Published: 23rd September 2016
The 15in gauge Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR) runs along the English Channel in Kent and has many level crossings on its route. Their Davey Paxman built 4-6-2 steam tender locomotive No. 1 Green Goddess was derailed after being hit by a tractor and pushed onto its side on September 10 in the collision. Three of the four axles of the bogies of the leading carriage also derailed, leaving the vehicle at an angle, but essentially upright.
Green Goddess and its 12-coach train, carrying around 50 passengers, was approaching occupation crossing No. 10 (between Dymchurch and Burmarsh) at about 1430hrs when the tractor, pulling a large trailer loaded with straw, become foul of the track.
Full details are not currently available but it seems the driver of Green Goddess made an emergency brake application and commenced whistling on seeing the tractor. As the train slowed, the driver jumped from the locomotive (by then thought to have been doing less than 10-8m.p.h.) before the inevitable impact.
Witnesses have praised the locomotive driver for his actions, which included rushing to the aid of passengers in the leading carriage. No serious injuries resulted, just five people, including the loco driver, incurred minor injuries which were treated by paramedics who attended the scene, with other emergency services, after being alerted by a witness to the incident.
RH&DR services between Dymchurch and Hythe were suspended for the rest of the day, but continued on the Dymchurch-Dungeness section. The accident site was fully cleared in the early hours of the following morning enabling full services to resume on the Sunday.
Although the full extent of damage to No. 1 Green Goddess will not be clear until it has been dismantled, it is understood to be extensive. Aside from bent metal components the fusible plug of the boiler unsurprisingly melted as the locomotive lay on its side. A RH&DR spokesman confirmed the boiler will require extensive ultrasonic testing to establish its condition.
RAIB undertook a preliminary examination into the circumstances surrounding the accident. On assessing the evidence gathered RAIB announced it had decided not to conduct a full investigation, but will publish a safety digest. When this happens, it generally means that the cause of the accident is known so there is little to gain by investigating it or no learning points to disseminate.
Mercifully, this collision on a farm occupation crossing while damaging to equipment did not result in serious injury to railway staff or passengers. This has not always been so. Road users driving on to crossings and colliding with RH&DR trains resulted in the deaths of loco drivers Kevin Crouch (at Burmarsh Road crossing in August 2003 while driving No. 5 Hercules) and Suzanne Martin (at Battery Road crossing in July 2005 driving No. 8 Hurricane).
Following these fatal accidents the RHDR developed a programme of installing barrier level crossing installations over the public roads crossed by the railway with the aim of increasing safety at such crossings. Twelve of the thirteen roads to receive such installations have been completed with groundworks for a barrier crossing installation at Romney Sands campsite about to commence. The barriers for this crossing are expected to be commissioned in the first quarter of 2017.
In a rare case of safety neglect, Network Rail has been fined £4million for breaches of health and safety law which led to a fatality at Gipsy Lane pedestrian level crossing near Needham Market, Suffolk, in 2011.
Today's sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court follows an investigation by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) into the death of Olive McFarland, 82, who was struck while using the crossing by a train travelling from London to Norwich on 24 August 2011.
ORR's investigation found Network Rail had failed to act on substantial evidence that pedestrians had poor visibility of trains when approaching Gipsy Lane footpath crossing, and were exposed to an increased risk of being struck by a train.
Network Rail pleaded guilty to the charge on 28 June 2016, at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways said:
“Today's sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court brings to a close our prosecution of Network Rail for failures which contributed to the death of Ms Olive McFarland. My thoughts are with Ms McFarland’s family.
“In 2011, Network Rail’s safety management fell below the standards required, putting members of the public using Gipsy Lane footpath crossing in unnecessary danger.
“Over the past decade, Network Rail has focussed its attention and investment on improving health and safety on Britain’s railways. However, despite now being ranked as the safest in Europe, there can be no room for complacency.
“Rail safety remains a top priority for the regulator. We will always take action against companies or individuals if failings are found.”
Network Rail was also ordered to pay costs of £34,000 and was prosecuted under a breach of Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
After the fatality, Network Rail acted without delay to improve safety at Gipsy Lane footpath crossing by redesigning its layout and implementing a speed restriction for trains, still in place. A footbridge will replace the crossing in due course. Reflecting the risk at crossings, in the last seven years over 1,000 crossings have been closed.
But this case is a rare one where the crossing user was not at fault, it is normally the user who is allocated the blame for misuse of the crossing.