Train driver receives prison sentence for ignoring safety systems

10 November 2014

Former First Capital Connect train driver, Scott Walford, has received a three-month suspended prison sentence and been ordered to pay costs of £500, after he ignored warnings and safety systems on the Cambridge to London train he was driving – placing passengers and staff on board in great danger. On 7 November, Mr Walford pleaded guilty following a prosecution brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for a breach in health and safety law in October 2013.

On 8 October 2013, the 20:40 Cambridge to London Kings Cross, driven by Mr Walford, passed a red signal at Hitchin station – a signal which instructs a driver to stop their train. The train's warning safety system applied automatic brakes but Mr Walford deliberately reset the system and continued on without seeking the required authorisation. Prior to leaving Cambridge, Mr Walford had also failed to set up his Cab Secure Radio, which prevented any direct contact from the signaller. As a result of his actions Mr Walford's train ran "out of control" putting himself, passengers and train staff at risk of a serious incident, such as a collision with an oncoming train. Following the incident Mr Walford was relieved from all duties at First Capital Connect.

Sentencing took place at Stevenage Magistrates Court on Friday 7 November, following ORR's investigation into the incident. The investigation found that Mr Walford failed to take reasonable care of the safety of himself, passengers and other persons who might have been affected by his actions. Deliberate decisions to avoid safety procedures following a signal passed at danger, such as the choices made by Mr Walford, are rare but carry potential catastrophic consequences.

Donald Wilson, principal safety inspector, ORR said:

Train drivers hold a position of great responsibility for safety on our railways. They must comply with health and safety law, and work in accordance with their licence and training.
Mr Walford fell short of these standards, and, in doing so, showed a serious disregard for the safety of his passengers. His actions – ignoring warning signals and systems - could have led to a potentially catastrophic incident. He put his life, and the lives of others, at risk. This kind of incident is very rare, but where serious failings are found, those at fault will be held to account by the rail regulator.

Notes to editors

  1. The Office of Rail Regulation is the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain's railways. 
  2. ORR prosecuted Scott Walford for a breach of section 7(a) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. 
  3. Mr Walford received a three-month custodial sentence, which is suspended for twelve months. 
  4. Govia Thameslink Railway took over the First Capital Connect franchise on 14 September 2014 and will run the services of each route under two separate names – Thameslink and Great Northern. 
  5. Signals are crucial element to running our railways, ensuring next flow of trains on the network is conducted safely. Signals passed at danger – known as SPADs – are incidences where a train passes by a signal which is red; having done so without authorisation from the signaller.