Rail worker 'killed by poorly welded basket'

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A 64-year-old rail worker fixing overhead power lines died after a basket "poorly" welded to a hoist "sheared" off and fell 15ft on to a track, an inquest heard today.

Malcolm Slater, of Harold Wood, Essex, suffered spinal injuries in the accident at Margaretting, Essex, in June 2008 and died in hospital, a coroner sitting in Chelmsford, Essex, was told.

Metallurgist Keith Birkitt told inquest jurors that the quality of the weld was "poor in places" and parts of the joint too thin. He also said more assessment of the effects of fatigue on the weld should have been carried out.

Network Rail had made a series of improvements to lifting machinery following the accident - in which two other "linemen" working in the basket were also hurt, the inquest heard.

Workers were called in after a train brought down overhead lines about 25 miles north of Liverpool Street station, London, the hearing was told.

A court official told jurors that the basket "sheared off", fallen 15ft, then landed on Mr Slater, who had been working with fellow "linemen" Phil Miles and Daniel Wild.

Mr Birkitt had been asked to make an expert assessment by the Office of Rail Regulation, jurors heard.

He said a "fatigue crack" which was 55mm long and 3mm deep had developed in the joint.

"The weld quality was poor in places," he told the inquest. "(And) more fatigue assessment should have been done."

Mr Birkitt said 16% of the weld was too thin and data analysis showed that the basket's maximum weight limit had been exceeded on the day of the accident and the day before.

Network Rail engineer Bob Chatten, who oversaw the line-fixing operation, outlined improvements made since the accident.

He told jurors that the weld had been strengthened; safety bolts fitted; lights and alarms warning that the basket was overloaded improved; and technical data detailing overloading problems made immediately available to rail managers.

Mr Wild said he was not aware of any previous problems with the lifting equipment - which was fitted on to a Mercedes-Benz Unimog truck but not made by Mercedes-Benz.

"It was just a normal day," he told jurors. "I do remember feeling unsteady on my feet in the basket.

"I heard a noise. I could not tell you what the noise sounded like but I just knew whatever it was it weren't right. And then I remember nothing."

He added: "You just knew that something was up and then black. Nothing."

Mr Miles said the three men were "tidying up" after correcting line tension.

"I turned around to pick my spanner up and that's the last thing I remember," he told the inquest.

"The people that had used it the might before had not said there was any problems with it."

The inquest continues and is expected to end tomorrow.