The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has published a Safety Digest on an incident in which a train had a near miss with track workers at Eccles, in Salford, Greater Manchester, on 22 July 2021.
Workers standing on the track renewing the white line at the edge of the platform were only alerted to an oncoming train when they heard the driver blowing the horn. They just managed to scramble clear in time.
Rather than a full investigation and report, the RAIB felt that the matter was best covered by issuing a Safety Digest. These are a way of sharing important safety messages quickly when the safety learning has already been covered by a previous recommendation or will be addressed by an ongoing investigation, or when the safety learning mainly relates to compliance with existing rules, procedures or standards.
The RAIB commented that the incident demonstrated the importance of:
- The Controller of Site Safety (COSS) remaining with their work group at all times while they are on or near the line in order to be able to personally observe and advise them;
- The COSS ensuring that all persons in their work group working on or near the line have moved to a position of safety, or are otherwise adequately protected by a safe system of work, before they hand back a line blockage;
- Train drivers sounding the warning horn when track workers are seen on or near the line, which on this occasion probably averted a double fatality.
The RAIB Safety Digest reveals that the incident took place at around 04:12 on Thursday 22 July 2021, during the hours of darkness. Two track workers were standing on the westbound track at Eccles station, adjacent to Platform 2, when an empty passenger train approached them from the direction of Manchester.
The track workers had been working under the protection of a line blockage that had been taken by the COSS, who was responsible for ensuring that the track workers were protected from train movements. The track workers had been standing on the track to paint a white line along the edge of Platform 2. They had just been told to stop work and were preparing to leave the track when the train approached.
The train involved, operated by Avanti West Coast, consisted of a Class 390 electric multiple unit which was travelling from Longsight depot, in Manchester, to Lancaster.
On approaching Eccles and seeing the track workers’ reflective clothing, the train driver sounded the train’s horn and applied the emergency brake. The track workers heard the warning horn and quickly climbed onto the platform. They were clear of the track approximately four seconds before the train passed them while travelling at 69mph (111km/h).
The train came to a stop and the driver reported the near miss to the signaller. After seeing the train pass and come to a stop, the COSS also called the signaller to notify him of the incident. The signaller instructed the COSS to stop work and sent Network Rail response staff to the station to investigate.
Although no-one was injured, the track workers and the train driver were badly shaken by the near miss.
According to RAIB, the work was planned to be undertaken using a Safeguarded safe system of work, where every line at the site of work would be blocked to normal train movements. This would be established using a line blockage that covered both Patricroft and Eccles stations. No additional protection (such as disconnecting signalling equipment, using a lock-out device or placing detonators) was planned for the line blockage.
The work was planned to run from 00:01 to 05:00, with the line blockage being given up to allow trains to pass when required. Discussions between the COSS and the signaller at the start of the night confirmed that scheduled trains were running and that the work would need to stop and the line blockage be given up for each train.
The COSS had two mobile telephones with him on the night of the incident and he was using one as his primary contact number for conversations with the signaller. However, at 03:27, he told the signaller that his battery was running low in his primary mobile telephone. He provided contact details for the second mobile telephone as a fall-back measure and then went to his vehicle, which was near to the top of the access steps to the platform, to charge his primary mobile phone. The
COSS stood by his vehicle to allow him to check on his primary mobile phone while it was charging.
It was from this location that the COSS called the signaller at 04:09, as previously agreed, to hand the line blockage back. At 04:10 hrs the COSS stated to the signaller that all staff were clear and that the line was safe to operate trains.
However, witness evidence shows that the COSS had not yet told the trackworkers to stop work and move to their position of safety on the platform when he said this. When the call to the signaller ended at 04:11, the COSS immediately used his mobile telephone to call the trackworkers and told them to stop work and move clear of the line. This call had just ended when the track workers heard the horn of the approaching train.
The RAIB believes that the driver’s prompt use of the train horn to sound a warning when he saw the track workers’ reflective high-visibility clothing ahead averted a serious accident.