Safety issues continue to dominate

RAIB Report
Issues of rail safely highlighted
Published Tue, 2015-05-26 12:32

The issue of railway safety has continued to be a feature of railway news from Britain and around the world.

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Editorial

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The cover of the RAIB report into the accident on the Great Central Railway.

The issue of railway safety has continued to be a feature of railway news from Britain and around the world. Domestically, the revocation of the Suspension Order placed upon West Coast Railway following the SPAD at Wootton Bassett in March permitted the on-time launch of the summer season’s ‘Jacobite’ service from Fort William to Mallaig and removed the immediate threat to the ongoing operation of steam on the main line. What the long-term consequences of the accident are, have yet to be determined.

The week also saw the publication of the Rail Accident Investigation Board’s report into the accident on the Great Central Railway in which a Class 37 locomotive ran away from Quorn & Woodhouse before running into stationary coaching stock stabled at Loughborough Central.

The centenary of Britain’s worst railway accident — at Quintinshill when more than 220 were killed when a troop train collided with two other services — was marked by a number of ceremonies. A BBC documentary also claimed that a number of those who died were actually shot in mercy killings when it became apparent that they couldn’t be saved from the flames that engulfed the troop train.

Across in Europe, the dangers inherent with level crossings were again brought into sharp relief by a collision on 16 May 2015 when two passengers were killed and others injured when a train collided with a tractor and trailer at Ibbenbüren, to the west of Osnabrück. During the week there was also much speculation as to the cause of a fatal railway accident at Philadelphia on 12 May 2015 when an Amtrak service en route from Washington DC to New York derailed, killing eight and injuring more than 200. Whilst the immediate cause of the accident seems to have been that it was travelling too fast through a slow-speed curve, there may have been additional causes including reports that the cab was struck by a projectile before the accident. Whilst the train was, in theory, fitted with Positive Train Control, as was the line, neither was operational due to ‘budgetary shortfalls, technical hurdles and bureaucratic rules’. Ironically, the day after the accident, the US House Appropriations Committee announced that Amtrak funding was to be cut by $260 million to $1.1 billion for the next financial year. One Democrat member of the House of Representatives commented ‘While we don’t know the cause of this accident, we do know that starving rail of funding will not enable safer train travel.’

First Great Western was forced to apologise to passengers during the course of the week when a member of its staff gave what was deemed to be a callous message when informing passengers about a fatality on the line. Suicides are a major problem for the railway industry and few days seem to pass without an ‘incident on the line’ being reported. School holidays are also a period when there’s an increased risk of trespass with the consequent dangers that this represents both to the perpetrators and to the railway users. The measures that Network Rail have taken and continue to take to try and reduce the risk are to be applauded — better barriers, staff awareness and training, etc — as are the prominent posters advising of the Samaritans but someone determined to take their own life will do so and it’s imperative that the appropriate response by the industry be given. Having once been in the leading carriage of a train when a person was struck, I can vouch for how far the professionalism of the train crew can go in helping to alleviate a difficult situation both for passengers and crew.

The introduction of the summer timetable has resulted in a number of significant changes to services nationwide. Amongst some of the highlights are the introduction of the hourly service by Arriva Trains Wales on the line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth following various improvements to the line in recent years and, following the reinstallation of the curve at Todmorden, the introduction of a new direct service from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn via Todmorden and Burnley. With the start of the summer timetable an extension of the Ebbw valley line and a new station, Ebbw Vale Town, opened on Sunday 17 May. Other stations are expected to open during the currency of the summer timetable with Coventry Arena and Bermuda Park on the Coventry-Nuneaton line slated to open on 21 June. Newcourt station in Exeter had been due to open with the timetable change but a revised opening date is likely to be announced within the next few weeks.

The biannual national rail timetable change also sees significant improvements to the East Midlands Trains operated Castle line, which links Nottingham with Newark Castle and Lincoln. All stations get extra services with some seeing a doubling of weekday services to 28 trains. Most journey times to and from Nottingham have been reduced following a £2m package of local and central government funding.

In Scotland the timetable change introduces a new Sunday service between Glasgow Central and Paisley Canal and between Edinburgh and Newcraighall. Trains also now call at Duke St, Alexandra Parade and Barnhill on Sundays.

There have been some minor reductions in services as well. Chiltern has reduced slightly the number of services to Birmingham in the evening peak, for example, and would appear to have replaced certain loco-hauled services by DMUs.

In preservation, the major news has been the grant made to the Great Central Railway for the establishment of a major new museum at Leicester North, Promoted jointly by the local authority, the National Railway Museum and the railway itself, the proposed new museum will be a significant new attraction on the line when completed.

Also worth of note is the addition of a further new heritage line with the opening, on 24 May 2015, of the Yorkshire Wolds Railway. This is another ‘green fields’ project that has taken a section of a long-closed line — in this case part of the route from Malton to Driffield that finally closed completely in 1958 — and has reopened a short stretch. Whilst only running for 300m thus far, the line has permission eventually to extend to a mile.