Investigators call for change after 124mph train hits maintenance trolley

Accident investigators have urged Network Rail to take a series of actions after a passenger train travelling at almost 124mph hit an item left on the tracks by a maintenance crew.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) made five recommendations to the rail infrastructure operator in a report published following the incident in Oxfordshire.

Shortly after 6am on 21 October last year, a passenger train struck and destroyed a hand trolley near Challow, causing damage to the track and under-train equipment.

The report found that a maintenance team working overnight had unwittingly left the hand trolley on the track. No one was hurt and the train did not derail.

Checks undertaken before handing back the railway for normal operation had not indicated the presence of the trolley.

Investigators found there were weaknesses in the line-clear verification process used to monitor what vehicles had been placed on and taken off the track during works. These weaknesses were compounded by the maintenance team not following the process as it was required to on the night concerned, said the report.

The RAIB urged Network Rail – which is set to be replaced by a new body called Great British Railways – to establish how the existing line-clear verification process could be improved, and to consider what technology could be used to support it.

Investigators also proposed that hand trolleys should be required to display an illuminated red light in both directions at all times when on tracks, and said Network Rail should have processes in place to ensure this happens.

Another recommendation was to review the effectiveness of safety assurance activities related to checking that hand trolleys are being used correctly and safely.

Chief inspector of rail accidents Andrew Hall said: “Systems and processes designed to detect any equipment left on the track before lines reopen after maintenance work should not be reliant solely on human performance in the middle of a dark night. There are technological solutions which can assist with addressing this issue, and this accident is an example of an opportunity missed.

“Our investigation found that the railway had identified the risk of equipment, such as hand trolleys, being left on the line and that it could mitigate this risk by improving the line-clear verification process. However, it had not yet implemented the changes required when this accident occurred. This meant the process remained vulnerable to human error.

“In this case, this vulnerability was made worse because relevant procedures were not followed correctly. Technology has an important role to play in improving the safety of the railway and it is important that the development of solutions to better support staff is prioritised.”

Network Rail has been contacted for comment.

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