Four die as runaway wagon ploughs into rail workers

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The Independent Online

An investigation has been launched into the deaths of four railway workers who were hit by a supply wagon after it broke free from a train and careered downhill for four miles.

An investigation has been launched into the deaths of four railway workers who were hit by a supply wagon after it broke free from a train and careered downhill for four miles.

The workers were among 10 upgrading the west coast main line between Kendal and Penrith in Cumbria around 6am yesterday. Three suffered leg injuries, one of which required surgery. They were taken to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in Lancaster. Three were not hurt.

The wagon, carrying lengths of track, dislodged at Scout Green depot and rolled at speeds of up to 40mph. It stopped a mile after hitting the workers, who were just south of the Tebay Old Yard.

British Transport Police (BPT), Cumbria Police and the Health and Safety Executive have launched the investigation.

Superintendent Peter Davies of the BTP said the inquiry would determine how the trolley became disengaged from the works train. He said the trolley was travelling at up to 40mph when it hit the workers, who were working in poor light and with safety gear on.

Inspector Chris Connell of the BTP added: "As part of the inquiry we will check the conditions of the equipment involved in the incident.

"We will also be looking to make sure the safety records were up to date and that everybody was trained properly."

The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union, of which the men were believed to be members, has called for a public inquiry. Bob Crow, the general secretary, said: "We want a public inquiry ... rather than an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive.

"Pending this inquiry, we want to see Network Rail suspending work in similar terrain until the causes are clear."

The deaths of the workers, who were employed by Carillion Rail, which wassubcontracted by Network Rail, takes the number of track-workers' deaths to 11 since April 2002.

A spokesman for Carillion Rail, which employs more than 4,000 people and has received awards for its safety record, said: "This is a tragedy. Our thoughts are obviously with the families of those who have been killed and the injured."

The workers were upgrading the track as part of a multibillion-pound project to modernise the west coast main line to accommodate Virgin's new tilting "Pendolino" trains. The trains were to start operating from next September. It is not clear if the deadline will be met, as the project has faced a series of setbacks since it was launched almost eight years ago.

Yesterday's accident happened only three months after Network Rail said it would conduct track maintenance in-house to cut costs and boost safety.

While the move marked the biggest reorganisation of the network since British Rail was abolished, Network Rail said last month it was justified in allowing private firms to continue work on the lines. The in-house measure has not yet been introduced in the Cumbria area.

Peter Rayner, a former British Rail manager and rail expert who has advised the Government on safety, said management failings were likely to be at the heart of the latest tragedy. "You have to have a management system in place to prevent something like this happening. Staff not trained or couplings not properly maintained or staff not properly supervised - it is a management responsibility."

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