Monday, February 26, 2007

Rail crash - RAIB report blames points

Missing components point to sabotage
or bad track maintenance

An RAIB report released shortly after the Cumbria rail crash suggests that a stretcher bar failure may have been to blame [RAIB report / RAIB report BBC]. According to the report, the stretcher bar and a number of bolts were missing. Checks that should have been made on the 18th February had not taken place and that the last logged check on the points was a week earlier. Network Rail has said they were “unable to explain the errors” but they “apologised unreservedly”.
A 13 week full reassembly check should be made with smaller checks between this period. Every 7 days the stretcher bar should be checked for tightness with a maintenance vehicle checking them every 14 days. However, the interim report suggests that at least one check was not made. There are also unexplained questions. Why was there no record of maintenance of work being done on the set of points concerned? Why were there no scheduled checks completed? And where is the missing stretcher bar? There are suggestions that sabotage may have been the cause due to the inexplicable set of circumstances. John Armitt, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, said he would “leave no stone unturned” to find out what went wrong.
His comments will be of little comfort to those that were injured in Friday’s crash. Mr & Mrs Langley, close relatives of the 84 year old woman Margaret Jones who died, remain in hospital. Iain Black the driver also remains in hospital in a critical condition with a neck injury. Stuart Durham, from the A& E unit where many victims were being treated, described the victims as having been “thrown around like socks in a washing machine” and were very lucky.

Network Rail was formed after Railtrack’s farming out track maintenance was seen as part of the problem for a series of rail accidents including the Potters Bar tragedy in which missing bolts and poor track maintenance were to blame. Most track work is now kept ‘in house’. However there is still a demand from train operators that the track should be maintained by themselves. As Richard Branson visited the scene the day after the crash, he raised the issue as to whether there should be a review of who maintains the track. Looking visibly upset, he said a worse tragedy was only averted by the strength of the Pendolino trains which “had proved themselves” due to being “built like tanks”.

Richard Branson, speaking after the report’s release, said lessons should have been learnt after Potters Bar. “Every member of the public needs to rely on Network Rail”, he said, but “We need to meet up with the government to talk about see if things can be done differently.” Meanwhile the RMT spokes person, Bob Crowe demanded a public enquiry [BBC].

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