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July 23, 2009

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Network Rail fined GBP 70,000 for “potentially catastrophic” accident

Network Rail has been fined £70,000 for failing to adequately maintain a level crossing, which caused a train to derail.

The prosecution was brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) following the incident at Croxton, Norfolk on 12 September 2006. The accident took place after a heavy rubber panel on the crossing became dislodged by a lorry and was then struck by two cars. Both cars spun out of control and the panel was propelled on to the railway track.

The drivers tried to move the panel, which weighed 260kg, but it was too heavy and the level-crossing barrier came down, forcing them to leave the track. The approaching train struck the panel, causing it to derail, comming to rest a quarter of a mile down the line. There were no serious injuries and the train crew contacted the signaller to stop trains from proceeding down the line, as well as the opposite track.

An investigation was carried out by the ORR safety directorate and found that the dislodged panel, along with other panels on the crossing, were not properly supported by sleepers. Investigators discovered that the sleepers had been incorrectly spaced and the dislodged panel had only been secured at one end.

Network Rail had been warned about the loose panels on seven separate occasions in the five months prior to the accident. The day before the accident a mobile operations manager was sent to inspect the crossing by Network Rail. He identified that the panels were not properly supported and advised his supervisor to close the road for emergency repairs to the crossing that evening. The supervisor informed him that the repairs had already been scheduled and it was not necessary to arrange for the road to be closed. It was later discovered that Network Rail did not keep adequate records of inspections or repairs, and so it could not be verified that work was scheduled for the crossing.

Network Rail appeared at Norwich Crown Court on 16 July and pleaded guilty to s3(1) of the HSWA 1974 and an offence under the Level Crossing Regulations 1997. It was fined £35,000 for each offence and ordered to pay £25,000 in costs.

In mitigation, the firm said it had no previous convictions and has subsequently carried out inspections on all level crossings to ensure that the sleepers are correctly positioned.

ORR deputy chief inspector of railways Allan Spence said: “This was a very serious incident which, but for good luck, could have been catastrophic. The repeated failings of Network Rail’s level-crossing maintenance system at Croxton put road-users and people on trains at great risk — and that is simply unacceptable.

“The derailment highlights the importance of effective infrastructure maintenance, so that equipment is installed to appropriate standards and that maintenance checks identify and fix deterioration before it becomes dangerous. It also demonstrates the need for more effective training of the workers who install and maintain key assets. Effective management by Network Rail of their maintenance regime would have identified that maintenance and inspection records for this crossing were missing, unsigned and, in at least one instance, signed by a person who did not complete the work.”

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