The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has released its report into a collision between a train and utility vehicle at Dollands Moor freight yard, Kent, that took place in the early hours of Tuesday 4 September 2018.
The report states that, at about 03:39, a train arriving at Dollands Moor freight yard struck a small petrol-powered buggy which was stationary on a level crossing. The train driver only became aware of the buggy shortly before the accident and was unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. A shunter sitting in the buggy, who attempted to jump clear at the last moment, suffered life-changing injuries.
The train travelled about 102 metres beyond the crossing before stopping 16 seconds after the collision. The buggy was pushed along the track by the train, creating sparks which ignited petrol spilt from the buggy’s fuel tank as the train slowed down. The train driver left the cab immediately and before a significant fire took hold and was uninjured.
Until 2010, the report continues, safety documentation included a requirement that buggies crossing the sidings should use one of the two subways that were provided at each end of the yard to allow staff access to individual sidings without crossing any tracks.
By 2012, this requirement was no longer included. By 2014, only one of the two subways remained open, but lighting in this subway had failed. Use of this subway was not enforced, so most shunters chose to drive across the level crossings instead. There were no barriers, signs or written instructions indicating that vehicles were not allowed to use the level crossings unless signals were being used to stop any approaching trains.
The injured shunter started work at Dollands Moor yard in 2018 and had been trained to cross the sidings using the level crossings without signal protection.
The RAIB’s investigation found that the buggy driver was unaware he was in an unsafe position, but there was insufficient evidence to determine why. The investigation also found that custom and practice at Dollands Moor yard had normalised use of the level crossings by buggies without signals being used to stop approaching trains, and that the buggy was not conspicuous so the train driver could not see it until it was too late to avoid an accident.
The report concluded that the underlying factor was that DB Cargo’s management of the use of buggies, subways and level crossings at Dollands Moor yard was inadequate.
RAIB investigations do not set out to establish blame, liability or carry out prosecutions. They are conducted to establish the facts of what happened so as to prevent future accidents and incidents and improve railway safety.
In this case, the RAIB made two recommendations to DB Cargo to address significant gaps identified in the Dollands Moor yard safety management arrangements, and to review corporate oversight and verification of safety arrangements at locations across the UK.