Home » News

‘Ineffectively managed’ train driver disabled emergency brake system

Train operator West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) has been fined £200,000 after one of its steam locomotives passed a signal at danger (ignoring a “stop” signal without authority) with its emergency brake overridden.

‘Ineffectively managed’ train driver disabled emergency brake system
WCRC's steam locomotive passed a signal at danger on 7 March 2015 (stock photo) | Image credit: ©Linda Steward

The incident happened at Wootton Bassett junction in Wiltshire on 7 March 2015. The train stopped almost 700 m after the signal, across the busy high speed junction on the Great Western mainline. An accident did not occur, however a collision between the steam locomotive and another train was narrowly avoided. Both trains were carrying about 750 people in total. 

According to the case summary used by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) in the prosecution and which it later sent to IOSH Magazine, the incident was caused by the isolation of a crucial train protection system that, as a result, did not interfere and stop the train when it approached the signal at excessive speed. 

The ORR investigated the incident and found significant failings in WCRC’s managerial controls. The company had not implemented appropriate procedures, training or staff monitoring to stop intentional misuse of the Train Protection and Warning System equipment (TPWS). TPWSs are designed to automatically stop trains which approach or pass a signal at danger. 

“Our evidence showed the train’s driver, Melvyn Cox, directed a colleague to turn off his essential safety system, designed to automatically apply an emergency brake,” ORR said in a statement. 

At Swindon Crown Court, WCRC pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It must pay £64,000 in costs in addition to the fine.

Cox admitted failings under Sections 7(a) and 8 of the act, which require employees to take care of their own safety and that of others at work, and prohibit the reckless interference with equipment in the interests of health and safety. He received a four-month custodial sentence and was suspended for 18 months. 

Ian Prosser, HM chief inspector of Railways, said: “WCRC’s ineffective management led to their train driver deliberately misusing a key safety system on a train travelling between Bristol and Southall. This prosecution has led to WCRC taking significant steps to improve its management of safety, with support from the regulator.”

In March, the ORR lifted a prohibition notice it served on WCRC on 17 February. Under the terms of the prohibition, the company was unable to operate trains on the mainline network until ORR was satisfied its governance and operations met industry practice and were fit for the scale of its operation. 

In a statement, ORR said it “demanded, and has now received evidence of, assurances that steps have been taken to remedy the issues we identified”. 

The train operator introduced clearer governance structures with proper accountability for safety, more robust risk assessments and enhanced processes for managing staff, with a focus on safety culture.


Keeley Downey was the former assistant editor of IOSH Magazine. Previously she was editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine


  • Second version more

    Permalink Submitted by Ian Dronsfield CMIOSH on 30 June 2016 - 09:51 pm

    Second version more information

    Safety in railway train driving cabs.
    Making ineffective driving safety equipment.
    On many older locos and multiple units trains the action of moving the reverser away from direction of travel whilst moving makes the Driving safety device inoperative when reverser control is replaced to direction of travel whilst still moving no brakes are applied, with no proof that this action has been taken. Drivers during the training period should be made aware that this action is against the law and a reference should be made in railway rule book section employment and discipline employees could make themselves liable to dismissal if they miss use any equipment or placed there for there safety or others safety.
    I am aware that on modern locos and multiple units the brakes would be applied if this action is taken on a moving train, but only if moving faster than 5 MPH.
    My background train driver then train driving instructor, examiner, many years ago.
    Safety advisor, auditor construction and railways mainly retired.
    Please let me know if you act on act information given.

  • Ian - It's nothing to do with

    Permalink Submitted by Will on 6 July 2016 - 06:59 am

    Ian - It's nothing to do with that, and that kind of behaviour would show up on an OTDR download anyway, which all mainline certified traction has to be fitted with.

    In this case, the driver failed to cancel the automatic warning system in time after a warning was received for a temporary speed restriction. When they noticed the brakes applying, the fireman isolated the system, which resulted in the brakes releasing. In the interim, the train had passed a yellow cautionary aspect, which the driver had not registered, probably due to distraction, so made no attempt to slow the train. When he noticed the red signal ahead, the brake was fully applied, but far too late to stop, and the performance of the brake wasn't particularly great either, so the train came to a stand over a mainline junction, having missed a side on collision with a high speed express by about a minute.


Add new comment