The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has released its report into two track workers who narrowly avoided being struck by a train while working close to Penkridge station on 10 July 2022.
The train was travelling at 98km/h towards Stafford when the driver saw the track workers standing on the line and sounded the locomotive’s horn.
One of the track workers saw the approaching train and warned his colleague. They both jumped clear of the track less than one second before the train reached their position.
The rail safety watchdog said that the incident happened because the two track workers did not have a recognised safe system of work in place to protect them from approaching trains.
No understanding of safety arrangements
The track workers had split off from a larger group to operate an overhead line isolating switch south of Penkridge station. When they left the group, the track workers and the Person in Charge (PIC) did not reach a mutual understanding of the safety arrangements that would subsequently apply.
At the time the train passed, the track workers believed that the line they were standing on was blocked to the passage of trains, as had been the case when they left the group.
The PIC believed that the track workers were standing away from the track in a position of safety and so he had allowed the line blockage to be removed without warning them.
RAIB’s investigation found that there was no formal guidance on the arrangements and responsibilities of staff when individuals leave a PIC’s safe system of work, which was a possible underlying factor.
The investigation included consideration of previous investigations and found that there is a widespread acceptance that PICs and Controllers of Site Safety (COSSs) can actively observe and advise their work group on site over a greater distance than is practical or reasonable.
As a result of this investigation, RAIB has made two recommendations to Network Rail.
The first relates to the improvement of processes and guidance available to the PIC and COSS to help control the risks when groups split or change during a work activity. The second relates to the practicalities of managing a group on site and understanding how this can be improved.
RAIB has also identified three learning points relating to the importance of clear communication, the duties allowed to be undertaken by a PIC and the importance of the availability of train mounted CCTV to assist in safety investigations.
Andrew Hall, chief inspector of rail incidents, said: "Network Rail has made huge progress in reducing the amount of work undertaken on lines open to traffic. However, the near miss at Penkridge, where a line blockage was being used, is a reminder that working on the track remains hazardous."
RAIB’s annual report found that despite progress in the safety of track maintenance works in British railways, near-miss incidents in 2022 suggest that “considerable risk still exists” for staff working on the railways.