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Newark rail death report criticises Network Rail safety regime

An investigation into the death of a rail maintenance worker has criticised Network Rail’s “site safety discipline”.

John Wright was struck by a train near Newark North Gate station in Nottinghamshire on 22 January 2014, and died nine days later. The 49-year-old had worked on the railway for about 30 years.

According to a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report, published last week, the likeliest cause of the accident is that Wright assumed the train was going to a different platform, and inadvertently walked into its path.

However, the independent railway accident investigation organisation has made three improvement recommendations to Network Rail concerning its safety regime (see box below).

A statement from Network Rail said: “The death of John Wright was a tragedy which was felt deeply throughout Network Rail and which has led to significant changes to the way we manage the safety of everyone who works on the railway. We will consider the findings of the report and make any further safety measures that are recommended.”

How the accident happened

The incident occurred at 11:34 hrs on 22 January 2014, when Wright was struck by a passenger train coming from London King’s Cross. He was part of a team of three carrying out ultrasonic inspection of two sets of points at Newark South Junction and was acting in the role of lookout. The accident happened around 70m south of the platforms at Newark North Gate.

Newark accident 1

Location of the accident.

Wright moved to a nominated “position of safety” after hearing the train’s warning horn and should have stayed there until the ‘controller of site safety’ (COSS) gave permission to move.

However, the COSS was not present. The report said: “The COSS did not go with his team to the up line but remained in the van and therefore there was no safety leadership or supervision on site as required by the rule book.”

Wright moved and was hit as the train headed towards platform three. It was travelling at approximately 42kph when it struck the worker.

Newark accident 2

Position of the worker when the train struck.

The RAIB investigators believe he assumed it was going straight ahead, to platform one.

CCTV from the approaching train showed Wright had previously been in the correct position of safety.

Newark accident 3

Movement of the track worker as the train approached.

The report said: “Although the train braked and blew a second warning horn, the lookout [Wright] did not turn to face the train until it was too late for him to take evasive action.

“The absence of the COSS was not challenged by either the lookout or the tester, which indicates that a degree of ‘over-confidence’ had developed in the way the team was operating, probably because they were familiar with each other and the site.”

The full report can be viewed here.

The RAIB improvement recommendations to Network Rail

  • Improve work site safety discipline and vigilance, especially for teams doing routine work with which they are familiar; and
  • Improve the implementation of Network Rail’s procedures for planning safe systems of work so that the method of working that is chosen minimises the risk to track workers so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Improve the competence assurance process by providing training and sufficient working time to enable front line managers to implement the associated procedures as intended by Network Rail.




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