UK: The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has published its report into an incident on March 2 2018 when nine Southeastern trains became stranded near Lewisham in London during bad weather and passengers evacuated themselves onto third-rail electrified tracks.
The report published on March 25 is separate from an action plan which the train operator and Network Rail commissioned from consultancies to address deficiencies in their procedures for dealing with stranded trains.
RAIB’s investigation focuses on the unsafe passenger self-detrainments, rather than on the incident and recovery management. RAIB said the initial detrainment occurred because passengers were getting increasingly uncomfortable in crowded coaches with no toilets, and ‘ultimately the motivation of passengers to leave the train outweighed the effectiveness of encouragements to stay on board.’
The situation was not recognised as a serious incident sufficiently quickly, and key decisions were not taken. Other factors included informal communication using inappropriate channels, poor presentation of key operational information and ill-defined incident management processes.
RAIB makes five recommendations. Three are directed jointly at Network Rail and Southeastern. These concern management of conductor rail ice risk; the the timely identification and management of train strandings; and communication of information to and within railway control centres.
Two are directed at Southeastern, which should ensure that it has a suitably large pool of staff to support train crews during incidents; and ensure that the essential needs of passengers are reasonably met.
The RAIB has also identified two learning points. These concern the timely application of emergency signalling rules, including training in and opportunities to apply infrequently-used regulations; and following appropriate protocols when using voice communications.
Chief Inspector of Rail Accidents Simon French said the network was generally able to meet the challenges of transporting large volumes of commuters, but on high density routes serious delays could become a safety issue. ‘On-board conditions can deteriorate rapidly, and frustration and discomfort can lead to people taking matters into their own hands, putting themselves at risk of being struck by a train or electrocution’, he explained.
In a joint response to the RAIB report, Network Rail and Southeastern said the incident had ‘taught us many lessons and inspired positive change’. The infrastructure manager had already ‘improved the way we manage extreme weather, examined ways to keep the power on when the conductor rail fails and updated our procedures for communicating with passengers during emergencies.’
It is looking at expanding the use of conductor rail heating in key locations, has tested a more effective anti-icer on the Sheerness line, and has acquired 20 backpacks which can carry heated de-icer fluid for use when the shoegear of stranded trains needs to be de-iced quickly.
The Wessex Route is also testing the use of gapping leads, cables that can be attached to the third rail so that stranded trains can continue to receive power to run toilets, lights and public address systems.