February 17, 2011 | Mark Paradies

Press Release from the UK Rail Accident Investigation Branch: Investigation into an incident involving a freight train near Shap, Cumbria, on 17 August 2010

Updated 17 February 2011

The RAIB is carrying out an investigation into a serious incident involving a freight train that occurred on the West Coast Main Line in Cumbria.

At around 02:05 hrs on 17 August 2010 and around two miles from Shap summit, freight train 4S25, the 21:32 hrs northbound container service from Hams Hall to Mossend Up Yard, began rolling backwards. The train continued to roll back down a gradient of around 1 in 75 for nearly 4 minutes, covering 2.1 miles (3.4 km) and reaching a speed of around 50 mph (80 km/h).

The signaller became aware that the train was rolling backwards from indications provided by the signalling system.  He responded by arranging for the transmission of an emergency radio message to the train’s driver and setting a route into sidings at Tebay to divert the train clear of the running line. There were no other trains closely following the freight train at this time.

The driver realised that his train was moving backwards, applied the brake and brought the train safely to a stand more than a mile north of Tebay and before the rear of the train had reached the sidings. The train comprised a class 92 locomotive and 13 twin-container wagons with a total length of 498 metres and a trailing load of 663 tonnes.

The driver was working a first night shift following an early shift and a day off duty. It is most likely that this incident occurred because the driver was fatigued.

The rail industry has carried out a lot of research into the causes of fatigue and its consequences and there is a significant amount of information available from elsewhere. No further research is required to understand the influence of fatigue on this incident.

Rail and other industries use the Health and Safety Executive’s Fatigue and Risk Index calculator to calculate fatigue and risk scores for each shift in a shift pattern.

A report published on the Office of Rail Regulation’s website evaluates UK rail industry practice and concludes that night shifts with fatigue scores less than ~40-45 and risk scores of ~1.6 or less represent good practice. See report RSU/08/03 (http://www.rail-reg.gov.uk/upload/pdf/sres-EvalRailFRIT.pdf)

The freight train operator used the Fatigue and Risk Index calculator to calculate fatigue and risk scores for the driver on the shift in which this incident occurred. The scores were well below those identified as good practice in report RSU/08/03.

The RAIB is now working to understand how the Fatigue and Risk Index calculator’s scores compare with the findings of other fatigue assessment tools and actual accidents and incidents, particularly in regard to a first night shift after a day off duty.

The RAIB’s investigation is independent of any investigations by the safety authority.

The RAIB will publish a report, including any recommendations to improve safety, at the conclusion of its investigation. This report will be available on the RAIB website.

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