Report 06/2012: Collision between a train and a tractor, White House Farm User Worked Crossing

Collision between a train and a tractor, White House Farm User Worked Crossing, 25 September 2011


At approximately 10:13 hrs on Sunday 25 September 2011, the 10:10 hrs service from Kings Lynn to Ely operated by First Capital Connect struck a tractor on White House Farm User Worked Crossing (UWC).

The impact between the train and the tractor caused the front of the tractor to be separated from the driving cab. The tractor driver remained in the cab of the tractor, but suffered a broken collarbone, lacerations and bruising.

The tractor moved onto the crossing when the train was no more than 100 metres away and travelling at 70 mph (113 km/h). The train driver sounded the train’s horn and applied the emergency brake, but was unable to prevent the collision. The second wheelset on the train derailed after the collision occurred, but the train remained upright and in line while stopping. The train driver suffered a chest injury and shock in the accident. No-one else on the train was injured. Evacuation of passengers took place after three hours because equipment providing electrical power to trains had become dislodged and was hanging close to the track.

At the time of the accident, there were frequent movements of tractors and trailers over the crossing because of activity associated with the harvesting of sugar beet in an adjacent field. The tractor driver was telephoning the signaller at Kings Lynn to ask for permission to cross on each occasion. This was not the normal method of working; usually, crossing users would check that it was safe to cross before doing so and the signaller at Kings Lynn would not be aware that the crossing was being used.

The accident occurred because the signaller gave the tractor driver permission to cross before seeking confirmation that the train had passed. The tractor driver did not check for approaching trains because he considered that the signaller’s permission to cross was sufficient guarantee that it was safe to do so.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has made no recommendations. However, three learning points directly relevant to the causes or consequences of this accident have been identified:

  • signallers need to be made aware of the need to ensure that safety-critical messages are delivered in the right way;
  • when non-standard methods are to be applied for operating a UWC, it is important that all parties involved jointly review the proposed method of working, which should then be documented and confirmed in order that misunderstandings can be avoided; and
  • the availability of staff for earthing overhead line equipment at remote locations.

The RAIB has identified a further four learning points related to matters observed during its investigation, but not directly relevant to its cause or consequences. They cover:

  • the measurement of sighting distances as part of the assessment of safety at level crossings;
  • engagement between Network Rail and authorised users when assessing risk at UWCs so that the way in which the crossing is used can be considered as part of the exercise;
  • checks on telephones and the accuracy of signs at level crossings; and
  • keeping information on authorised users current.
Published 10 December 2014