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May 18, 2010

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Track fatality costs rail operator GBP 450,000

The operator of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) must pay nearly £500,000 in fine and costs after a member of the public fell on the track and was crushed to death by a train.

Southwark Crown Court heard that the incident took place at All Saints DLR station in London on 2 April 2007, just after 10pm. Robert Carter fell on to the tracks during an altercation with a friend, Paul Green.

The prosecution told the court that the two men got into a heated argument at the station, which led to Green calling the emergency services and claiming that Carter had threatened him with a knife. He remained on the phone to the operator and walked on to the platform, where he was approached by Carter, who pushed him against a wall. Green is then said to have pushed Carter in self-defence, which caused Carter to stumble and fall on to the tracks.

The operator was listening to the altercation through Green’s phone and reported the incident to British Transport Police. The police operator advised staff in the DLR control-room to check the CCTV to confirm whether there was anyone on the track.

A control-room operator accessed the CCTV but couldn’t see anyone lying on the tracks, and there were no obvious signs of a disturbance. Consequently, the control room decided there was no need to stop the computer-driven trains from entering the station.

Soon after, another control-room operator saw on the CCTV a police officer at the station waving his arms above his head. The operator pushed the emergency button to stop the train, but the first set of wheels had already struck Mr Carter. He was taken to hospital where he died as a result of crush injuries.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found that Serco Ltd, which operates the DLR, had an inadequate procedure in place for stopping trains in an emergency. The company allowed control-room staff to decide whether to stop trains based partly on CCTV images. But the CCTV was not intended for this purpose and did not give staff a view of the entire track, which was not illuminated.

The ORR issued an Improvement Notice on 12 July 2007, which required trains to be stopped when an incident is reported. The service can only resume after a member of staff has visited the scene in person.

Serco Ltd appeared in court on 12 May and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. On top of the £450,000 fine, the company was ordered to pay £43,773 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and had fully cooperated with the investigation. It said it could not have foreseen an altercation of this nature but admitted that it had failed to mitigate the consequences of the incident.

Speaking after sentencing, ORR director of railway safety Ian Prosser said Mr Carter’s death could have been avoided if proper procedures had been implemented.

He added: “Most importantly, following ORR’s enforcement action Serco has made changes to its procedures to ensure that such an incident should never happen again. Ultimately safety is about people and, although risk of an accident is as low as it has ever been, there is absolutely no room for complacency.”

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14 years ago

I am still surprised that open platforms are allowed under H&S legislation. The basic design of a rail platform has hardly changed since the railways started. Untrained members of the public of all ages are often packed onto platforms at rail and underground stations creating massive pressure which can easily topple people onto the lines and conductors. If the first railways were being built now, open platforms could never get past a risk assessment! The technology exists and works – for example, I rode on a driverless shuttle at Heathrow T5 yesterday and there are automatic doors on the platform… Read more »

14 years ago

Given an on going telephone conversation from someone in fear! It is unlikley to be a scam. Having an operater decide if the train is stopped or someone dies. There was a total lack of comnunication to the operater and the operator shouldn’t have taken any chances and stopped the train. Detection can be easilly be automated. I suggest photobeam aimed down the centre of the track, 6 inches above the ground for the entire length of the station to make sure the track is clear. Warning the operator or stopping the train when the beam is broken, or both!… Read more »

14 years ago

With driver less trains the logical solution would be to install sensors that read the track and immediate area.Cars have been fitted with them and they have the whole road to contend with.With the trains following rails it should be easier Occasionally you will have emergency track repairs taking place so they could be switched off until train passes operatives. Better cctv /camera sighting would help.This doesnt necessarily mean new cameras, just a relocation. Think how far £500000 would have gone doing the above rather than having to pay a fine and explaining to a dead persons relatives they couldnt… Read more »

14 years ago

I can’t help but notice this mans ‘friend’ pushed him onto the tracks, self-defence or not, he was the DIRECT cause of this incident not the company who run the trains, who had merely not considered every possible, conceivable safety feature available to achieve 99% safety. Trains are dangerous and fighting near them is also dangerous.
I look forward to seeing prohibition signs on platforms stating ‘No fighting on platforms and don’t push people onto the tracks’.
Why didn’t the friend wave at the cctv camers? Just a thought!