The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has released its report into an incident at Eden Park station, south-east London, on 26 February 2020, during which a 53-year-old man with impaired vision was struck by a train and killed.
At around 19:05, he moved near to, and fell from, the edge of Platform 1, probably because his visual impairment meant he was unaware that he was close to this edge. The platform edge was not fitted with markings intended to assist visually impaired people.
Eden Park station has two platforms with a subway running between them. Platform 1, which is used by trains travelling from Hayes towards London, can be accessed via stairs from the subway or from a ramped path leading up from the station car park. The accident occurred on Platform 1, which has a left-hand curve when viewed in the London-bound direction. At the time of the accident, the station was unstaffed.
Following the accident, emergency services staff were unable to determine whether the third rail traction power supply had been turned off until a member of Network Rail staff arrived on-scene. This resulted in a delay of over 12 minutes between London Ambulance Service staff arriving at the scene and accessing the track to provide medical care.
The RAIB investigation determined that the man struck by the train, Cleveland Gervais, was 53 years old and regularly used public transport. He was visually impaired and registered as partially sighted. He was blind (light sensitivity only) in his right eye and had reduced acuity and tunnel vision in his left eye. Witness evidence suggested that, as with many visually impaired people, he had diminished light adaptation, where the time taken for vision to recover from a transition from dark to light, or from light to dark, is greater than for someone who is not affected.
Cleveland Gervais was also mobility impaired and used a walking aid. He had arranged for the walking aid to be painted white to help those around him identify him as visually impaired. Like most visually impaired people travelling on the railway network, he did not use a cane to find and avoid obstacles (known as a ‘guide cane’ or ‘long cane’). Evidence indicated that he was not aware of staff assistance or alternative travel arrangements offered by station operators for disabled passengers using their services.
Nine seconds before the accident, following a station announcement of the impending arrival of the train, he started to move towards the platform edge. He turned left, facing up the track with his back towards the train, and continued to move closer to the edge. Six seconds later, his right foot reached the white line at the platform edge as he walked along the platform at an acute angle to the edge. He fell onto the track at the same moment as the train’s driver began to sound the train’s warning horn, and one second later he was struck by the train.
The RAIB report points out that, when independently moving around in the general pedestrian environment, visually impaired people make use of non-visual cues, such as tactile information underfoot. Designers of pedestrian environments can make use of this by installing tactile surfaces to convey important information to visually impaired people about their environment, such as a hazard warning, directional guidance or to indicate the presence of an amenity. Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) research has shown that visually impaired people are reliably able to distinguish between different tactile surfaces and can remember their associated meanings.
Guidance issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) requires tactile surfaces for use at the edge of station platforms to be made up of 400mm squares, each having rows of flat-topped domes (blisters, 22.5mm outer diameter and 5mm in height). The blisters are spaced at intervals of 66.5mm and each row is offset, so a blister in the second row will appear halfway between blisters in the first row. The guidance requires the whole surface to be more than 500mm from the platform edge and of a colour that provides a good contrast with the platform surface.
However, RAIB concludes its report by stating that the combined effect of DfT, ORR, RSSB, Network Rail and Southeastern Railway guidance and processes meant that safety-based justifications for platform edge markings (including tactile surfaces), intended to aid visually impaired people, are not always effectively considered by the railway industry.
The RAIB report makes six recommendations. The first and second are addressed to DfT and Network Rail, firstly to seek improvements in the processes that govern when tactile surfaces at the edge of station platforms should be installed, and secondly to develop a plan for installing tactile surfaces at higher priority locations in a timely manner across the railway network.
The third is addressed to the Rail Delivery Group to develop means of reducing the risk to visually impaired people using station platforms where tactile surfaces have not yet been installed.
The fourth is addressed to ORR and seeks improvements in the information made publicly available to help visually impaired people to decide whether it is safe to travel.
The fifth is addressed to RSSB, to develop processes to ensure that the rail industry has sufficient information, guidance and decision-support tools to fully address the safety risks associated with disabled people using the railway.
A sixth recommendation is addressed to the British Transport Police, National Fire Chiefs Council, Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and Network Rail, to improve the processes associated with emergency services staff responding to incidents on the national rail network.
Simon French, Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents said: “This tragic accident resulted in the death of someone who had impaired vision and mobility and relied on the railway to transport him safely. My thoughts are with his family, and others who knew and were close to him, as we publish our investigation report.
“Our investigation concluded that the absence of a tactile strip along the platform edge may have been a factor in this accident. These strips are used to provide visually impaired passengers with an indication that they are approaching the platform edge. Eden Park is far from unique: around half of all mainline stations in the UK are also not equipped with this valuable aid to the visually impaired.
“Our investigation found that government and the railway industry have policies in place to make rail travel more accessible for people with disabilities. However, there appears to have been no coherent strategy for the provision of tactile strips, despite their obvious importance to visually impaired people who value the opportunity to travel independently, without reliance on staff.
“Although RAIB recognises that the immediate provision of tactile strips across the network would be very expensive, there is a need to develop a new policy to guide decision makers. This would inform the development of a programme for installation of tactile strips, particularly at places where the risk is likely to be higher, such as busy unstaffed stations. It cannot always make sense simply to wait until platforms are refurbished to install the strips.
“While accessibility has rightly been promoted in recent years, it is important that safety is properly considered when the industry is looking at the arrangements and facilities that they provide for disabled or impaired passengers. The well-established principle that additional measures should be provided to protect rail passengers, where reasonably practicable to do so, applies to all.
“It is for this reason that we are urging a re-think on the approach to provision of tactile strips to ensure that they are installed where most needed.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, commented: “We welcome the recommendations made in this report. No passenger’s life should be put at risk because platforms aren’t fitted with tactile surface markings.
“We’re calling on Network Rail to speed up installation of tactile surfaces on all station platforms. In the meantime, it needs to be clear where they are and aren’t installed.”