A driver and passenger were injured and the car in which they were travelling written off when a weed spraying train carrying out work on the Londonderry to Belfast line crossed a main road without warning last year, the Sentinel has learned.
The car driver was forced to take action in order to avoid a collision with the train which was traversing the Balnamore automatic half barrier level crossing (AHBC) on the Northern Ireland Railways’ (NIR) Londonderry to Belfast line just after 3am on Friday, May 31, 2013.
The car crashed into metal fencing at the crossing in its attempt to avoid a serious calamity.
A new report by the Rail Accidents Investigation Branch (RAIB) explains that the the engineering train was undertaking weed-spraying at the time.
Passenger trains running from Londonderry to Belfast and vice versa had been suspended and the Balnamore AHBC was being operated in local control.
This meant a qualified rail worker - such as an Emergency Operator (EO) - was able to switch the crossing away from automatic operation allowing half barriers to be lowered or raised by the EO, independent of the presence of rail vehicles.
Whilst lowering the half-barriers using local control would have automatically activated visual and audible signals this didn’t happen and road traffic signals were not operating as the train passed over it, as required by the relevant NIR rules.
Thus the unsuspecting car occupants driving up the Taughey Road had to take evasive action to avoid the train.
According to the newly-published accident report: “Following the accident, the crew of the engineering train spoke to the car driver and then continued work without reporting the accident to the person in charge of the possession (PICOP), NIR operations control or their line manager.
“The accident was reported directly to NIR by the car driver later the same day.”
The report recommends that NIR review (in conjunction, as necessary, with Iarnród Éireann) the requirements of its rule books and general instructions; that it ensures that any method statements relating to track engineering are supported by risk assessments; and that it should implement a planned restructuring of its infrastructure division, safety, quality and environment team.
The RAIB also points out that “this should be supported by ongoing monitoring arrangements by NIR of the performance of its framework contractors.” The report states that the operator in this instance had been Northern Excavations Ltd., which had been undertaking weed-spraying operations on NIR’s infrastructure since 2009 and employed the team which operated the weed-spraying engineering train.