Train operator charged with safety breach

A TRAIN operator has been charged over alleged health and safety breaches which led to a rush-hour passenger train going nearly two-and-a-half miles through its intended stop.

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has launched a criminal prosecution against Southeastern following the incident on the London to Hastings line on November 8, 2010.

The 8am train, which passes through Etchingham, Robertsbridge, Battle and Crowhurst, should have stopped at Stonegate station.

But fresh leaf fall and rain had led to poor rail conditions and the driver of the train was unable to reduce the 64mph speed he had reached just before braking on the approach to Stonegate.

He used the emergency brake, with the train going through the station at about 50mph, passing a level crossing at Crowhurst Bridge in Burwash before coming to a stop 2.45 miles from the station.

A report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said the train failed to stop as there was “almost certainly” no sand in the sand hoppers which helps the train to brake.

A spokesperson from the ORR said: “Southeastern is facing charges under section 2(1) and 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which results from the company’s failure to protect the safety of its employees and those using the railway, by not providing an effective system of work to reliably ensure the availability of sand on trains for use as part of the braking system.

“Sand, under certain seasonal weather conditions eg, leaf fall, assists breaking performance.”

A Southeastern spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed that ORR has chosen to prosecute.

“As we made clear at the time, this was a significant incident which we have taken very seriously.

“In conjunction with Network Rail we undertook a thorough investigation and also worked closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) on its investigation and have fully implemented all RAIB’s recommendations.

“We never compromise on safety and we have made changes to procedures to further reduce the possibility of this extremely rare event occurring again.”

The first hearing has been scheduled for May 24 at Sevenoaks Magistrates Court.