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Learning from Carmont

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The tragic 2020 Carmont accident was the first fatal train crash for 13 years. In the 20 years to 2007, there had been a fatal crash about every two years. Currently, the rail passenger fatality risk is one in every 60 billion passenger kilometres.

While this safety improvement is something to be celebrated, the industry cannot be complacent. This much is clear from the Rail Accident Investigation Report (RAIB)’s final report on the Carmont derailment which, as we explain, revealed significant weaknesses in addition to those identified by the earthworks and weather advisory task forces set up by Network Rail after the accident.

The failed drain that caused this accident was not built as designed when it was installed 10 years ago. Furthermore, with the required records not handed over on project completion, this drain was not being inspected. RAIB found that these were not isolated failings and recommended that Network Rail introduce effective measures to ensure compliance with its asset and project management processes.

Much of the report concerns control room management and operational risk mitigation for failed earthworks which Network Rail had considered to be ‘optimal’. Yet RAIB found this was not the case as such controls did not include running at reduced speeds, route proving trains, and the use of advanced weather forecasts.

A controversial issue was the crashworthiness of the 40-year-old HSTs as some considered that the report showed these trains to be “unsafe”. We explain why such claims are wrong and harmful, with ASLEF stating that their drivers may boycott these trains after August 2023, the third anniversary of the accident. Yet ScotRail introduced their refurbished HSTs to attract passengers from less safe roads, and the risk of a fatality to train passengers and train drivers is 60 times less than when in their cars.

Moreover, RAIB advised Rail Engineer that it has “not said that the Mark 3 coach is unsafe, far from it”. Instead, it considers that the risks of operating HSTs, and the many other trains that pre-date modern standards, need to be reviewed and reasonably practical additional risk control measures assessed. This measured view needs to be understood by all concerned.

Clive Kessell explains that the significant reduction in fatal train accidents after 2000 is largely due to the introduction of TPWS. He also describes a potential development, TPWS-CS (continuous supervision) that offers safety benefits for track workers and at user worked crossings which present a significant risk. Paul Darlington describes what is being done to reduce the risk at all types of level crossings.

Modernising level crossings is part of the Devon and Cornwall resignalling scheme which will be commissioned in November 2023 and is affordable due to its use of low-cost modular signalling systems. We also consider how various resignalling schemes has enabled the Manchester ROC to control major areas such as Blackpool, Bolton, and Liverpool.

The increasing importance of telecoms is highlighted by features on an innovative telecoms network being introduced on the South Wales Metro and the challenges of introducing the Future Railway Mobile Communication System to replace GSM-R. Furthermore, the effective integration of telecoms and other systems for the Northern Line extension to Battersea was one reason why this £1.1 billion project was under budget.

A UK battery-diesel hybrid train carried its first passengers in February. One of them was Malcolm Dobell who reports how HybridFLEX, a converted class 170 DMU, offers fuel efficiency savings, clean air, and reduced CO2 emissions. Decarbonisation is also the driver for a moveable overhead conductor bar system that enables electric locomotives to access freight terminals. Malcolm also reports from the University of Huddersfield who recently added a train motion simulator and pantograph test rig to its impressive facilities.

With the much-publicised problems of cracks on new trains, the IMechE’s “Managing Fractures Safely on the Railway” seminar was a timely event which showed what can be learnt from other industries and offered case studies. In the next issue we will report on how cracks have affected over 1,220 vehicles in the class 8xx fleet and the ORR’s response to this problem.

The Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) is now subject to a Parliamentary Transport Committee inquiry. We look at evidence from over 20 major stakeholders and find that the DfT is about the only one that supports the IRP’s claim that enhanced lines can provide the same benefit as new high-speed lines. This evidence also shows how years of planning to develop growth strategies around HS2 have been wasted.

The dismantled railway network that offers potential re-openings, active travel and wildlife corridors is threatened by brutalist bridge infillings that ignore its real value. Yet as Graeme Bickerdike explains political pressure might be lifting this threat. To ensure continued operation of the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway some underbridges had to be replaced. As Bob Wright explains, this presented significant funding and civil engineering challenges.

Finally, we describe some of the latest developments in sustainable and smart rail operations that will be on show at the combined Railtex / Infrarail exhibition in May. Rail Engineer will be there and we look forward to seeing you at our stand.  


Rail Engineer wishes to pay tribute to the ‘iron people’ of Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia) which has a network of 20,000 kilometres (25% more than Network Rail). At least 88 railway workers have been killed since the Russian invasion.

Ukrzaliznytsia’s evacuation of 3.5 million people and delivery of large amounts of humanitarian aid in wartime conditions that are difficult to imagine are remarkable feats. In addition, the railway is starting to deliver grain to neighbouring European countries now that Black Sea ports are closed.

Also notable are the humanitarian trains run by the railways of Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic for Ukrainians who had to leave their country.

Our thoughts are with all Ukrainians at this awful time.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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