July 4, 2022 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Rail Worker Fatally Injured near Surbiton Station

rail worker

Around 11:35 on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, a passenger train traveling at 76 mph struck and fatally injured a rail worker who was walking in a crossover line between two through lines near Surbiton station, southwest London.

The rail worker was one of four track workers involved in undertaking inspections at the location.

The accident happened because the rail worker, who was the Controller of Site Safety and involved in carrying out the track inspections, was unaware of his position relative to the train. He was unaware of his position probably because he had become distracted, either due to teaching an assistant or by undertaking an actual inspection. Once distracted, it is likely his deviation towards the line on which the train was traveling was exacerbated by the layout of the rails at the junction. The train driver sounded the train’s warning horn twice during the train’s approach but neither of the other two people working with the controller of site safety recalled hearing it.

RAIB’s (Rail Accident Investigation Branch) investigation of the accident and fatality of the rail worker found that:

  • The inspection was planned to be completed while trains were running with a safe system of work in place that used unassisted lookouts. This was the least safe type of system of work which could be implemented when working on track, but its ongoing use had not been challenged in the years before the accident.
  • Network Rail had a programme in place to eliminate unassisted lookout working but this had not yet led to changes to the safe systems of work at the depot where the controller of site safety worked.
  • Safety of people working on or near railway lines relies on the controller of site safety implementing and managing a safe system of work, however where they are also responsible for carrying out the work, they are at increased risk of becoming distracted. This can, and has, led to staff being struck by trains or being involved in near misses.

Recommendations

RAIB has made three recommendations. Two recommendations are addressed to Network Rail. The first of these relates to maintaining members of work groups working on or near the line within designated safe limits, when some or all lines remain open to traffic. The second recommendation relates to understanding the nature and reasons behind rule and behavioural non-compliances observed by RAIB during its investigation. A recommendation has also been made to Rail Delivery Group to work with the wider rail industry to improve the judgement of train drivers on whether track workers are in a dangerous position and to reinforce the use of the train horn to deliver urgent warnings.

RAIB identified five learning points. These relate to:

  • train drivers sounding an urgent warning to track workers where there is doubt whether they have moved clear of the line the train is traveling on;
  • track workers looking to confirm on which line a train is traveling when hearing a train warning horn;
  • track workers having quick access to emergency contact details;
  • those creating patrol diagrams and similar having a correct understanding of the distances of positions of safety from open running lines;
  • and planners and others involved in preparing safe systems of work consulting related patrol diagrams to check for inconsistencies between them.

Source: RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Branch), “Report 05/2022: Track worker struck by a train near Surbiton station,” May 25, 2022.

Image source: Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay.

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Accidents, Investigations
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