ORR prosecutes West Coast Railway Company and train driver over signal incident

9 December 2015

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today started criminal proceedings against train operator West Coast Railway Company Limited (WCRC) and one of its drivers. The charges relate to breaches of Health and Safety Law which led to a train passing a signal warning at danger on 7 March 2015.

The prosecutions follow ORR’s investigation into an incident involving a steam locomotive operated by WCRC, which passed a signal at danger near Wootton Bassett junction, Wiltshire. This extremely serious incident resulted in the train coming to a stop 550 metres after the signal, across a busy junction on the Great Western main line, directly in the path of high speed trains.

The train’s driver is facing charges under section 7(a) and 8 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA). This relates to his alleged intentional misuse of the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) equipment. ORR’s investigation found that the driver directed a colleague to turn off this essential safety system, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.

WCRC is separately facing charges under section 3(1) and 2(1) of the HSWA. This is on account of its alleged failure to implement managerial controls, procedures, training and monitoring to prevent staff turning off the TPWS equipment.

ORR has been closely monitoring WCRC’s operation since this incident. ORR has also today launched a review of WCRC’s safety certificate, which is needed to operate its trains on the rail network.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:

The safety of staff, volunteers, passengers and members of the public is our absolute priority.
Britain’s railways have a good safety record. However, there have been a number of incidents over the past year involving West Coast Railway Company Limited trains.
The incident at Wootton Bassett junction, where a WCRC train passed a signal at danger, was caused by alleged intentional misuse of a key safety system. This could have easily led to a catastrophic train collision.
ORR inspectors are working with the rail industry, in particular the mainline heritage sector, to ensure that lessons are learned, and public safety is not put at risk.

The first hearing is due to take place at Swindon Magistrates' Court on 11 January 2016.

Notes to editors

  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the independent economic and safety rail regulator and the independent strategic roads monitor for England.
  2. The train which passed a signal at danger consisted of steam locomotive number 34067 ‘Tangmere’, and its tender, coupled to 13 coaches.
  3. Our initial investigation of the incident found shortfalls in WCRC’s safety management system. On 21 May 2015, ORR inspectors served WCRC with an Improvement Notice issued to ensure the company improved its management of safety risks.
  4. On 25 November ORR temporarily prohibited WCRC from operating steam trains on the mainline rail network. The enforcement action follows an initial investigation into an incident near Doncaster on 2 October 2015, which found staff on board locomotive 45231 had turned off its Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.
  5. ORR is working with the industry to ensure the sustainability of heritage operations on the mainline railway. In July 2015 we hosted the first of a series of summits which brought together the rail industry, engineers and safety experts.
  6. The industry agreed there is a clear need to review many of the standards applicable to heritage operations. A group, chaired by RSSB will review the standards, which include maintenance and fitness-to-run procedures, competence requirements for maintenance staff, fitness-to-run inspectors and owners’ representatives. In addition to this review, Network Rail is working with train operators to develop train weight and length schedules for those routes deemed suitable for heritage operations.

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