Lorry driver error and failure in police procedures led to high speed train crash at Froxfield – report
An incident which saw a packed high-speed train plough into 13 tonnes of masonry which was knocked from a bridge by a reversing lorry could have been avoided if the police operator who took the 999 call had followed correct procedures.
Errors by the lorry driver were also cited in a report into the incident at Froxfield last February by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport.
The report says that a witness who saw the driver of an Eddie Stobart lorry reverse into the parapet of Oak Road Hill bridge near Froxfield at 5.21pm on Sunday, February 22 called 999 immediately.
But no call was made to the driver of the 16.34 First Great Western from Paddington to Penzance before the train collided with the masonry nine minutes later, at 5.30pm.
The train – which was travelling at 86mph – was packed with around 750 passengers, many standing. Luckily, there were no injuries.
Spotting the obstruction on the line, the driver applied the emergency brakes and hit the debris at 75mph, lifting - but not derailing - the cab of the train.
“The train was not stopped before it collided with the debris, due to delays in informing the railway about the obstruction,” notes the report.
The report says that “the handling of the initial call from the witness did not comply with Thames Valley Police procedures for handling a railway related emergency call.”
The Thames Valley Police call handler should have immediately notified the control room inspector of the incident, who would in turn have notified network rail. Instead, the call handler contacted British Transport Police.
“The conversation with British Transport Police lasted three minutes and 15 seconds, partly because of the uncertainty as to the exact location of the bridge involved; whether it was Froxfield, Wiltshire or Froxield, Hampshire, which is not on a railway route.
“The correct location was eventually mutually understood and the British Transport Police controller agreed to pass on the message to Network Rail.
“Had Thames Valley Police’s first call gone to Network Rail’s Western Route, in accordance with its procedures, there would have been about five or six minutes in which to stop the train which should have been sufficient,” reads the report.
The report also states that the 999 caller gave an accurate location of the incident, and told the call handler that “the whole wall” had been knocked onto the railway line.
But by the time British Transport Police contacted Network Rail, the incident was being reported as a stuck lorry which had “knocked some bricks onto the railway line”.
“The revised description of the hazard was not as accurate and would not have properly conveyed the actual severity of the hazard,” says the report.
On the day of the accident, the 23-tonne HGV left an Eddie Stobart depot in Stoke-on-Trent at 1.08pm, bound for Andover.
The HGV was not fitted with a satellite navigation system or reversing camera or sensor, and the lorry driver confirmed to investigators that he was using his own sat nav and maps for the journey.
Distracted by a diversion sign, the driver found himself on the A4 towards Hungerford, instead on the A346 to Andover. At Froxfield, he decided to turn right into Oak Hill Road to get back to his intended route.
The lorry driver crossed the narrow bridge over the railway before almost immediately encountering a canal bridge, which he realised he would be unable to cross.
He then attempted to reverse back over the railway bridge, but during the manoeuvre the left rear corner of the trailer made contact with, and then pushed over, the brick parapet on the east side of the railway bridge.
The entire parapet, weighing around 13 tonnes, fell onto the railway and broke up, obstructing both tracks.
After the train collided with the debris, the driver radioed his control room, and signallers were able to stop a train heading for the bridge in the opposite direction. The car driver who witnessed the collapse of the parapet also made a second 999 call to report the train crash.
The report notes the the Oak Hill Road bridge is a brick structure constructed in 1847. The parapet had been built to prevent pedestrians, livestock and horse drawn carts from falling onto the railway. It was not built to withstand the impact of modern road vehicles, and had never been reinforced.
The report says that there were no road signs to warn drivers that Oak Hill Road was not suitable for HGVs. “This was an underlying factor”.
The report also says that “there was nothing the (train) driver could have done to avoid a collision at speed with the bridge debris on the track” and that “this accident had the potential to be very serious had the fully laden train derailed at the estimated impact speed of around of 75 mph.“
“A derailment was only narrowly averted.”
But the report’s authors are also critical that following the crash, and with damage to the front of the cab, “the train was allowed to run between Bedwyn and Westbury at a maximum speed of up to 100 mph with a missing lifeguard and damage to the bogies.”
As a result of its investigation, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch has made four recommendations:
- Installation of identification plates on all overline bridges with a carriageway unless the consequence of a parapet falling onto the tracks or a road vehicle incursion at a particular bridge are assessed as likely to be minor
- Enhancing current road vehicle incursion assessment procedures to include consideration of the risk from large road vehicles knocking over parapets of overline bridges (two recommendations)
- Introduction of a specific requirement in a Railway Group Standard relating to the onward movement of a train that is damaged in an incident, so that the circumstances of the incident and the limitations of any on-site damage assessment are fully considered when deciding a suitable speed restriction, especially when there are passengers on board.
The RAIB has also identified ‘learning points’:
- For police forces, this accident reinforces the importance of ensuring that their enquiry and control room: (1) procedures are clear about immediately informing the relevant railway control centre on its emergency number, with an accurate description of the hazard, when the safety of the railway is affected, before informing other police forces or agencies; and (2) staff are fully briefed on the procedures and practised in their use
- For road vehicle standards bodies and the road haulage industry, the accident demonstrates the benefit of having reversing sensors or cameras on HGVs and other lorries, to assist drivers when manoeuvring their vehicles in unfamiliar, restricted spaces
In a letter dated 29 October 2015, and referring directly to the Oak Road Hill incident, he wrote: “It is imperative that Network Rail is made aware of any potential hazard by the receiving force at once so that there is no misunderstanding of what occurred and its location.
“The allows Network Rail to make a prompt assessment of whether to put a full or partial stop on the line or switch off power.
“Timing is crucial.”