Ufton Nervet rail crash
|Date||6 November 2004|
|Location||Ufton Nervet, Berkshire|
|Rail line||Reading to Taunton Line|
|Operator||First Great Western|
|Cause||Obstruction on line|
|Deaths||7 (including the driver of the car involved)|
|List of UK rail accidents by year|
On 6 November 2004 at 18:12 GMT, the 17:35 service from London Paddington to Plymouth, an InterCity 125 (HST) led by a Class 43 power car (43019) collided with a stationary car at an automatic level crossing close to the rural West Berkshire village of Ufton Nervet. The inquest concluded that the crash was caused by Brian Drysdale, a chef at Wokefield Park Hotel 3 miles (4.8 km) away, committing suicide by parking his car on the former crossing.
All eight coaches derailed and the rear of the 220-metre (720 ft) InterCity 125 train came to rest about 100 m (110 yd) beyond the crossing. Seven people were killed in the crash: the car's driver, the driver of the train, and five of its passengers. About 200 people were on board at the time of the incident (official estimates are around 180–200). About half of these were injured, 12 of them seriously. Eleven people were cut free from the wreckage. The high structural integrity of the Mark 3 coaches prevented a much higher death toll, plus the fact that the more lightly loaded first-class coaches were at the leading end of the train.
More than 20 ambulances from 5 counties and 14 fire engines attended the crash. Injured passengers were first helped at the Winning Hand pub, 300 m north. Survivors in some of the carriages used safety hammers to break the train windows after the collision to get out. The incident occurred during the hour of darkness, and so light sticks and mobile phones were used by passengers to provide some light. 61 injured passengers were taken variously to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and the North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke. Other passengers were treated at the scene and the Winning Hand pub for minor injuries.
The crash, investigation and necessary repairs blocked the direct railway between London and the south-west peninsular until the morning of 16 November 2004. The line re-opened under temporary speed restrictions to allow the bedding in of ballast. In the meantime long-distance trains operated via Swindon and Westbury and local services were replaced by rail and bus shuttles.
In the United Kingdom, automatic half-barrier level crossings (AHB/AHBC) are used on roads where traffic is unlikely to queue across the crossing and where rail line-speed is not more than 100 mph (160 km/h). Other than the short line of sight for high-speed transit, lessened during hours of darkness, railway signalling control and train drivers have no means of knowing if many rural crossings are clear. Half barriers close the road to traffic approaching the crossing and as a failsafe against become waylaid allow any road users crossing to escape without the need for a local controller to raise the barriers.
The crash was at a level crossing on the narrow lane linking the village of Ufton Nervet to the Bath Road (A4), about 300 m (330 yd) from their junction. Most of the surrounding land is rural including all of the land immediately by the railway.
An investigation was carried out by Thames Valley Police and British Transport Police. A preliminary report by the Health and Safety Executive indicated that the car stopped on the level crossing before any warnings and failed to react to the barrier alarm sequence. A minor deflection of the stationary car to one side by the train derailed the forward bogie, which continued to travel at about 25° to the rails until reaching the points at the start of a loop. At this point the power car derailed completely, causing the remainder of the train to derail.
- The automatic half-barrier equipment and its associated ancillary equipment is in good condition and properly maintained.
- The train driver shut off power and coasted for around four seconds, which was normal for this point in the journey. He then applied the emergency brakes at or about the time of impact with the car.
- All lighting was lost in all the coaches during the accident. As a result, passengers and crew found orientation difficult, though the provision of glow sticks alleviated this to some extent. Some passengers who attempted to break windows in order to escape from the vehicle were hampered by breakage of the window hammers, and by the difficulty of reaching the upper windows of a vehicle leaning heavily to one side.
- No evidence has been presented that the maintenance condition of the train contributed in any way to the derailment or exacerbated its consequences.
- No evidence has been presented to the inquiry that would indicate there were any deficiencies in the fitness for duty on the part of the staff of either Network Rail or First Great Western.
The RSSB report made recommendations including improving emergency communications at the level crossing and moving a set of points whose position was a factor in the train's derailment. Network Rail implemented all the safety recommendations.
On 1 June 2005 it was announced that an inquest into the crash would be held at the Guildhall in Windsor, Berkshire. The inquest was expected to last 12 days, starting on 17 October 2005. A delay ensued over whether the families of the victims should be granted legal aid. The inquest finally began in October 2007. A policeman who had witnessed the crash, PC Brazier, testified at the inquest. He told the jury that he believed the crash was caused by a suicide attempt. The Forensic Accident Investigator, David Price, told the inquest that he had been able to determine that the car had been parked on the level crossing with its engine switched off, the handbrake fully applied, the vehicle's lights switched off, the steering on a partial left-hand turn (which was not consistent with driving across the crossing), and that its fuel tank still contained at least 8 litres (about 2 gallons) of petrol.
On 1 November 2007 the inquest returned the verdict that the crash was caused by Brian Drysdale's suicide. A support network, the Ufton Nervet Train Crash Network, was set up for survivors and relatives of the victims.
Royal Humane Society awards
In 2005 the Royal Humane Society awarded its Bronze Medal to two passengers who were on the train: salesman Brian Kemsley and Royal Marines company sergeant major Tom McPhee. The two men found nine-year-old Louella Main and her mother Anjanette Rossi, both of whom had been thrown out of the train by the force of the crash. Rossi was dead but Kemsley testified to the 2007 inquest:
We came across a young person on the tracks and me and Tommy could see blood coming from the little girl's head and she had a little pulse. We were trying our hardest to keep her going.
Despite the men's efforts Main died of her injuries. Kemsley then found a clergyman who had been a passenger on the train, and got him to walk back to the bodies to say a prayer. McPhee also found injured passenger Sharmin Bacchus trapped in the wreckage, and kept her conscious until she was freed.
List of fatalities
- Stanley Martin, 54, of Torquay, Devon (the train driver)
- Anjanette Rossi, 38, of Speen, Berkshire (the mother of Louella Main)
- Louella Main, 9, of Speen, Berkshire (the daughter of Anjanette Rossi)
- Charlie Matthews, 72, of Warminster, Wiltshire
- Barry Strevens, 55, of Wells, Somerset
- Emily Webster, 14, of Doccombe, Moretonhampstead, Devon
- Brian Drysdale, 48, of Reading, Berkshire (the car driver)
Beside the level crossing a small gravelled "Area of Reflection" has been created with two wooden benches facing an engraved steel memorial plaque remembering all people affected by the collision. Also, on what would have been his 55th birthday, First Great Western named power car 43139 after the driver of the train.
The crossing saw subsequent fatalities in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014. The 2010 incident was found not suspicious. The 2012-incident related Coroner's report recorded and open verdict as there was insufficient evidence to be certain that that fatality was the result of suicide. The 2012 incident also caused injury to the InterCity 125 driver. British Transport Police concluded that the circumstances surrounding the 2014 fatality were not suspicious.
There was a near miss at the same level crossing on 4 September 2011. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch investigated the cause, which was found to be an error by a signaller working in a central location who failed to contact the train driver and the attendant at the crossing. This failure was likely due to work overload of the signaller.
Survivors of the 2004 crash, local councillors, campaigners and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers all responded by renewing calls for either full barriers or a replacement bridge at the crossing. Network Rail admitted it had "significantly underestimated" the cost of the bridge and was seeking more funding, but stated that nevertheless it had been "assessing the best way of placing a large structure on a complicated and constricted site, near a busy road and a river". The company declared that "The investment into the modernisation of the Great Western Main Line has given us access to the substantial funding needed and we hope to be able to proceed very shortly".
In July 2012 an Internet petition was started by Liberal Democrat members of West Berkshire Council and a Hungerford resident to lobby for full barriers and closed circuit television to be installed at the level crossing. The petition closed with 148 votes of support.
On 6 July 2012, Network Rail announced that it was considering either converting the crossing to full barriers or a bridge, and that the latter would have the advantage that Network Rail could safely increase train speeds on that part of the line. Network Rail said it would decide whether to implement either of these options in "about three or four months".
On Friday 2 November 2012, Network Rail issued a news release stating that it would like to replace the level crossing with a road bridge, but funding would need to be secured. Geoff Mayes, the Liberal Democrat councillor who started the petition for full barriers and CCTV, objected to the solution of building a bridge. He cited lack of funding, design and building timescales exacerbated by its position close to the River Kennet. He also suggested that a bridge would endanger road traffic and pedestrians.
In March 2014 Network Rail said it "remained on course" to replace the level crossing "by mid-2014 or 2015". In April the company made exploratory boreholes and other tests to help it to evaluate the site, and in October 2014 it submitted bridge designs to West Berkshire Council.
In August 2015, West Berkshire Council approved plans for a road bridge to replace the level crossing, with Network Rail announcing that work to construct the bridge would begin in 2016. Preparatory work began at the site in September 2015, and on 18 April 2016 Network Rail held an official ceremony as construction work began.
- List of British rail accidents
- Fox River Grove level crossing accident
- 2005 Glendale train crash – a crash in January 2005 on the Los Angeles commuter rail system in similar circumstances.
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- BBC reporter eyewitness report – BBC News
- Seven train crash dead are named – BBC News
- Ufton Nervet crash victim recalls horror – ten years on – Newbury Weekly News
- Preliminary Coroner's summary - corporateaccountability.org
- Preliminary Health & Safety Exec. Report – PDF
- Rail Safety & Standards Board inquiry – PDF
- First Great Western press release – PDF