Published 3rd January 2013
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has taken 15 months to issue its report concerning the Ufton crossing near-miss which took place on September 4 2011. Ufton crossing is on the Berks & Hants line 43 miles west of Paddington and carries trains running between Reading and Westbury. Ufton Lane leading to the crossing is an unclassified road and most road traffic to Ufton village uses other routes which cross the railway by bridge rather than by this level crossing.
This was the third incident at this Automatic Half Barrier (AHB) crossing which makes it a sensitive subject. Several years ago a car driver parked his car on the crossing and committed suicide while derailing a train killing seven passengers and a year ago, a moped rider used the crossing and was killed by a train. No fault was found with the rail infrastructure in either incident.
The third incident which the report considers was due to a combination of errors within the rail industry but thankfully this time, it was a near miss and nobody was injured or killed. So what happened?
At 12:28hrs on September 4 2011, the 11:13hrs train from Paddington to Bedwyn ran over Ufton level crossing at 61mph while the road barriers were raised and the red road traffic signals were not flashing. A car approaching the crossing had to stop suddenly to avoid a collision.
The car driver was approaching the crossing at 15 mph and saw the approaching train just before reaching the crossing and stopped immediately. The car stopped beyond the raised barrier approximately two metres from the nearest rail.
The train driver had seen the approaching car and realising the barriers were raised, braked heavily and stopped approximately 480 metres after the crossing.
No injuries or damage resulted from the incident, but potentially a collision could have occurred between the train and the car. The three carriage Class 165 diesel multiple unit involved was the first one to run over Ufton crossing after the engineering works.
Network Rail had been carrying out engineering work and the interlocking safety equipment which normally operated the crossing automatically had been disabled. The crossing barriers and lights were being manually operated by an attendant located at the crossing and this method of working relied on strict communication protocols between the attendant, the signaller and train drivers.
RAIB concluded that the near miss occurred because a signaller did not carry out the rules requiring him to speak with the attendant and the train driver resulting in the barriers not being lowered for the passage of the train.
RAIB also concluded that it was probable that these omissions were
the result of a lapse and the signaller being overloaded by activities that he was required to undertake in connection with the engineering work. When services resumed after completion of this work this overloaded the signaller even more and it is possible that their subsequent actions were affected by shortcomings in the presentation of information on the display screens used at his workstation.
Inadequate consideration of signallers’ workload associated with engineering work is considered a probable underlying cause.
Five of these directly relate to the incident and cover presentation of information on display screens used by signallers; the introduction of an interface intended to remind signallers to take appropriate precautions when automatic crossings are being controlled by attendants; and consideration of signallers’ workload when planning engineering work.
The other two recommendations based on observations made during the investigation, relate to the positioning and removal of the red flags and red lights used by level crossing attendants to stop trains.
At the time of the incident, Ufton crossing was being controlled by a person
located at the crossing. This person, known as a level crossing attendant, had
not received any instruction from the signaller to lower the barriers before the train arrived.
AmeyColas (a joint venture between Amey and Colas Rail) had sub-contracted McGinley Support Services to provide a level crossing attendant at Ufton crossing. AmeyColas also provided some of the staff needed for work connected with the engineering work on the day.
Ufton is controlled by the Thames Valley Signalling Centre at Didcot which has five workstations in one large room with one signaller operating each of the four workstation positions and one signaller shift manager supervising the signallers at the fifth workstation.
Each workstation included several flat screen visual display units displaying the track layout and the position of trains. Each workstation also includes a Cab Secure Radio system for direct communication with a train driver and a touch screen telephone system.
The road traffic light signals and barrier lowering are normally automatically
activated by an approaching train and there is no automated linkage between
an AHB and the railway signals, operating independently from the railway signals.
The staff from all companies communicate via mobile phones and in this case, an incorrect number was noted for the mobile phone for the level crossing attendant at Ufton. RAIB said that witness evidence confirms that the attendant and signaller ‘A’ had not come to a clear understanding of the method of communication to be used between them and the method of communication had not been clarified with signaller B.
Probably due to this lack of clear understanding, the level crossing attendant
believed it was appropriate to stand at a location where he could not clearly hear the crossing phone ring.
The RAIB has carried out its usual very thorough investigation and its complexity can be seen by taking 15 months to reach its conclusions.
Signallers have a very responsible job and it takes a special type of person to do the job.
Engineering work was a major factor at Ufton as signals were decommissioned due to the works so that the usual automatic safeguards were not in place. There is a set of very strict rule book and associated safety exams but in this instance, it nearly went wrong – and that is the key point, nearly but there was no actual accident.
Network Rail (NR) wants to replace many crossings but faces opposition from locals who do not want the hassle of a bridge. At Ufton for example, NR wants to build a bridge and close the crossing for good. It is understood from NR sources that this project is being hampered by locals who do not want to give up land or have vegetation cut down to allow a bridge.
So this is a classic case of the local population shouting for action but lineside landowners are reticent to help NR remedy the situation. The vast majority, 99.9% of level crossing incidents are caused by incorrect use by drivers or pedestrians and not due to system failure.