ALARMING LAPSES in Network Rail's maintenance regime were exposed this week following a fatal train crash on Friday at Grayrigg, Cumbria.
Engineers investigating the crash said that the maintenance schedule had failed to detect the poor condition of a set of points that caused the train to derail.
One woman was killed and 22 passengers injured when the 17.15 London Euston to Glasgow Virgin Pendolino service derailed after passing the Lambrigg 2B points at Grayrigg in Cumbria.
An interim report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), released this week con med that the points were faulty and caused the accident.
'The immediate cause of the accident was the condition of the stretcher bar arrangement at points 2B at Lambrigg crossover which resulted in the loss of gauge separation of the point switch blades, ' states the report, echoing ndings from the Potters Bar disaster (NCE 16 May 2002).
The points under scrutiny are used to divert trains between the 'up' (northbound) and 'down' (southbound) tracks during maintenance work. They consist of two switch rails driven by a motor and separated by three stretcher bars plus a lock bar.
After the crash, investigators found 'one of three stretcher bars was missing and the bolts that secured the lock bar and another stretcher bar were not in place.
'Some of the associated nuts and washers were found in the ballast but others were not.
However the RAIB search of the area has not yet been completed, ' says the report.
'Two of the stretcher bars were fractured; in one case the nature of the fracture surface indicates that it may have been consequential to the derailment.
In the other case, the fracture surface indicates that it may have predated the derailment.' A weekly visual inspection of the Lambrigg 2B points should have been carried out on 18 February, ve days before the crash but this did not take place. The last visual inspection was on 3 February.
Network Rail has not yet said why this inspection was missed.
Network Rail chief executive John Armitt said he accepted the RAIB report in full and said the company would learn any lesson and take any action required as a result of more detailed investigations now underway.
'Network Rail is devastated to conclude that the condition of the set of points at Grayrigg caused this terrible accident, ' he said. 'We would like to apologise to all the people affected by the failure of the infrastructure.' The points under investigation had been in service since 1986 and used three stretcher bars to separate and adjust the two switch rails.
But rail engineers this week defended the system, pointing at maintenance as the problem.
Faber Maunsell head of rail Malcolm Taylor said: 'It is a tried and tested technology and they should have been perfectly functional. It is the maintenance regime that has failed, leading to a technical failure.'
Taylor added that the missing stretcher bar indicated that someone was aware that it was not in place.
'It implies someone consciously removed it, implying an awareness of the fault, ' he said.
'There are processes and procedures to pick this up, and a speed restriction would have then been in place, ' he said.
Another senior railway engineer agreed, blaming an imperfect regime.
'Even in a weekly or monthly inspection, the track worker should give the stretcher bars a kick to ensure there is nothing wrong, ' he said. 'Somebody must have known something.
No competent person would have left it.' The RAIB report also highlights the fact that the Lambrigg 2B points were inspected using Network Rail's New Measurement Train.
This records the track geometry and makes a video record of the track. RAIB is now reviewing these records.
But despite Network Rail putting such systems at the core of its plans to improve maintenance, several doubted whether this equipment would have immediately detected any fault.
According to Taylor, the train would only pick up points as a 'clunk', but would not necessarily detect any abnormalities.
'It would be very unlikely from the track recording to pick up the condition of the switch blades, ' he said. 'Even if it was operating correctly, it would not be possible to pick-up missing bolts.'
Read more including a rst person account of the crash site at www. nceplus. co. uk