By Network Rail

Landslip causes derailment in Watford tunnel closing the West Coast Main Line - looks at this and two other recent incidents

Published: 18th September 2016

Paddington derailment report issued as investigation into fatal accident to passenger starts

Paddington derailment report issued as investigation into fatal accident to a passenger near Balham starts.

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) was closed one mile north of Watford Junction on 16 September after a landslip covered the slow line towards London with debris. A London Midland train hit the debris and the front wheels derailed and struck a glancing blow to a Virgin northbound service but nobody was seriously injured. The WCML was closed as a result causing travel chaos as the torrential rain continued.

They said:

in Martin Frobisher, route managing director for Network Rail, said: “At around 7am on Friday (16 September) a train hit a landslip, caused by torrential rain, a few miles north of Watford resulting in a small section of the train to leave the tracks. A second train then glanced the derailed train as it travelled in the opposite direction. Both trains remained upright and there were no reported passenger injuries.

Passengers were evacuated safely from both trains and two of the four lines through the area opened later that day. The full service is expected to resume on 19 September after safety checks and repairs to the landslip and infrastructure have been completed.

Why do landslips occur?

The vast majority of the UK rail network was built before, or during Victorian times obviously before modern methods of construction were available and before any detailed understanding of why landslips take place. Many lineside slopes need to be strengthened, often involving improving drainage and adding stronger materials, such as steel rods or soil nails, to the slope.

Many landslips take place because cuttings etc degrade over the years due to weather and the constant vibration of passing trains over the last 178 years, as at Watford. And with climate change bringing more extreme weather events, lineside stability is a growing issue for the rail and road network.

Passenger dies in accident on a Gatwick Express train

Many will have read last month that a passenger was killed on a Gatwick Express train in south London. But what was behind the story?

This regrettable incident took place at around 1725hrs on Sunday 7 August when the passenger was riding in the Guard’s compartment without permission. Guards’ compartments are locked when not in use with a special key. He had his head out of the window and struck a signal gantry while the train was travelling at about 60 mph, as a result, he sustained fatal injuries.

The train was the 1705hrs Gatwick Express service to Victoria which was formed of a five-coach class 442 electric multiple unit. RAIB says that Witness evidence indicates that the passenger was standing at a door in the third coach on the side facing away from the other railway tracks. This door, which is for the use of the train’s guard, opens inwards and has an opening droplight window. There is a notice above the window saying “Do not lean out of window when train is moving”.

After the accident, RAIB measured the distance between the train and the post of the signal gantry and found that, at the height of the middle of the droplight, this distance was around 260 mm (10.25 inches). RAIB will investigate this fatality to the young person who worked on the railway and was also a volunteer at the Bluebell Railway.

June Derailment at Paddington – RAIB’s report

A Great Western Railway (GWR) Class 165 diesel unit was derailed at Paddington at 1812hrs on Thursday 16 June 2016 causing major delays and cancellations to the Great Western Main Line (GWML) for the next few days. This was the second accident in a short period involving a GWR service involving an error after a GWR HST collided with another train at Plymouth on 3 April causing 18 injuries.

The Paddington derailment was an empty train and unlike at Plymouth, there were no injuries. The driver missed a shunt signal just outside Paddington platform 1. The ground position signal was at danger and when the train passed this signal, the driver realised his error and applied the brakes but was derailed by the trap points which are installed to protect other trains from a head-on collision.

The derailed train hit an electrification staunchion which brought down some overhead line equipment blocking the other lines. All lines at Paddington were closed for the rest of that evening, with some services affected until 19 June.

This section of track has two ground signals and the first was cleared for the train but it was the second one that wasn’t and derailed the train. RAIB reports that the driver, new to the railway, had only been over that part of track once before and reminded everyone that when one ground signal is cleared, a second one may not be. RAIB also said that when installing trap points, Network Rail should assess what potential damage might be caused to other infrastructure should a train derail.

RAIB also established that the NR signaller changed the usual train plan just before the incident and that may have been another contributory factor. Immediately the driver passed the red signal, he realised his train was being diverted to the right, off the track, and made an emergency brake application.

It was too late to prevent the derailment, and the first three bogies of the train ran off the end of the rails. The right-hand front corner of the train struck the mast of a cantilever structure which supports overhead wires distorting the electrification equipment and the overhead wires dropped creating a hazard for other trains.

A head-on collision was avoided with a train from Paddington to Henley-on-Thames as the driver saw the red signal in front of him triggered by the derailment so passengers were able to disembark without incident.

The driver of the derailed train told RAIB that he had woken the night before the accident at 0230hrs, to eat a light meal, went back to bed at 0330hrs, slept for a further seven hours before coming on duty at 1307hrs but had not had anything else to eat or drink before the accident occurred. RAIB was unable to determine whether this interruption to his sleep, and subsequent fasting was a factor in the derailment but says that there is research showing that fasting can affect people’s concentration levels.

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