South Devon Railway fined £40,000 after boy falls through missing toilet floor

14 May 2018

South Devon Railway Trust has today been fined £40,000 by Newton Abbot Magistrates' Court after they admitted putting passengers at risk by failing to adequately bar entry to a toilet cubicle which was missing its floor.

The court heard that Anna Patch’s three year-old son narrowly escaped serious injury when he fell through the missing floor and had to be snatched to safety by his mother with his feet within inches of the rotating wheel below.

The pair had been enjoying a ride on the heritage steam railway, which was making return trips between Buckfastleigh and Totnes in Devon on 22 June 2017 when the incident occurred.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) investigation discovered that the entire toilet cubicle floor had been missing since 2 April and that an ‘out of use’ sign had been pinned to the door and an attempt made to secure the door with two screws when the carriage was put back into service sometime around 14 April. However, there were no ongoing checks to ensure that the door remained secure and staff working on the train were not informed of the missing floor.

The carriage required structural repair and the ORR argued that it only remained in service once this issue was discovered because the busy Easter period was nearing when the company would normally run nine round trips a day.

ORR, which brought the prosecution under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work 1974, found that at some point between 5 April and 22 June, the screws broke along with the door post meaning that the door could easily be opened.

It also found that the company, which continued using the carriage for three days after the incident, had an inadequate Safety Management System in place which was approximately 10 years out of date and not fit for purpose.

ORR served an Improvement Notice in July 2017 requiring the company to put in place an established Safety Management System.

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said:

"South Devon Railway Trust took an exceptionally casual approach to ensuring the safety of its passengers and created a genuine and unacceptable risk to the public.

"In this instance it is only by good fortune and the swift action of the boy’s mother that this incident was not a fatality.

"The fine issued today sends out a powerful message to the heritage sector that the safety of passengers is absolutely paramount, and that thorough risk assessment and monitoring must be carried out.

"The ORR is committed to protect the safety of people who travel on railways and will not hesitate to take enforcement action when it is necessary."

Notes to editors

  1. South Devon Railway Trust was prosecuted under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
  2. A total of £13,035.06 were awarded in costs.
  3. Recent prosecutions:
    • Southeastern and Wettons were fined a total of £3.6million in November 2017 after a previous prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
    • Network Rail were fined £733,000 in March 2018 after being prosecuted under section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
    • BAM Nuttall were fined £900,000 and McNealy Brown £65,000 in April 2018 after being prosecuted under Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
  4. The Office of Rail and Road is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. Follow us @railandroad.