Trains 'seconds from disaster'
5:49pm Monday 24th November 2008
From Oxford Times
Two passenger trains carrying hundreds of passengers missed crashing into each other by just 13 seconds after one of the drivers went through a red light after “losing concentration”.
An emergency brake triggered by the Train Protection Warning System slowed the eight-coach high speed train from Paddington – and it narrowly missed hitting a five-coach service bound from Oxford to London.
A 15-month investigation into the near-miss at the Didcot North junction said the driver — who has been involved in two other incidents — blamed a “loss of concentration” for failing to stop at the red signal just north of Didcot Parkway station.
He is a steam locomotive fan, and said that just before a warning light, he saw a plume of smoke from Didcot Railway Centre and a person dressed in historical costume – although the report said this should not have been a serious distraction.
The 64-page report said the driver of the eight coach 1W47 High Speed Train (HST) from London Paddington to Worcester Shrub Hill had approached signal SB2209 at 4.38pm on Wednesday, August 22, last year.
The RAIB said the driver failed to respond to a yellow signal before signal SB2209, meaning the train was going at 70mph when it should have been slowing down.
The driver then saw the red light too late to brake, but the automatic brake triggered by the speed of the train was applied, the report said.
The train then passed the SB2209 red signal at 53.5mph and carried on for just over 200 metres, stopping 12 metres beyond Didcot North junction — which was passed 13 seconds earlier by the 2P66 five car service from Oxford to London Paddington.
The driver then called the signaller and “acknowledged he had passed signal SB2209 at danger due to his own error,” the report said.
It added: “However, he was unable to give any reason other than a loss of concentration. Signal SB2209 was passed at danger because the driver did not respond correctly to the aspect of the previous signal.”
RAIB officers made nine recommendations including asking First Great Western to review its management of route knowledge and driving policy on approaching signals.
First Great Western said the driver involved was still working for the firm, but on non-driving duties.
When asked if the driver had been disciplined, or would be in the light of the report, a spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual disciplinary procedures, however I would reiterate that the safety of passengers is our highest priority.”
The spokesman said he estimated 200 passengers would have been on train 1W47, while “less than 100” would have been on the 2P66.
The spokesman added an enhanced Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) — an upgraded automatic brake — had now been installed at the junction.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We will respond to the issues arising from this report shortly.”
Philip Haigh, business editor of Rail Magazine and a former train engineer, said: “Passengers should probably be relieved that this sort of thing is extremely rare and also that they are so thoroughly investigated.”
The report said the driver had overrun Charlbury station after misjudging his braking in 2006 and triggered an automatic brake because of excessive speed approaching Moreton-in-Marsh.
l Were you on either train? Call George Hamilton on 01865 425423 ghamilton@oxford mail.co.uk