Report 03/2014: Penetration of a tunnel at Old Street

Penetration and obstruction of a tunnel between Old Street and Essex Road stations, London, 8 March 2013.


During the morning of 8 March 2013, a train driver reported that flood water was flowing from the roof of a railway tunnel north of Old Street station near central London. The driver of an out-of-service passenger train was asked to examine the tunnel at low speed and check for damage. The driver stopped short of the water flow and reported that two large drills (augers) had come through the tunnel wall and were fouling the line ahead of his train.

The augers were being used for boring piles from a construction site about 13 metres above the top of the tunnel. The operators of the piling rig involved were unaware that they were working above an operational railway tunnel. Its position was not shown on the site plan, or on any map available to either the developer or the local planning authority. As a consequence, Network Rail was not consulted during the planning application stage and was unaware of the construction activity.

The RAIB has determined that approximately half of the piles required for the new development would have intersected with the tunnel had they had been constructed. It has identified two learning points from this incident which are relevant to the construction industry: clients and design teams should be aware of the importance of information shown on land ownership records; and those carrying out investigations for proposed developments should be aware that not all railway tunnels are shown on Ordnance Survey mapping.

The RAIB has also made five recommendations: three are addressed to railway infrastructure managers, and relate to: the provision of information to organisations undertaking property-related searches; the provision of information on the location of railway tunnels and associated subterranean structures; and the identification of development work by third parties. One recommendation is made to the British Standards Institution relating to the enhancement of a British Standard, and one recommendation is addressed to the Department for Communities and Local Government relating to a recommendation made by the RAIB in 2007 which has not been implemented.

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.

RAIB Recommendation response for Old Street and Essex Road

Published 10 December 2014