Train operator fined £65k over ‘runaway train’

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TRAIN operator Southeastern has today been fined £65,000 following breaches of health and safety law which led to a train running out of control for over three miles.

On 8 November 2010, the 6.45am London Charing Cross to Hastings service was approaching, and due to stop at, Stonegate station, when the train’s braking system failed.

Instead of making its scheduled stop at Stonegate, the train passed the station at approximately 50 mph, and continued, with its emergency brake continuously applied, through a level crossing before finally coming to a stop 3.22 miles from where the brakes were first applied.

Today’s sentencing at Maidstone Crown Court follows an Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) investigation into the incident, which found that Southeastern had failed to provide an effective system of work to reliably ensure the availability of sand on its class 375 trains for use as part of the braking system.

In order to improve braking performance sand is deposited onto the track when the brakes are used, increasing friction and reducing braking distance.

ORR’s investigation also found that, in addition to the runaway train, four more Southeastern trains showed evidence of not having sand supplies refilled.

Ian Prosser, director of railway safety at ORR, said: “Train operators have an important duty to ensure that their workers and members of the public are not exposed to unnecessary safety risks.

“In this case, Southeastern, through poor planning and management, failed to ensure their trains were safe for use on the rail network.

“This is clearly unacceptable, and led to the potentially catastrophic incident in East Sussex where a train ran out of control for over three miles.

“We welcome steps taken by Southeastern to improve its safety management since this incident. ORR is pressing Southeastern, and the whole rail sector, to develop and maintain systems which identify potential dangers so that they can be addressed before catastrophic risks become reality.”

On top of the hefty fine, Southeastern was also ordered to pay court costs of £22,589.50.