Summary of recent rail incidents - 2017-18

11 December 2018

Of the seven recent rail incident investigations summarised in this issue, four involved light rail and three heavy rail. The light rail incidents involve common themes of over speeding on curves, door entrapment and tram-to-tram collision. Two heavy rail investigations relate to heritage trains operating on steep gradients and the need for particular care in such environments.

Tram speeding on a curve - Yorkshire, UK

On 19 July 2018, a tram on the Sheffield Supertram system in Yorkshire entered a tight curve at 37 km/h where the permitted speed was16 km/h.

The sudden deceleration led to one passenger sustaining significant injury when she collided with one of the tram’s exterior doors. The impact caused a component in the door system to fail and the door to partially open. Although the passenger remained within the tram, it is possible that she could have been ejected through the open door in slightly different circumstances.

This incident and a similar occurrence at Sandilands junction in 2016 led to UK tram operators, owners and infrastructure managers being required to:

  • Conduct a systematic review of operational risks and control measures associated with the design, maintenance and operation of tramways, including consideration of the factors that affect driver attention and alertness.
  • Develop measures to automatically reduce tram speeds if they approach high risk locations at speeds which could result in derailment or overturning.
  • Review signage, lighting and other visual information cues to assist drivers on the approaches to high risk locations such as tight curves. It also called for the consideration of in-cab warnings to tram drivers on the approach to high risk locations as an interim measure, ahead of the introduction of any future automatic tram speed interventions.
  • Improving the passenger containment provided by tram windows and doors.

Read more on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch website

Sheffield tram

Passenger trapped and dragged – Greater Manchester, UK

On 30 May 2018, a passenger was dragged after his hand became trapped in a pair of closed and locked doors in Bury, Greater Manchester. The tram was stopped by the driver after travelling about 15 m, reaching a maximum speed of 10 km/h.

This incident occurred because the driver believed that the illuminated ‘doors closed’ light meant nothing was trapped in the closed and locked doors, so the tram was safe to depart. The light actually means that no object has been detected between the closed doors by the door obstacle detection system.

The operator has briefed its drivers to undertake the final door visual check with the CCTV monitor in ‘split-screen’ mode showing the view of the tram doors obtained from an external camera mounted on the rear of the tram in addition to the front camera view used at the time of the incident. This practice has been embedded into its driver training programme.

Read more on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch website

Light-rail collisions - Pennsylvania, USA

On 21 February 2017 a Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) light-rail passenger train 57 struck stationary train 67. The collision and associated derailment caused train 67 to strike train 51 which was operating on an adjacent track. Four people were injured. The total estimated equipment damage was US$1.6 million.

The investigation by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the driver of train 57 failed to control the speed of his train while approaching the stopped train 67. The probable cause was temporary loss of awareness. It issued a recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration that it require the installation of crash- and fire-protected inward- and outward-facing audio and image recorders to verify crew actions and operating conditions.

Read the NTSB report

On 4 January 2017, SEPTA tram 9101 stopped to offload passengers. A trolley traveling on the same track struck it in the rear at an estimated impact speed of 18 km/h. First responders transported 40 passengers and both operators to local hospitals for treatment of minor injuries. The total estimated equipment damage was US$60,000.

The investigation found that the driver of the striking tram demonstrated degraded operating performance consistent with fatigue prior to the collision. The likely decline in performance was the result of a combination of fatigue from the effects of a recent illness, not sleeping well the five nights prior to the accident, and the sedating effects of over-the-counter medicine. This combination of factors negatively affected his medical fitness for duty.

The investigation by NTSB recommended the American Public Transportation Association develop performance standards for the use of forward collision avoidance systems technology for light-rail vehicles operating on an urban street environment.

Read the NTSB report

Derailment of a passenger train - Wales, UK

On 10 June 2018, a heritage passenger train, hauled by a ‘Garratt’ steam locomotive derailed the leading wheelset of the locomotive on a curve. No injuries were reported among the passengers or crew.

The accident was due to the failure of a suspension component (an equalising beam) on the locomotive, resulting in the complete unloading of the left leading wheel. The unloading allowed the flange of the left wheel to climb onto and across the left-hand rail into derailment.

This derailment demonstrates the importance of heritage railways ensuring that specific and appropriate inspections and checks are built into the vehicle maintenance and overhaul regimes. These help to monitor the integrity of all safety critical components which could cause derailment in the event of failure, and to ensure that such components are reassembled correctly after overhaul. This is particularly important on heritage railways with steep inclines.

Read more on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch website

Collision at user-worked crossing - Kent, UK

On 23 October 2017, a passenger train collided with a parcel delivery van on a user-worked level crossing in Teynham, Kent. The train did not derail, and no-one on the train was hurt, but the train was damaged by the impact. The van driver suffered serious injuries and the van was severely damaged.

The investigation found that an underlying cause of the accident was that the requirement for authorised users to be responsible for briefing visitors about the safe way to use private crossings is unreasonable in present-day circumstances.

Read more on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch website

Runaway coaches - South Gloucestershire, UK

On 25 July 2018, during shunting operations on the Avon Valley Railway, two empty coaches ran away for approximately 40m at Bitton station in South Gloucestershire.

This accident demonstrates the importance of the need for care when stabling vehicles and shunting on a running line in areas with significant gradients.

Read more on the Rail Accident Investigation Branch website

Runaway coaches


This article was created for Rail Safety News (RSN). Subscribe to Rail Safety News

RSN is produced by Rail Safety Victoria (RSV), a branch of Transport Safety Victoria (TSV), to help develop a strong safety culture in the tourist and heritage railway sector. Twice a year (June and December), we write technical articles and source case studies – highlighting local and international expertise and experience – to help inform safe rail operations as required under rail safety legislation.