The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has published its annual report for the year 2020. In it, chief investigator Simon French details the work of the RAIB last year and reveals he will be retiring before the end of 2021.
Last year was not a good one for the railway in terms of safety, and Simon French naturally remarks on this in his report.
“At RAIB, we remember only too well the derailment of a Pendolino express train at Grayrigg in Cumbria in February 2007 that led to the death of one passenger and serious injuries to many others,” he states. “Following that accident, the UK’s national railway network saw no other fatal train derailments or collisions for more than 13 years, a remarkable record. Sadly, the tragic accident at Carmont, Aberdeenshire, in which three people died, was a painful reminder that the risk of such accidents remains with us.
“Unfortunately, 2020 saw three other fatal accidents on the operational railway, all of which are being investigated by RAIB (a fourth fatal accident, at Eastleigh long welded rail depot on 30 November, is outside RAIB’s scope). On 8 April 2020, a track worker died after being struck by a train at Roade, Northamptonshire, the third to die in this way in less than twelve months. The year also saw the launch of two RAIB investigations into the death of passengers on station platforms (Eden Park on 26 February and Waterloo Underground on 26 May). RAIB’s report into the first of these was published on 19 February 2021 (report 01/2021).
“I am saddened to report that February 2021 saw the death of another track worker, this time at Surbiton in south-west London. This too will be the subject of a thorough RAIB investigation.”
In his report, Simon discusses the safety of track workers, of people working in depots and sidings, and of people getting on and off trains. He considers the challenges of freight wagon maintenance, the consequences of bad weather and the railway’s safety culture.
He also explains the RAIB’s role: “RAIB’s primary function is to identify safety learning. Although our findings can sometimes be uncomfortable for the organisations involved, they often point the way to improve railway safety in the future. Our recommendations are not ‘instructions’ to industry but suggestions as to where safety can be improved. It is the job of the safety authority (usually the Office of Rail and Road) to determine if appropriate action has been taken, and to enforce change should it consider it to be necessary.”
Towards the end, he also comments on his impending retirement: “This will be the sixth Annual Report that we have published since I was appointed as chief inspector. It is also my last, since I plan to retire from the role in the autumn of 2021, after 39 years as part of this exciting and dynamic industry.
“I will look back on my years at RAIB, from its very earliest days, with a huge sense of pride. I know that the Branch will march on and continue to provide the expertise and independence that has formed the bedrock of its success over its first 16 years of operations.”