Southall rail crash
|Southall rail crash|
The remains of Coach G of the High Speed Train
|Date||19 September 1997|
|Rail line||Great Western Main Line|
|Operator||Great Western Trains (IC125), EWS (Freight Train)|
|Cause||Signal passed at danger|
|List of UK rail accidents by year|
The Southall rail crash was an accident on the British railway system that occurred on 19 September 1997, on the Great Western Main Line at Southall, west London. Seven people were killed and 139 injured. Great Western Trains were fined £1.5 million for violations of health and safety law in connection with the accident.
The crash occurred after the 10:32 Great Western Trains passenger train from Swansea to London Paddington, worked by power cars 43173 + 43163 and operating with a defective Automatic Warning System (AWS), passed a red (danger) signal (SPAD), preceded by two cautionary signals, and collided with a freight train entering Southall goods yard shortly before 13:20 local time. Six people were killed, and a seventh passenger died in hospital.
If the AWS equipment on the High Speed Train (HST) passenger train had been working, the chance of the accident occurring would have been highly unlikely, though not completely eliminated, since the AWS is only an advisory system. The driver's attention had been distracted (he had bent down to pack his bag) and he did not observe the preceding signals visually, but AWS would have given him a clear audible warning, which would have required him to acknowledge the warning. Failure to acknowledge the warning would have caused the train's brakes to be applied. Automatic Train Protection (ATP) equipment would have almost certainly prevented the accident. The train was fitted with ATP but this was switched off. At the time of the accident, the ATP equipment was not required to be switched on, as it had proved troublesome in service. In addition, not all drivers had been trained on it.
Following this accident and the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the train operating company First Great Western now requires all its trains to have ATP switched on. If the equipment is faulty the train is taken out of service.
The passenger train driver, Larry Harrison, was initially charged with manslaughter, but the case was dropped. His employer, Great Western Trains, was fined £1.5 million for not having a system to ensure high speed trains were not operated for long journeys with AWS inoperative.
The action of the signalman in giving the freight train precedence over the HST with the faulty AWS has been criticised. However, this was a perfectly standard and safe manoeuvre, in order to regulate the passage of trains to minimise overall delay; the signaller was not and would not have been required to be aware that the HST's AWS was switched off and would have no expectation that the driver of the passenger train would ignore the signals indicating he should stop. The key point, as identified in the report, was that drivers had become increasingly reliant on AWS with single-manning and high speeds and that it was no longer acceptable to run trains at full speed if the equipment was inoperative. Operating rules were changed accordingly.
Power car 43173 was written off and scrapped at Pig's Bay, having sustained heavy damage during the accident.
- BBC News On this day article
- Health and Safety Commission report by Professor John Uff published 24 February 2000. 14 MB pdf file.
- Report by the Health and Safety Executive on progress made on the recommendations of the original report (February 2002). 333 kB pdf file.
- Danger Ahead! Southall 1997
- Professor John Uff QC FREn. "The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report". HSE Books. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- Hall, Stanley (1999). Hidden Dangers. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7137-1973-7.
- Vaughan, Adrian (2000). Tracks to Disaster. Ian Allan.