RAILWAY ENGINEERS this week described HM Railway Inspectorate's claim that last October's Paddington rail crash could have been caused by mis-aligned track as 'a red herring'.
The comments came in response to HMRI's third interim report on the Ladbroke Grove disaster published last week. The crash killed 31 people and injured 251 others when a local commuter train collided with an intercity express after passing signal SN109 at red.
The report suggests that vibrations caused by misaligned track could have confused on board warnings and caused the commuter train driver to miss the red signal.
The report said its investigation had found 'significant mis-alignment' between rails at a track joint near an automatic warning system magnet for signal SN109. HMRI said it was examining whether the train passing over that joint could have caused sufficient vibration of the train's AWS receiver to give a false 'green signal ahead' indication in the train cab as it approached signal SN109.
HMRI said it was likely the driver misinterpreted rather than missed SN109. Malfunction of the AWS indicator, it said, could have caused this.
But railway engineers told NCE this week that the HMRI was 'clutching at straws'. One senior consultant said: 'I remember a similar debate after (the 1988 accident at) Clapham where people were coming up with lots of red herrings. I don't think it is likely. It comes down to the fact that the driver simply missed the red signal.'
And despite its conclusions, the report admits that an assessment of the Paddington signalling scheme by consultant WS Atkins Rail revealed 'no significant departures from accepted good practice ... at the time the scheme was designed and implemented'.
A spokeswoman for HMRI said it was investigating whether changes to the track and overhead electrification contributed to the crash.