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July 6, 2009

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Three railway workers convicted in Hednesford trial

A jury has found three rail workers guilty of safety failures after two

men who were delivering rails during a rail replacement operation were

killed at Hednesford, Staffordshire, in 2004.

David Pennington, 47, from Burnley, and Martin Oates, 38, from Sheffield, died after a road-rail vehicle (RRV) driven by David Jones reversed into them at speed as they worked to complete a rail drop to a site where new track was being laid. The incident occurred between Hednesford and Cannock Stations in Staffordshire, at 4am on 28 September 2004.

Stafford Crown Court heard on 1 July that in advance of Network Rail’s renewal work on the site, new sets of continuously-welded 216-ft-long rails were being delivered on rail delivery trains (RDT) — managed by Network Rail — by a five-man team. The two deceased men were part of this team and were employed by VG Clements, which was operating the RDT on behalf of Network Rail.

The court was told that although this should not have happened, both the RDT and the RRV were working simultaneously, the RDT moving forward at the same time as the RRV was being driven backwards.

Jones admitted the RRV, which was provided by Carillion Rail, the rail-project engineering firm that was to undertake the track renewal work, had been reversing at a speed of up to 15mph when it should have only been moving at a walking pace, with another person walking alongside it acting as a guide.

The court heard that workers failed to attend a vital safety briefing by the supervisor on the movement of engineering trains in the area where the rail replacement work was being carried out.

The court found Jones, 48, John Brady, 44, who was marshalling Jones at the time of the incident, and Wayne Brigden, 29, senior site supervisor employed by Carillion Rail, guilty of failing to take reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others under s7 of the HSWA 1974 after a six-week trial.

Jones and Brady were acquitted of a charge under s34 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 that they endangered persons on the railway.
VG Clements was charged with breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA by failing to ensure the safety of both employees and non-employees but was also cleared by the jury.

Carillion Rail had pleaded guilty to breaching s2(1) and s3(1) of the HSWA by failing to ensure the safety of both employees and non-employees at an earlier hearing on 2 February 2009, where Network Rail also pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) of the same Act.

All parties found, or who pleaded, guilty will be sentenced in September this year when mitigation will be given. The court heard that the penalty for the three workers would be a fine.

HM Inspector of Railways Umar Ali, part of the team at the Office of Rail Regulation who investigated the fatalities, said: “This was a tragic incident which could have been avoided with proper understanding of the rail delivery operations by all involved in the work, as well as adherence to safety procedures.

“It is important that both companies and individuals are aware of, and fulfill, health and safety obligations placed upon them.”

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