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Driver fatigue reason for runaway train on West Coast Mainline - report


Driver fatigue reason for runaway train on West Coast Mainline - report

Safety chiefs have urged the rail industry to ditch its most gruelling shift patterns after driver fatigue was pinpointed as the cause of a runaway train incident in Cumbria.

Concern: Craig Johnston of the RMT predicts another tragedy

The Rail Accident Investigation  Branch (RAIB) this week published the findings of its year-long investigation into the incident, in which a freight train ran backwards for more than two miles on the West Coast Mainline at Tebay.

The incident happened shortly after 2am on August 17 last year, on a dark rainy night.

Fortunately, the diver activated the brakes and the train came to a halt without further incident, but only a short distance from the scene of a tragedy in 2004 in which four track workers were killed by a runaway wagon.

Investigators found that the key cause of last year’s incident was driver fatigue.

An experienced train driver, with an unblemished safety record of more than 30 years, he had returned to work after a day’s leave, which came at the end of six consecutive early shifts.

His start times in the previous week had ranged from 6.30am to 3.15am. Unable to sleep the day before his return to work in the evening, the driver had been continuously awake for 18 hours when the incident happened, said investigators.

Their recommendations included:

  • Urging train operating companies to reduce the number of shifts that cause fatigue
  • Identifying shifts on which drivers experience high levels of fatigue
  • Improving the data available on fatigue-related accidents in the rail industry.

Carlisle-based RMT union organiser Craig Johnston said job cuts across the industry meant that fewer workers were being asked to take on more work.

“I don’t believe that any of the safety lessons from earlier accidents such as Tebay have been learned,” he said, predicting that the result could be another tragedy.

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