2 Passenger trains collide head-on a rural single line. Five people lose their lives on a foggy autumn morning.
One of them wasn’t supposed to be there. What went wrong, who was to blame, and could it have been prevented?
Join us this episode to find out, on Signals to Danger.
Hello and welcome back to Signals to danger. This is episode 8 of season one.
I’ll start as ever by thanking you all for showing up, downloading and streaming. Welcome back to our regulars, thought the last episode saw a big leap in terms of downloads in the first 7 days, so either you were all keen or there might be some new listeners our there, if thats the case, hello to you all!
Announcements to start as ever, first and foremost being me asking you to like, share and subscribe, its the best way to grow the podcast and it’s working so far!
I want to give a special thanks to our three new patrons who’ve signed up since the last episode, Martin, Michael and Alex, your support is very appreciated and I’m happy to have you on board. If you too would like to come along and support the podcast get yourself along to Patreon.com/signalstodanger. Our general support tier is £3 a month and for that you get a shout out, and the occasional post on Patreon. I’m still looking at options for higher tiers so if there’s anything you can think of, let me know!
Next announcement is me asking you for help. Going forwards I would like to cover the tragic, vandalism instigated derailment at Greenock. In 1994 there were two deaths caused because two teenagers decided to stick concrete blocks onto the tracks. I think it could have some really good learning points, however I’ve come up against a blocker. One of the main sources I use for every episode is the official report, and then I supplement this with other sources, news etc. I cannot, for the life of me, track down an investigation report where I normally find them.
If you know where to get hold of any documents on this one, or even if you have them yourselves, please get in touch and let me know. Your help might be the difference between that episode happening, or it remaining on the drawing board.
The last few weeks have been very busy for the RAIB, in fact since I started writing this episode I’ve needed to amend this section twice as further updates have come in. I’ve always been keen to point out that despite the fact we so infrequently hear of tragedy on the railway, accidents and investigations are still taking place. This is punctuated in the fact that the RAIB has released, in the last two weeks, 5 separate investigation reports.
These covered a significant signal passed at danger, a SPAD, near Loughborough, the derailment of a freight train near Wanstead park, a collision between two empty stock LNER trains at outside Neville Hill depot in Leeds and the collision between a derailed locomotive and a passenger train at Bromsgrove.
The last, and most serious of these reports was covered the tragic fatalities of two track workers at Margam near Port Talbot in Wales. Any death on the railway is a huge loss, but this report highlights some key opportunities that were missed which could have prevented this happening.
All of these reports are available for free on the RAIB website, so I’d recommend reading them, I’d probably go into more detail if there weren’t so many of them. Between them they raise some really interesting points so please give them a look.
Anyway, that was a bit of a long intro this time so thanks for your patience. Let’s move into today’s episode.
Rural Kent, on a peaceful Saturday morning in autumn. The rolling fog started to thin as the as the sun began to burn through. The quiet faded away as emergency services began to arrive at the isolated section of a rural branch line, Two trains could be found their, showing the scars of a dreadful collision. The year is 1994, and the place, Cowden.
This is Signals to Danger, A podcast where we look at major rail disasters which have occurred in the UK, explain what happened, how the investigation was carried out, and how each of these accidents shaped the industry going forwards.
I’m Dan, I’m work within the rail industry in my day to day life but today I’ll be the one taking you through this podcast.
If you’ve listened before you’ll know what happens next! The year is 1994. The year saw a few significant events, some lesspositive than others. We’ll start with one of them. February saw police start digging up the garden at 25 Cromwell street, Gloucester. Four days later, Fred and Rose West were arrested for multiple murders and charged later in the year.
March sees the absolutley fantastic Schindlers list pick up seven Oscars including best picture and in April, Nelson Mandela is named as South Africas first democratically elected president, finally signifiing the end of apartheid.
September yet again shows us how disaster can be found elsewhere, as the car Ferry Estonia sinks in the Baltic sea, taking the life of 852 people.
In rail news, this year saw the completion and opening of the Channel Tunnel, still the third longest rail tunnel in the world. It still has the longest underwater section and allowed people to get on a train in the UK and get off in France. Connecting our mainline network with that of the continents.
We’re really pushing up against the end of British Rail at this point, a 3 year privatisation plan started this April, and saw passenger services split up into 2 shadow franchises, or passenger train operating units. Now that we have an idea of what’s going on at this time, lets visit October of this year.
Normally we would start the story by talking about the train involved. This time round it’s not quite as simple as that, so lets start talking about the name on the episode title instead, Cowden.
Cowden is a lovely little village, with a current population of 800 people. You can find it in the district of Sevenoaks, Kent, around 30 miles south of London. The village is home to a lottery winner, a grade two listed pub and up until his death in 1988, Roger Hargreaves, creator of the Mr Men.
Like quite a lot of countryside villages and towns, the station itself isn’t actually in the village, instead you need to travel about a mile out until you pass under the line at an underbridge and find the station on the the left, but when you get there you’ll find the opitomy of an english countryside station. A brick station building sits on the single platform and the single line curves away in each direction, bordered by trees and the kent countryside.
You might have picked up on this already, but this week we’ve taken a bit of a step away from the high speed main lines we’ve covered in other episodes. Cowden can be found on the Oxted line, a relatively quiet and low traffic line which runs from South Croyden, in the capital down to the Oxted in Surrey, just south, at Hurst green, it branches into two sperate lines, one leading down to East Grinford, and one to Uckfield, both of which are market towns in Surrey. While the line as far as Hurst Green has double tracking thorughout, once you move into the two branches, a great deal is now single tracked.
Single tracking was something British Rail did a lot of on less used branches, if services are infrequent enough that you don’t need the extra capacity, half as much track means half as much to maintain. This happened in many place, for years I worked around the Huddersfield area, and the Penistone line which helped to link Huddersfield to Barnsley and Sheffield is a prime example. A great deal of this came out of the Beeching inspired rationalisation of lines which survived the axe.
Cowden used to have two platforms, one that currently exists and another opposite. The platform that’s left is the old Down platform, leading away from London and towards uckfield. An Up platform used to exist, linked by a footbridge, but when the other line was removed in 1990 the Up platform was taken out of use.
These new single line railways had to be operated safely, and the most obvious and clear rule was that you couldnt have two trains travelling towards each other on a single line. On very short branches this means one train at a time would work down, and then back up the branch.
While very safe, it’s not very practical on longer lines, so when BR rationalised them, they left some sections of double track. These could be stations where both platforms were left in use, or passing loops on the sections in between, this means multiple trains can run along the branch, timed to pass each other at these double track sections.
Which is the exact situation we find at Cowden and on the Oxted line. Cowden can be found in the middle of a single track section of line, between Ashurst to the south and Hever to the North. Trains entering the section where the station can be found are only allowed in when the line is clear.
So with that background, let’s start to talk about trains!
2E24. Echo 24 was a Down passenger train, headed south along the line from Oxted to Uckfield on the morning of Saturday 15th October 1994. With Driver Rees at the controls and guard duties being carried out by a Mr Boyd, this service had left Oxted at 08:04, an early service which would get people into the market town in time for work, shopping and days with the family.
The journey was normal, with no major issues, despite the fact that the weather was pretty grim. The 15th was an extremely foggy morning, in some places visibility was only 50 metres. As the train departed Hever it continued down the line, as it travelled south it climbed gradually, flanked by trees, curving left and right through the mist.
Shortly before half past 8, Echo 24 arrived in the platform at Cowden station, Passengers alighted and boarded, Boyd gave his signal and Ress started out, on to the single line southbound.
This is where we differ from most of the previous episodes, predominantly we’ve only needed to talk about one train per episode, but today, I’m going to give you a second headcode. 2E27.
E27 was the service headed in the other direction along the Oxted line. This does show us one of the conventions of how headcodes are assigned. Normally, but not always, even numbers are assigned to trains headed in one direction, and odd numbers in the other. On the Oxted line at this time, Odd numbers were assigned to Up services, headed to Oxted and in turn London. Even Numbers took you down to Uckfield.
Departing Uckfield at 0800, this service would bring people, as the Down train was, from their homes to a market town for socialising, shopping and work. The added benefit of the Up was that in Oxted you could make a connection into the capital for a day in the big city.
The crew of 2 Echo 27 was, as Echo 24, a driver and a guard. The driver, Barton, was accompanied by Guard Brett-Andrews. They journied north through the same fog, passing through Ashurst and continuing Northbound.
Both trains were composed of the same traction, formed of two, three car class 205 diesel multiple units, meaning each train was 6 cars long in total. The 205’s were nicknamed thumpers, on account of the noise they made while underway, a fairly distinctive sound created by their four cylinder engines. One thing that was certain about these trains was that they weren’t the newest traction on the network. Built for BR between 1957 and 62, the units had provided dutiful service in the South East for over thirty years by this point.
In their lifetime these carriages had seen their share of liveies and logos. While they were brought in and operated by the Southern region of British Railways, in time this became the London and South Eastern Sector, or LS&E. In 1986 this was relaunched as Network Southeast, bringing with it a new paint scheme and wider branding. By 1994 the sweeping changes and impending privatisation meant that they were now operated by one of the shadow franchises created to pave the way, Network SouthCentral.
Driver Rees was sat at the controls of one of these thumpers as he pulled his train out of Cowden platform. He brought his train into the sweeping left hand curve until, to his horror, he saw the front of an identical unit heading down the single line towards him. He jumped from his seat, releasing the Drivers Safety Device which automatically applied the brakes. There was, however, no way to prevent the collision occurring, there just wasn’t any time. Rees managed to run back into the engine compartment behind his cab, but no further before the collision took place.
Musical interlude – sombre
While driver Rees had been at the front of the train, his guard, Mr Boyd, had remained at the rear to carry out his duties as required by the role. Shortly after leaving Cowden, he became aware of an emergency brake application, and almost immediately there was what he described as a ‘crunch’ and the train came suddenly to a stand. Leaning out of the window he looked to the front of the train and could see that there were derailed vehicles. Assuming the train must have struck something laid on the track He walked forwards along the train, till what he reached what he presumed was the leading drivers cab. Finding it empty, he came to the rational understanding that his driver must have gone forwards along the line to place protection, detonators, often called dets, on the line and to signal approaching trains to stop with flags.
After putting his own Dets down in front of the train he walked back to the rear, doing what he could to comfort and reassure passengers as he did so. He then walked the 300metres back to Cowden station to telephone for help.
As rescuers began to arrive, and railwaymen arrived on site the full scope of the disaster became clear. When Mr Boyd had walked to the front of the train, what he actually had reached was the rear of the Up service. Between the wreckage that had accumulated in the middle of the derailment and the fact that both trains were formed of the exact same type of rolling stock, he hadn’t realised that the unthinkable had happened. His train and another had somehow collided head-on.
While the rear 4 carriages of each train were relatively undamaged, that couldn’t be said for the leading vehicles.
The front coach of the down train, where Driver Rees had been located lay on it’s left hand side next to the track, both of it’s bogies were ripped away, and the front end had been pushed inwards by around 2 metres. The second coach had also suffered damage with a displaced bogie and damage to the components holding it to the train.
The second coach of the up train, the one which had been travelling n the oppoosite direction, had come to be damaged at it’s front end, with end body panels torn away and bodyside panels torn away on left-hand side.
But non of this compared to the damage found to the leading carriage of the Up train. In short, this vehicle was completely destroyed above the level of the floor. The frame itself was severely damaged at the front end and the leading bogie had been turn off as well. There was very little recognisable about the carriage.
Rescue work continued, and passengers were freed from the wreckage and evacuated from the trackside. But when all was said and done, five people lost their lives in the Kent countryside.
2 passengers, Mrs Maura Pointer and her Husband, Raymond Pointer had been travelling in the lead carriage of the Up train, and flung from it as the carriage disintegrated.
Driver David Rees, the driver of the down train, had managed to run from his cab, but not far enough to be able to save his life.
He was joined by the Driver of the Up train, Mr Brian Barton, who was found trapped between the wreckage of the two trains.
The fifth and final fatality threw up more questions than it did answers. When Mr Boyd walked to the rear of the Up train, he didn’t find his counterpart, Jonathon Brett-Andrews there. This was because his body was located in the same place as Driver Barton’s, up at the front of the train.
Another accident had concluded, and another five lives had been lost on the rails of the UK.
Music Interlude – Longer
As ever, following a significant accident, an investigation has to be carried out. Major C B Holden, Her Majesties chief inspecting officer of railways, and the Railway Inspectorate set out to report on the events of the 15th October.
As part of the investigation into the accident at Cowden there were several questions which needed answering, as in every investigation.
Firstly – and most importantly, Why were both trains travelling in opposite directions on the same track? There were protections in place to prevent this but something had gone wrong.
To answer this question they would need to look into several other factors, were signals set correctly, had the trains themselves malfunctioned, was there an error in driver input… This was a big question, but an important one.
Secondly – Were there any factors which could have prevented the accident from occurring? Any opportunities missed?
Thirdly – There had clearly been an astronomical amount of damage to at least one of the vehicles of the trains, was this unavoidable, or had the age and design directly affected the outcome?
To understand the first question we need to understand the safe systems of work set up around single lines. We’ve spoken in the past about double and quad track layouts, locations where, unless something has gone wrong, each line travels only in the one direction. An Up line and and down line.
This is safe, everybody knows where to expect trains to come from, trains headed in separate directions separated from each other physically.
But, it’s really important to know and recognise that single lines are not dangerous. They pop up all over the country and to travel on a train on one them doesn’t put you at risk.
This is due to the fact that there are some really strong controls around their use, and the management of trains using them. The first and most important part of this, is signalling.
We’ve talked previously about the basic principle of signalling, Only one train, in one section of track, at any one time. This certainly doesn’t change on single lines.
Over the years there have been many incidents where trains have, sadly, ended up in collision on single lines, so the industry developed several systems to keep them safe. Some of the earliest railways ran solely on timetables, so trains would simply be timed to pass one at a time but that proved unreliable, especially when trains were delayed.
One of the next developments came when the telegraph and block instruments were invented, allowing signallers to talk to each other. Signaller A could ask Signaller B whether the single line section was clear before he sent his train down it. This went a long way towards safely controlling these sections.
However, some of the worst accicents in the country have been the result of errors by signallers. It hasn’t always been the result of malicious circumvention of rules, sometimes something as simple as forgetting where you are in a progress, or accepting a train through muscle memory has had disastrous consequences. In 1915, 226 lives were lost at Quintinshill in Scotland on the West Coast Main Line. This is the worst loss of life in a UK rail accident, and the cause? Signaller error.
So, it was clear that while communication of signallers is crucial, it can’t be relied on entirely. So, other measures are used. One of these is the system of tokens.
A token is an item which a driver must be in possession of prior to entering a section of track. Initially these were a large staff or loop, physically passed from station staff to driver. The principle was with only one token, two trains couldn’t be in the same section, as the other would need to wait outside the section for the token to be handed over by the preceeding train. Even if a signaller accidentality set the route and signal for the train to enter the section, the driver wouldn’t move his train knowing he didn’t hold the necessary token.
The token system developed as the railway grew, in some places into tokens that were locked in a telegraph machine in the box, that could only be unlocked when two signallers agreed that it was appropriate. Eventually the evolution of tokens led to Radio Electric Token Block. A system where physical tokens on remote single lines can be replaced with “virtual” tokens issued over radio by signallers and displayed on in-cab equipment. This has real cost benefits when compared to conventional signalling infrastructure in these remote locations. You’ll find RETB on some places such as the West Highland line.
Interestingly, the line at Cowden didn’t have a token system, but there was a fundamental difference here, to most single lines which have these. The line had only been singled in 1990, and it wasn’t singled in it’s entirity. Between Oxted and Uckfield 3 single track sections had been created, and at the same time modern signalling had been introduced on the line controlled from Oxted signal box. The protections included Autmated warning system (AWS), track circuiting and something call Solid state interlocking.
That all sounds very good, and it was! AWS would give a visible and audible warning to any driver approaching a red signal, and if he didn’t acknowledge it would apply the brakes manually.
Track circuiting is a system which uses the metal axle of the train to complete a circuit and tell signallers the location of trains, so they could be kept track of, and Solid State Interlocking was a processor based development of good old fashioned interlocking made of bars and notches in the earlier days. This system prevented signals and points being set against each other.
All of this should have provided a good level of protection to trains travelling over the line, so what went wrong?
Signalman Webb was on duty at Oxted on the morning of the 15th. Booking on at 0650 he got started with the day’s work. As the day proceeded, he set the route for 2E24, Driver Rees’s down service through the single line section at Cowden, through to the loop at Ashurst and to the signal at the end of the loop, protecting the next single line section. He also set the route for 2E27, the Up service, through Ashurst station and up to OD58, the signal leading into the single line section to Cowden. This was a normal signalling practice and allowed both trains to call at Ashurst without delay. He watched the panel, and when E27 arrived at Ashurst, he set the route for E24 through to Uckfield, as it was now clear. He knew he had nothing to do at this point until E24 passed Blackhurst junction, the North end of the Ashurst loop, so he decided to get his breakfast ready.
Very shortly after he turned his mind to breakfast, he received a critical alarm from the signalling system. The points at Blackham duty were out of correspondance. They werent aligned for the down line, as set, but for the Up. Coupled with the fact that 2 track circuits on the single line were now showing as occupied, Signaller Webb knew that the Up train, 2 E 27 had run through the red signal at the end of the loop, pushed through the points and a collision was now almost certain. He immediately called the control room at Croyden, raising the alarm and requesting emergency services, probably before the collision had even occurred. At the time the alarm sounded, there was still a mile and a half between the trains. He placed collars on the controls of involved equipment, to preserve the set up for the investigation he knew would follow.
There was no way Mr Webb could have done any more, he had no way of contacting the drivers directly, although this would give rise to other questions later on.
In order to back up the acccount of the signalman, on-site investigations were also carried out into the signalling equipment. Barring a small amount of contamination on the inside of the lenses, it was decided that OD58 was showing a normal red aspect under the initial investigation. When more investgators arrived, they noted that the alignment was slightly to the right and below the ideal drivers eyeline. The professional opinion became that it was a “reasonable” red, though fog would have significantly reduced the time it was visible for, but it should still have been visible from between 20 and 50 metres away.
The points showed definative evidence of having been run through in the wrong layout, which confirmed that the signaller had set them for the down service. In fact, one of the good hings about modern signalling, is that the system had a sort of black box, so all the actions taken were recorded, and backed up Webb’s account.
So, signalling, not the cause of the collision. The signal was at danger, so now we need to ask a follow up question, why did the train SPAD? SPAD being the acronym for Signal Passed At Danger.
The possibility was explored as to whether the train had malfuntioned, had the brakes failed or controls jammed? Examinations of the trains on the scene brought up no concerns. There were no significant leaks, no isolated brakes and no overly worn brake blocks. So that wasn’t on the cards either.
So the next possibility was almost unthinkable. Had driver Barton somehow missed the signal? Either through distraction or otherwise? Could this explain why he hadn’t stopped at it and continued on?
Yes it could, except for something we’ve talked about on this podcast a lot. A.W.S.
On the approach to OD58 there was an AWS ramp, with the signal at red the ramp will have triggered a horn and indication on the sunflower of the cab. If this wasn’t acknowledged then the train brakes will have automatically applied. A distracted Barton would have to snap out of it and acknowledge to continue, and if he didn’t the train would of stopped.
When the train equipent was tested, the AWS kit, that which could be found and assesed within the wreckage, was also examined. Maintainance records and lineside equipment were also checked.
The conclusion reached was that the AWS was working, so it must have been acknowledged to pass through the signal.
The answer to that first question – the reason the two trains were in that section was down to an error by the driver of 2E27
The blame lies at the door of the person sat at the controls of 2E27. Sufficient landmarks existed for the driver to know exactly where he was, his route knowledge would support that, and missing the signal shouldn’t have happened. He should also have been focused firmly on the task at hand. He evidently was not.
Part of the reason for the accident may be explained by where the body of Guard Brett-Andrews was located. Alongside Barton.
At the very least, the precense of sombody else in the cab could have been a distraction to Barton, but at worst?
In 1992, Brett-Andrews had been warned by an inspector for riding in the front cab of a train. And then again more severely. In fact, on the 8th of this year, he had been caught yet again and received a formal final warning for it. Outside of a very specific set of circumstances Brett-Andrews had no business in the driving cab during the journey.
But it doesn’t end there.
The guard, brett-andrews, had aspirations to become a driver, and there was speculation that he, and not Barton, may have been at the controls at the time of the accident.
Some of this speculation relied on some allegations around the speed and driving on the day, however these were made by passengers, relatively unqualified to comment on this. There were some pieces of evidence submitted around the timings recorded by the signalling system, however these weren’t stong enough to prove anything.
Other pieces of fuel for this fire were an admitted history of desire to from brett-andrews to be a driver, supported by some unverifiable statements made to the police. There was also some evidence from another railman earlier in the day which firmly placed him in the cab with Barton, even to the point of acknowledging hand signals from there.
Perhaps the most scathing evidence I could find for this theory, is that, according to an article in the independent form 1996, Brett-Andrews had twice been reprimanded for actually driving trains though he wasn’t allowed to. I’m unable to find a second source for this, and I normally wouldn’t put enough stock in a single source to share it, but the author is one Christian Wolmar, if you don’t recognise his name, a cursory glance at his wikipedia page will show why I’m inclined to accept it’s accuracy and professionalism.
In any case, when all was considered by Major Holden, he recorded that although it would be unsafe to come to a definitave conclusion as to who was driving, his belief was that it had been Barton. However, even if it was not Barton, and he’s allowed brett-andrews to take the controls, Driver Barton would remain wholly responsible. To relinquish the controls to brett-andrews Would, in and of itself, have been an unsafe act for which Barton would have been blamed.
The report made the following, fairly unequivocal statement about Driver Barton and his actions on the day;
I am inclined to believe therefore that the driver must have sub-consciously cancelled the AWS warning and was distracted by the other person in the cab at the crucial moment. To have run by the signal in these circumstances is blameworthy but understandable. To have driven on without consciously registering the aspect of the signal to a point where he must have realised that the signal had been passed is not only inexcusable and blameworthy but also totally irresponsible. In this instance it does not matter who was actually at the controls, Driver Barton was in charge of the driving of the train and I conclude therefore that Driver Barton is wholly responsible for the accident.
Knowing the reasons behind the crash gave investigators the knowledge they needed to assess whether or not measures could have prevented it had they been in place.
Clearly, more attentive and responsible driving of the up train would have prevented the accident occurring, but there was a need to identify whether or not and institutional factors impacted on the events of the day.
One stood out as a glaring ommision, but before we dive into it, we need to head back in time a few years, to 1988 and another disaster, Clapham Junction.
Clapham was a tragic event, where 35 lives were lost, but the inquiry charied by Antony Hidden QC gave rise to some fairly large scale changes in the safety culture of the industry. Regulations were brought in off the back of one recommendation which was intended to help manage fatigue and we still call those rules the hidden rules. You’ll see quite often in an operating companies logs how things have been done to avoid breaking Hidden.
But I’m bringing it up because of one fairly specific recommendation.
Number 43. BR shall implement as a priority its programme to install a system of radio communication between driver and signalman on all traction units. The introduction of this system shall be in addition to signal-post telephones and not automatically entail their removal.
The recommendation was made so that there was a reliable and quick way that signallers and traincrew could speak to each other. This could mean a timely emergency call could be made in both directions, as well as more day to day messages, without solely relying on the Lineside telephones.
In 1986, BR had developed something called Cab Secure Radio, or CSR. This would allow for signallers to directly contact trains, reliably, and pass across both routine and emergency communications to them. In the same vein, trains could pass the same type of message back, from the comfort and safety of the cab. This was the ideal product for the job.
There was another option, National Radio Network, a different radio communication system between trains and signallers but it too suffered patchy coverage.
Sir Anthony Hidden’s Recommendation 43 merely called for a system of radio communication between driver and signalman. Nowhere in his recommendations did he lay down a time-scale for this, but it was given in evidence and noted in the report that the target completion date was 1992. However, between then and 1994, a funding hiatus had occurred. While the Uckfield line had been on the list for the provision of CSR, no action had been taken to implement it at the time the hiatus occurred. NRN in fact covered the area served by the Uckfield line at the time of the accident, but with one exception the trains had not been equipped for any form of radio
Even in the event that the trains on the Uckfield branch had been equipped for NRN, the Up train driven by Barton, may have been able to receive a warning message, but the major believed that the terrain around the Down train meant he probably would have been unlikely to receive the message, so NRN would have been unlikely to prevent the accident in it’s entirety, but may have reduced the severity. In any case the lack of radios made it was a moot point.
The majr was quite clear in his assertions about Cab Secure Radio, stating that if CSR had been fitted, the signaller could have delivered a STOP message to both trains and would have been granted an opportunity to prevent the accident in its entirity.
As I said, this line was earmarked for CSR and it was supposed to have been implimented by October 1992. The reasons it apparently didn’t happen then was apparently because the whole thing had been overtaken by what one interviewee described as a ‘funding change of seismic proportions’. This resulted in the moratorium on investment in 1991/92.
This part of the report doesn’t say what the cause of the fundng change was, but do you remember in the intro, when I mentioned that the channel tunnel opened this year?.. couple that in with the inbound privatisation of the network, and I must say my personal opinion is that BR found things they would rather spend the cash on… but i’ll try to stick to what I can cite sources for!
Anyway, in the great tradition of bolting the stable door after the horse was bolted, the decision was taken to install CSR on the Uckfield branch 2 to 3 months after the collision at Cowden.
In 1994, communication equipment was provided by Network SouthCentral to it’s train crews. But, as we’ve established, this was not in the form of radios, it was in the form of Mobile telephones. These on their own however brought some significant issues. No real record was made of what phone was on what train, so signallers had no way of reaching out in any timely manner, not to mention in rural areas, such as Cowden, signal was sporadic to say the least. In fact, the Major’s comments probably serve as the greatest indictment of this method of work;
The provision of mobile telephones, which were regarded as a substitute for an adequate radio system, was unsatisfactory. Carrying one was not mandatory. There was no proper system for issuing them or of recording which trains had which telephone.
Their reliability was poor and their battery endurance low. There were notorious black spots on the Uckfield branch where mobile telephones became unusable. Because the object of having them was said to be to enable drivers to call the signal box there were no adequate arrangements for reciprocal calls. In short, despite promises made to various rail users groups, the system fell into disrepute and thence disuse.
Implementation of the recommendations out of Clapham’s disaster, could have prevented this one, but this clearly didn’t happen, implimentation by even the iniitally proposed date of 1992 could have saved 5 lives. Safe to say that yet again, a missed opportunity to prevent disaster.
The last point to investigate was around the crashworthiness of the vehicles, Particularly the leading vehicle of the Up train, reduced to an underframe with the body completely destroyed.
The leader of the crashworthiness team at British Rail Research said of the wreckage;
‘In my experience I do not think that I have ever seen a vehicle quite so badly damaged in terms of the amount of bending and twisting of the metal that forms the underframe of the vehicle. The superstructure of the vehicle had been completely wiped off as it had been overridden by the Uckfield-bound train. There was virtually nothing left above floor level at all and the roof structure had been torn off completely and was straddling the two vehicles. The front bogie had come off and the rear bogie was still attached but derailed. Essentially all that was left was the underframe and the superstructure was just a pile of wreckage’.
It’s understandable that vehicles which react in this way, leave little opportunity for occupants to survive crashes. Their was a clear correlation between the type of stock involved and the scale of the devastation.
A recommendation was made, quite firmly that In the absence of the complete replacement of Mark I rolling stock, which would be the preferred solution, an urgent programme of research into the practicability of improving the crashworthiness of older designs of rolling stock should again be undertaken and the outcomes shared with Her Majesties Rail Inspectorate within a year.
Musical Interlude Longer
Now we get to the part of the episode where I get to tell you the future developments which means that this shouldn’t happen any more. And you’re going to end up with dejavu, as I bring up TPWS.
Train protection and warning system. This system is now in place as standard at most signals. If it had been fitted at Cowden, when the Up train approached the signal too fast to stop in time, the trains brakes would automatically apply. Whereas an AWS warning can be cancelled and “ignored”, A TPWS brake demand can’t be dealt with in the same way. The only way to overide it is by taking action purposefully before you carry out a manouver which would normally set it off.
TPWS would have prevented the UP train at Cowden from rampantly passing the signal without any action.
Another piece of kit was brought in however following several high profile incidents of signals passed at danger, including at Cowden. The SPAD indicator.
These normally appear like a standard 3 aspect signal, however there are some fundamental differnces. They had a distinctive blue backboard to avoid them being mistaken as defective colour light signals when unlit. All three lenses were red, and on earlier examples the middle one had the word “stop” written across it. When activated, the top and bottom lights flash, and the middle light shows a steady red.
If you saw one of these lit, you were obliged to stop your train, even if you thought it didn’t relate to you directly. These SPAD indicators were installed in the rear of signals in locations where a SPAD brought a particular risk, such as the entry to single track sections.
Further developments were also made in the field of radios. It’s plain that we love our abreviations on the railway, and in time we added yet another one. CSR and NRN gave way to GSM-R.
GSM-R is a subsystem of the European Rail Traffic Manamenent system and it stands for Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway.
GSM-R is a secure platform for voice and data communication, and while it is used for several things in the ERTMS system, the voice communications aspect is of particular relevance here.
The system allows for Point-to-Point Call, just like a normal mobile call, as well as a few other neat features, but the really important feature brings us yet another abbreviation – REC: Railways Emergency Call.
A bright red button on the unit, if a driver or signaller hits this button they can make an emergency call, all trains in the area receive a warning message, preceeded by an audible alarm.
On receiving a REC the driver must stop the train and confirm that they are at a stand by pressing a specific button on the unit.
Clearly, this is of a substantial improvement on the previous offerings, and several accidents have been prevented, or had their severity substantially lowered by use of the REC function.
Musical interlude long
Cowden is an example of how, even despite advances in previous years, violations or lapses can lead to disaster, even where other safety features have been installed. AWS should have warned the driver of the Up train that he was making a deadly mistake, but it didn’t have the desired effect. Colour light signalling should have been more effective than old semaphore options in the fog, yet this didn’t stop the aspect being missed on the day.
It’s also a prime example of what happens when you don’t act on recommendations from previous accidents. Hidden’s recommendations on radios were made years before the collision at Cowden. As so often happens in business, it seems as though money was needed elsewhere, and the project was pushed back and delayed. Cab Secure Radio would have had a good chance at saving the lives of Maura and Raymond Pointer, David Rees, Brian Barton and Jonathon Brett-Andrews.
Closing Credits Start
Though the loss of their lives was avoidable, they are remembered. A simple and elegant plaque can be found on the station building at Cowden. The anniversary sees flowers left, and sometimes signs left by colleagues of Driver Rees, paying their respects to those who passed away.
The plaque reads Always Remembered, 15 – 10 – 2004
Thats Episode 8 over and done with!
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And of course, the music from this epsisode was excerpts from;
Light goes away by douglas maxwell
Deserted city, warm of mechanical heart, Difference, sunset and brand new world by Kai Engel
and Mer Ka Baa by Jesse Gallagher.
Until next episode, Travel Safe!