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Paddington Rail Tragedy - Driver error possbile cause of disaster

  : Wednesday, October 06, 1999
Railtrack has anounced that the signalling system at the scene of the collision between two trains on Tuesday

Photo: telegraph/reuters
The recovery operation continues at Ladbroke Grove, London
Is there a design fault at Ladbroke Grove?
While investigators may be concentrating on whether the Thames Trains' "Turbo" passed signal sn109 at red, observers are wondering how the points could be set to carry the train into the path of the oncoming express.

Had the points and the signals been designed so that the road could not be set for the commuter train's movement unless the signal for the express was red then the accident might have been avoided. Despite missing the red signal, the commuter train would have carried on along the same track, perhaps providing the driver with vital seconds in which to realise the error.

In the days of semaphore signalling, practice which had been established over many years of experience ensured interlocking between points and signals. This was so designed that a signalman could not set up a conflicting movement such as appears to have been the case at Paddington.

was working correctly and that the Great Western Trains IC 125 approaching London was running under green signals.

A joint statement issued by Railtrack, Thames Trains and First Great Western states "the signals concerned were in full working order and that the First Great Western train was authorised to proceed under green lights". In the light of reports that the other train had passed a signal at danger, the statement adds "Investigations will now concentrate on the behaviour of the Thames turbo train."

Reports suggest that the commuter train passed two yellow lights and then the red light. This last, signal no sn109 has been the subject of complaints to Railtrack from Train Operating Companies (TOCs) and the drivers' union ASLEF. It has been passed while at red on eight occasions in the last 6 years. They say that the signal is badly sited and not easily visible to drivers due to other equipment on the lineside.

This comes amid a rising controversy over the implementation of an effective automatic train control system. Automatic Train Protection (ATP) is installed on the Great Western mainline. This system warns a driver if a danger signal is overun and is able to stop the train if the driver doesn't take action. The Government, on advice from the Health & Safety Executive and Railtrack has ordered that a less sophisticated and less effective system must be installed. This system, known as TPWS has been developed by Railtrack and is able to stop a train that has passed a red signal. It offers less protection however and is only effective with trains travelling at speeds up to 70 mph. It is also considerably less expensive.

ASLEF has announced that unless agreement to install ATP is forthcoming, the union will ballot its members over strike action.

People who are concerned about friends and relatives who may have been on either of the trains can contact the New Scotland Yard casualty centre helpline:

0171 834 7777

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This file last updated: Wednesday, 06-Oct-1999 22:08:46 EDT
Copyright © David Fry 1999

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