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February 25, 2011 / clayliesstill

Heavy snow + no brakes = train crash…

…that’s the unstartling conclusion of a RAIB report into the derailment of a Stobart Rail freight train at Carrbridge in the Highlands last January.

The train had made a long descent from Slochd summit and was travelling at around 65 mph on the approach to the points outside Carrbridge when the driver attempted and failed to brake.

The train left the line on a runout, its forward momentum eventually overcome by trees. The runout had been built after a fatal crash 60 years before, when set of runaway freight wagons were lost at Slochd Summit and ran 5 miles down the line into the front of another freight train, killing two of the crew.

Thorough as ever, the report outlines the factors behind the crash:

  • Large build up of lineside snow (around 40 cms of snow had fallen in previous weeks) due to use of ‘miniature snow ploughs’ which allowed snow to be disturbed and blown into the train undercarriage
  • Brake failure caused by ice build up and potentially water ingress into brake pads
  • Inadequate brake testing procedures for drivers
  • The driver’s failure to test the brakes adequately

The build up of ice around brake shoes and rigging occurred because of very heavy snow fall over previous weeks which had left in large piles on either side of the line. When the driver was ascending Slochd he tested the brakes for a few seconds while on full throttle and incorrectly perceived them to be working.

Recommendations are obvious: plough the snow further away, lower speeds in snowy conditions and make sure drivers know to do serious brake tests.

In other countries, of course, the build up of ice and snow on the brakes is dealt with in a more prosaic matter, a bloke gets out of the train and smashes it off with an iron pole:

But the real recommendation for me is the same as it ever is with the RAIB and rail safety in general: why isn’t the same degree of scrutiny conducted regarding road crashes?

The thousands dead on the roads get a bit of investigation, but most of the injuries don’t.

Road freight vehicle leave the road all the time, yet 69 reports on these incidents never appear.

(Actually there is one lorry crash that might receive a bit more investigation than normal, but only because it happened to crash off a bridge and hit a train)


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