Nine rail workers were extremely lucky to escape unscathed when a high-speed train tore past them without warning.
A subsequent Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) investigation into the near-miss incident, found that human error was largely to blame.
The workers were repairing a section of track on a section of the west coast mainline in Lancashire with a restricted view when the passenger train sped past them at almost 100mph in September last year.
After positioning a colleague to act as a lookout half a mile up the line with a clear view of the track to warn them of any approaching trains, the group of rail workers went about their work.
But when the Edinburgh to Manchester airport train suddenly appeared without warning, they were given just four seconds to jump clear of certain death before it tore past them at 98mph.
Some of the group had to throw themselves against a bridge parapet and although no-one was injured, they were left extremely shaken following the incident and work for the rest of the day had to be cancelled.
The RAIB investigation found the incident was caused either because the lookout failed to operate the right switch on his radio or because he forgot about the necessity to send a warning in the time between seeing the approaching train and operating his warning system.
A so-called ‘lookout-operated warning system’ (LOWS) was in use at the time to warn of approaching trains due to the group’s restricted view as they packed ballast beneath rail sleepers on the line towards London.
The system is designed to enable users to warn of approaching trains by activating two switches which then transmit a radio signal to workers, providing them with both a visual and audible warning.
The investigation found that the lookout responsible for the group’s safety on the day had been working non-stop for two hours and as such, his concentration could possibly have waned.
It also revealed that an earlier RAIB recommendation to mitigate the risk of such a work accident from occurring had not been implemented due to administrative errors.
On the day of the incident, two Network Rail lookouts were positioned on either side of the group. Each man was equipped with a LOWS system, and both systems were reported to have been tested and working normally before the near-miss.
Following their investigation, the RAIB made two recommendations to Network Rail. The first covered time management for jobs requiring vigilance, while the second covered circumstances in which LOWS systems should be used.
These workers were extremely lucky to escape serious injury or worse. This incident, which could so easily have ended in tragedy, perfectly illustrates just how important it is to have proper training as well as watertight railway safety procedures and arrangements in place to protect rail workers and prevent serious incidents like this from ever occurring.
Elaine Malcolm is a Personal Injury Solicitor, specialising in Work Accident compensation claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Newcastle.
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