The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has issues a Safety Digest following an incident in Llandegai tunnel, near Bangor, North Wales, during which a track worker undertaking inspection work narrowly avoided being struck by a train.
The incident took place at around 12:33 on 13 February 2021. The track worker was one of a group of two people who had been requested by Network Rail’s structure asset management team to carry out an inspection because of concerns about ice accumulation in the roof of the tunnel.
The other person, while acting as ‘protection controller’, had taken a line blockage on the Up line (the line that was used by trains heading east). The line blockage extended through this and two other tunnels nearby.
Having confirmed that the up line was blocked, the two track workers stayed together, and the protection controller undertook the duties of ‘controller of site safety’ (COSS).
The train involved was the 10:25 passenger service from Shrewsbury to Holyhead. It was travelling close to the maximum permissible line speed of 75mph (120km/h) when the driver sounded the horn on sighting the work group, who had just entered the tunnel on the Down line (the line used by trains heading west) and were using a long pole to remove icicles from the water deflection sheeting on the tunnel roof.
The COSS heard the horn, turned and saw the train approaching them. He shouted that they were on the wrong line and managed to get to safety on the other line.
The other track worker tried to do the same but fell over. He then managed to roll into the space between the tracks. The driver saw that the track worker was across the right-hand running rail of the down line, and immediately applied the emergency brake and sounded the horn again.
CCTV from the train showed that the track worker managed to crawl clear with about a second to spare. No-one was injured, but those involved were badly shaken.
The incident occurred because neither the COSS nor the track worker was aware that they were working on a line that was still open to traffic. While the Up line had been blocked, the Down line was still open to traffic.
RAIB reviewed the train service pattern on 13 February and found that there were regular periods of 20 minutes or more when no trains were running on either the up or down line in Llandegai tunnel. In fact, had the COSS and signaller waited the 10 minutes until the train involved in the incident had passed, another train would not have been due for over an hour. RAIB has concluded that this should have been more than sufficient time for the group to have inspected Llandegai tunnel and that a safeguarded safe system of work could, therefore, have reasonably been adopted.
Having considered the circumstances, RAIB inspectors concluded that this incident demonstrates the importance of:
- Provision of signage at access points so that railway staff can verify their location, which side of the railway they are on, the designation of the lines and other information they need before going onto the railway;
- Adopting the lowest risk safe system of work that is practicable when planning to go onto the railway;
- Sounding the warning horn, which on this occasion probably averted a fatal accident.
The full Safety Digest is available on the RAIB website.