrangements.

And another accident there…

There was another collision between a passenger train and a lorry at the same crossing on 27 July 2012. The train was also travelling from the Clunderwen direction towards Whitland when it hit an empty flatbed lorry with a knuckle boom crane on the back was travelling in the opposite direction to the previous lorry.

The barrier at the north side of the crossing came down on the lorry between the cab and the knuckle boom crane. The lorry driver got out of his cab when he saw the train approaching and the train struck the lorry a glancing blow. Nobody was injured in the collision and Network Rail tested the crossing after the incident and found that it was working as designed with the lights and barriers had functioning correctly prior to the collision.

Comment

The RAIB has done its usual extremely through investigation and made the above recommendations as a result. Is it fair that the rail industry has to pay for the recommended work given that the cause was that the road lorry driver ignored instructions and the crossing warning systems were working normally?

When the media and passengers complain about the cost of railways, it is not always recognised that a lot of the costs are safety related which is why the railways provide a very safe mode of transport.

Perhaps if this type of ‘accident’ was reclassified as a road traffic accident, then the cost would fall with the cause and the railway safety statistics would be even better.

Its all food for thought.

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