Discovery of a steel tubular pile left on a rail line in Lancashire last year is one of several incidents that has lead the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (Raib) to issue urgent safety advice today.
Raib said that over the last four years there have been a number of incidents in which railway lines have been returned to service in an unsafe condition following engineering works.
The incident involving the abandoned pile occurred in May last year near Kirkham in Lancashire and is one of several incidents following engineering work that created a safety hazard for trains following handover.
Raib reports that an on-track machine leaving an engineering possession at the site in Lancashire encountered a large tubular steel pile obstructing the line on which it was travelling. The pile had been left on the track during engineering work earlier in the night, and was overlooked when the work site was handed back.
According to Raib, the incident emphasises the importance of having a formal, well briefed process for checking that a site of work is clear of materials and equipment at the end of work.
In today’s safety advice notice, Raib said: “In all such cases there is a real potential for serious harm to people on subsequent train services.
“In light of these incidents, and given the serious nature of the most recent incident, Raib advises Network Rail to take urgent steps to review the effectiveness of the steps it has already taken to address this risk, and to implement any additional measures that are required to ensure the safety of the line following engineering works.”
Raib’s report into the incident at Kirkham suggests that better lighting may have prevented the pile being left on the railway line following the work but also called for clearer identification of who is responsible for removing materials at the end of a possession.
The report states that on 14/15 May a planned possession of the lines from Preston Fylde Junction to Blackpool North was taken by the person in charge of the possession (PICOP) at 11.10pm and was due to be handed back at 6.10am. The time available for piling work was restricted to allow the passage of a tamper at the start and end of the possession.
The tamper travelled from the Preston end of the possession and, once it had reached its site of work (which was beyond the area where the piling was to take place), the engineering supervisor authorised contractor J Murphy to start work at 0.25am. The supervisor required the site of work to be clear by 4.40am to allow sufficient time at the end of the possession for the return passage of the tamper.
The piling work involved the use of a road-rail vehicle (RRV) fitted with a special piling attachment. Piles had already been positioned in the cess in readiness for installation and trial holes dug at marked locations to confirm the location of underground services.
At 1.20am the RRV was place on-track at Salwick and travelled 4 miles and 45 chains to the first installation site at 9 miles and 60 chains, close to Kirkham and Wesham Tip, arriving at 3.10am.
Piling operations commenced with one pile being successfully installed. A second pile was not installed because a survey of the site revealed the unexpected presence of buried electrical cables. The team then moved to another site at 11 miles and 11 chains but were unable to install a pile at that location because the supervisor did not have the necessary information about the trial hole.
The RRV then moved around 50m to a third location with the pile intended for the second position still attached. The crane controller reportedly instructed the machine operator to put down the pile that was clamped in the piling attachment so that the correct pile for that location could be picked up and installed. The RRV operator drove around 20m beyond the installation site and put the pile down in between the rails (an area known as the ‘four foot’) of the adjacent line at approximately 11 miles and 15 chains. He then picked up the correct pile for the location and, at around 4am, began to install it.
The installation did not go well and, with the deadline for handing back the work site approaching, work was stopped at around 4.20am with the pile partially installed but deemed safe. The RRV returned to where it joined the rail line and at 4.31am the crane controller telephoned the supervisor to confirm that the machine was clear of the line. Meanwhile, the supervisor and colleague walked from the site of work to a nearby access point and at 4.32am confirmed to the supervisor by telephone that the work group was clear of the track.
Sunrise was at 5.11ams with full daylight soon after.
At 5.10am the supervisor handed the work site back to the PICOP and signed the work site certificate as “work completed, portion of line clear and safe for trains to run”.
The PICOP then authorised the tamper driver to travel to the exit of the possession at the Preston end. Approximately five minutes later and while travelling at a reported speed of 24 km/h the driver saw an object obstructing the line and managed to brake to a stand before colliding with it.
An emergency work site was granted and the RRV returned to the site to remove the pile. The line was reopened to normal traffic at 6.40am.
The Rule Book requires that, on completion of work, those responsible for safe systems of work within possessions contact the supervisor to advise that the work group are clear of the line. It also requires that the supervisor advises the PICOP when they no longer need to be on or near the line and that they are satisfied that there are no engineering trains or on-track plant left in the work site. However, the Rule Book does not clearly specify who is responsible for physically checking that the line is clear of obstructions. Although the Work Package Plan (WPP) produced by Volker Rail for the work stated that upon completion of works “any plant and redundant materials should be removed from site”, it also did not specify who was responsible for this.
Raib concluded that better lighting of the site of work might have reduced the likelihood of the pile being forgotten. The WPP had identified risks with working at night and specified the use of tower lighting at worksites to illuminate work areas. However, the piling operation was lit only by lights on the RRV. This meant that staff were unlikely to be able to see the pile left in the four foot of the down main line when they left the site.