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May 25, 2011

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Rail operator fined following second runaway train derailment

A train operator must pay more than £100,000 in fines and costs for safety failings following a runaway train derailment in Merseyside.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that the incident took place at Kirkdale depot on 30 June 2009. The previous day, Merseyside Electrics 2002 Ltd had removed the train from service after it developed a power fault, and made arrangements to inspect the vehicle.

In order to diagnose the problem the train was isolated from the live rail using a technique called ‘paddling up’, which is a procedure where a wooden panel is placed between the conductor rail and the pick-up shoes that hang down from the side of the train.

Once the repairs were completed the paddle was removed without taking the train out of gear, which caused the locomotive to regain its traction power from the live rail and begin moving down the track. The train reached an estimated speed of 30 mph before it passed over a device on the track, which applied the vehicle’s brakes and diverted it to a track adjacent to the main railway line. But the vehicle continued to the end of the track and collided with the buffer stop and a wall, causing it to derail and come to rest across the main line, narrowly missing a passing train.

One worker suffered minor injuries to his leg and wrist during the incident, as he attempted to reach an emergency stop button on the side of the moving train. There were no passengers on the runaway train and no other persons sustained injuries.

The Office of Rail Regulation’s investigation learned that the company was aware of the risks involved with this method of work, as a similar incident had taken place at its Birkenhead North depot in January 2007.

ORR deputy chief inspector of railways, Caroline Wake, revealed that the incident could have been avoided if the live rail at the depot had been isolated. She said: “Merseyrail failed in its duty to protect the safety and well-being of its staff and its passengers, and it is fortunate no one was seriously hurt. ORR will not tolerate rail workers, or passengers being put at unnecessary risk and we continue to press for improvements across the rail industry, taking appropriate enforcement action – including prosecution – when necessary.

“Merseyrail recognised that safety improvements were needed, and the rail regulator is satisfied with the company’s enhanced safety systems, put in place since June 2009, to reduce the likelihood of a similar incident happening again.”

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