Heritage train operator prohibited from running rail services

17 February 2016

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has today issued a Prohibition Notice to West Coast Railway Company Ltd (WCRC) preventing it running its heritage rail services on the mainline railway.  The Notice relates to concerns about WCRC’s management of safety, following a number of incidents over the past year.

ORR launched a review of WCRC’s safety certification in December 2015. This followed a number of incidents in 2015. The first of these, in March, involved a steam locomotive operated by WCRC passing a signal at danger at Wootton Bassett junction, Wiltshire. The train came to a stop across the busy junction on the Great Western main line, avoiding collision with an express train by less than a minute.

Following this, ORR issued an Improvement Notice requiring WCRC to strengthen its approach to safety management. However, safety issues continued.

ORR considers WCRC continues to present a safety risk, hence we are issuing a Prohibition Notice.

Under the terms of the Notice, the company will not be able to operate trains on the mainline network until we are satisfied its governance and operations meet industry practice and are fit for the scale of its operation.

Steps the company must take include: the introduction of clearer governance structures with proper accountability for safety; more robust risk assessments; and enhanced processes for managing staff with a focus on safety culture.

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

A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.
We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations.  Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.

Notes to editors

  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England.
  2. Safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:
    • In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
    • In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
    • In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.
  3. ORR is prosecuting WCRC and a train driver after a steam locomotive passed a signal at danger near Wootton Bassett junction on 7 March 2015. At the first hearing at Swindon Magistrates’ Court, no pleas were entered. The next hearing has been scheduled for 18 March at Swindon Crown Court.
  4. ORR’s decision letter is available to read online at: http://orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/20848/2016-02-17-decision-letter-to-west-coast-railway.pdf