On 22 December 2009, a freight train travelling south on the West Coast Main Line, in freezing temperatures and snowy conditions, passed two red signals in succession at Carstairs. After it started braking, the freight train took almost two and a half miles to stop. It finally came to a stand over Carstairs Station junction, shortly after the passage of a passenger train. Actions taken by the signaller stopped the freight train from travelling towards a second passenger train that was also approaching Carstairs. Nobody was injured and there was no damage to trains or infrastructure. However, under slightly different circumstances, the incident may have led to either a collision between trains or a derailment.
The freight train’s braking performance was very poor for a train of its type and was caused by snow and ice ingress stopping the brake equipment on its wagons from working properly. A combination of factors led to this situation occurring:
- the way that the driver applied the rules for operating trains in snowy conditions
- the speed of the train, and as a result the amount of lying snow that it then disturbed
- the train entering into service with snow and ice already on its brake equipment.
RAIB has made three recommendations. Two of the recommendations made are to freight operating companies in conjunction with the Rail Safety & Standards Board (RSSB) and relate to changes to the rules for operating trains in snowy conditions. The third recommendation is made to the freight operating companies and calls for a review of the safety impact of operating freight trains in snowy conditions, so that specific risk control measures can be identified and imposed when justified by the conditions.
Response to recommendations:
- RAIB will periodically update the status of recommendations as reported to us by the relevant safety authority or public body
- RAIB may add comment, particularly if we have concerns regarding these responses.