Fine for train firm after brake failure

TRAIN operator Southeastern has been fined £65,000 following health and safety breaches which saw the brakes fail on a crowded commuter train.

On November 8, 2010, the 6.45am London Charing Cross to Hastings service was approaching Stonegate station, when the train’s braking system failed, causing it to career through the station at around 50mph.

With the emergency brake continuously applied, the train continued through a level crossing at Crowhurst Bridge in Burwash before finally coming to a stop 3.22 miles from where the brakes were first applied.

An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) 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. The ORR found four more Southeastern trains had not had 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 fine, imposed at Maidstone Crown Court on Friday, Southeastern was told to pay court costs of £22,589.50.A Southeastern spokeswoman said: “Leaves on the railway line has become something of a standing joke in the press, but it’s not remotely funny for train operating companies as extremely low friction between rails and train wheels - caused by leaf mulch and rain - produces a slippery surface making braking difficult.

As we’ve made clear in the past, this was a significant incident that we’ve taken very seriously. In conjunction with Network Rail we undertook a thorough investigation and also worked closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Office of Rail Regulation’s investigations. And we’ve fully implemented all recommendations. We never compromise on safety and have made changes to procedures to further reduce the possibility of this extremely rare event occurring again.”