Train crash blamed on red light error

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(First Edition)

A TRAIN crash in which four people died last year was probably caused by one of the trains passing a red signal, according to a Health and Safety Executive inquiry report published yesterday.

But it says it was not just 'a simple case of human error' and questioned the reliance British Rail placed on drivers seeing signals in high-risk situations. Two drivers and two passengers died and 22 other passengers were hurt in the crash on a stretch of single track at Newton, near Glasgow, in July last year.

The report adds that if risk assessment techniques had been used by British Rail when the track was being remodelled a month before the accident, it was likely that the accident risk could have been foreseen. David Eves, HSE deputy director-general, said one of his main recommendations was that railway operators should now develop, in consultation with the HSE, risk assessment techniques for proposed schemes involving single-track working.

In the crash on 21 July 1991, a local train from Newton to Glasgow pulled out of Newton station, then collided head-on with a train from Balloch to Motherwell. The impact speed was about 60mph.

The HSE inquiry found that 'on the balance of probabilities', the platform starting signal was at red when the Glasgow-bound train pulled out and that for the other train, the signal was clear. In the circumstances it was impossible to expect a signalman to recognise indications of 'impending catastrophe' on his panels and to alert both drivers. The integrity of the signalling system at Newton was not in doubt, although 'serious questions' arose as to its local reliability and manner of installation, the inquiry report continued. The fact that three 'very serious accidents' had occurred in the recent past at similar junctions - Newton had only just been redeveloped from being double-track - could not be ignored.

'Accepting that single-track working has been a feature of railway operations since they began and can be safely signalled on the basis of long-established principles, this report questions the total reliance that BR has placed in some higher-risk situations on drivers' behaviour in observing signals when there is a substantial body of evidence of the number of signals passed at danger each year.'

The report said that after the Newton accident, British Rail carried out a risk assessment of similar single-lead junctions. This immediately identified 10 locations, including Newton, where extra protection measures were judged necessary.

At the time of the Newton accident, some trains were running late - one significant factor among many that contributed to the circumstances of the accident, it says. But the introduction of single-lead junctions at Newton was a major contributory factor. The inquiry report recommended that double lines should be reinstated there, as ScotRail told the inquiry it intended to do.

ScotRail welcomed the report and said it would study and implement the recommendations 'as soon as is possible'. Strathclyde Regional Council had agreed to support a double-track scheme, it said.

(Photograph omitted)