A NEW training programme for railway controllers is being put in place following an incident in which three busy commuter trains were allowed to pass over a dangerous section of track on the Wharfedale line.
Flash flood water caused part of an embankment in Baildon to be washed away on June 7 last year, leaving one of the rails on the single line section unsupported for a distance of around four metres.
None of the four-coach electric trains travelling between Ilkley and Bradford Forster Square were derailed and no-one was injured, but the driver of one service was left “shaken” by the ordeal.
The incident led to an investigation by the independent Railway Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), which published its findings on Thursday, February 16, stating that mistakes had been made by railway controllers.
Its report also said that Network Rail had failed to learn lessons from a similar incident in the summer of 2012.
A RAIB spokesman said: “A member of the public had noticed the washed-out track and reported it to the local fire and rescue service who had then informed Network Rail shortly before 4.30pm. Around the same time, the driver of a train on that line reported there was flooding in the area, with the water being above the level of the rails.
“Network Rail stopped train movements and sent staff to inspect the track at the location reported by the train driver.
“The inspection found that the flood water had receded significantly, but did not identify the washout because it was at a different location.
“At 5.30pm, the line was reopened for use at its normal maximum speed of 50mph.
“At 5.45pm, a second train passed over the damaged section of track. The driver did not report any fault, but a call from a member of the public was received by the local police stating they had witnessed this train passing over the unsupported section. The message was passed to Network Rail, but before the line was again blocked to traffic a third train passed over it.
“This train also had not been stopped from running over the washout. The driver of this train saw the washout, but was unable to stop his train, passing over it at a speed of 38mph.
“He subsequently stopped the train and made an emergency call to the signaller.
“These near-miss incidents occurred because the reports of the damaged track from members of the public, via the emergency services, were not dealt with appropriately by railway controllers.
“The damage was similar to a washout at the same location that occurred in August 2012.
“Since that incident, no action had been taken on the recommendations considered by Network Rail to prevent a recurrence.”
The RAIB said as a result of the investigation, it had made three recommendations to Network Rail, relating to implementing measures to minimise the risk of further washouts at Baildon, improving the emergency response to incidents on the track by providing Network Rail responders with accurate location information, and improving the effectiveness of communicating safety information between incident controllers, signallers, and drivers.
It said lessons must also be learned by control office staff on the importance of listening carefully to safety messages, and the need to continuously monitor and maintain standards in safety critical communication.
In response, a spokesman for Network Rail said: “We worked closely with the RAIB on this investigation. Safety is our top priority and we have one of the safest railways in Europe. We take safety incidents such as the one at Baildon extremely seriously and work hard to prevent incidents like this happening.
“We were already making changes covered by the RAIB recommendations and are implementing a new training programme to help prevent an incident like this happening again.”