Safety report into North Yorkshire Moors Railway train collision finds speed, visibility and driver unfamiliarity were all to blame

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has released a report into the causes of a collision between a locomotive and a passenger train on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Friday, 24th December 2021, 11:39 am
The Class 20 diesel involved.

Excess speed, poor visibility from the cab and a last-minute change of locomotive were all cited as reasons for the Class 20 diesel running into the rear of a waiting train at Grosmont Station on September 21, injuring five passengers.

The incident was underpinned by the fact that the heritage line must adhere to mainline regulations when running trains beyond the terminus at Grosmont on Network Rail-managed tracks into Whitby, as not all of its locomotives have the required safety certificates to work on this stretch.

The report found that the 1950s-era diesel had uncoupled from a train it had hauled from Whitby to platform three and was moving to platform two to wait behind the train there, which was due to depart for Whitby, at around 10.30am.

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The restricted view from the cab.

The locomotive entered platform two at about 10mph and was meant to stop in the section of unoccupied track behind the Whitby service. However, it collided with the rear of this train at about 5mph.

There were 175 people aboard the train and five had to be given first aid at the scene. Some of the damaged carriages were out of service for several weeks for repairs.

The RAIB's inspection team have now ascertained that the Class 20 was 'travelling too fast to be able to stop in the distance available when the stationary coaches ahead first came into the driver’s view.'

The locomotive is only fitted with a cab at one end, meaning the driver’s view of the line ahead is much more restricted when the nose end is leading, with the driver having to look through a narrow window past the side of the locomotive in a similar manner to a driver of a steam locomotive.

The report continues: "The Class 20 was privately owned and was made available for use by the NYMR while some of its own locomotives were undergoing maintenance. It was not scheduled to be used on that day but was required at short notice after the Automatic Warning System (AWS) equipment on the scheduled steam locomotive failed an operational test. AWS equipment is required for NYMR trains operating on Network Rail’s Esk Valley line between Grosmont and Whitby, and the Class 20 locomotive had operational AWS equipment to allow it to operate on this section."

An investigation into the driver's competencies found he was qualified to drive the steam locomotive that has originally been booked as well as Class 25 and Class 37 diesel-electrics, but not the Class 20 replacement. However he asked the traction inspector to accompany him in the cab and the NYMR told the RAIB that it considered the inspector held overall responsibility in this scenario.

They had already driven the Class 20 with a train to Whitby that day and the locomotive then 'ran around' at Whitby Station so the cab led for the journey back to Grosmont, where the steam locomotive unable to work on the mainline would replace it for the remainder of the service to Pickering along the NYMR's own tracks.

As the Class 20 would be required to operate a later journey from Grosmont to Whitby, the signaller and the train crew communicated by radio and agreed that the locomotive would be stabled in siding two at Grosmont, from where it could easily be coupled to the later service.

To carry out this move, the Class 20 had to move forward over the crossover, behind signal 11, and then back through platform two. However, the move to siding two was blocked by the presence of the train waiting in platform two for departure to Whitby. The signaller and crew intended that the Class 20 move from behind signal 11 into the free space in platform two, behind the Whitby-bound service. The locomotive would then wait there until the Whitby train departed, before moving to siding two.

The report continues: "This move from signal 11 was a permissive move, where a train is authorised to enter a signalling section occupied by another train on the basis that the driver must stop before reaching the occupying train. The NYMR rule book and the signalling system allow for this move, and it is usually used when coupling a locomotive to a train that is already in the platform. The rule book requires a locomotive undertaking the move to stop a minimum of six feet from the stationary train. To avoid a collision during the move, the locomotive should be driven so that the driver can stop it within the distance ahead that they can see to be clear of obstructions.

"The driver undertook the move from platform three to a position behind signal 11 with the locomotive’s cab leading. He then changed driving desks and started the move back towards platform two, with the cab end trailing, once signal 11 had cleared. He accelerated the locomotive to around the 10mph speed limit for the line. The initial part of this move was on straight track, with the driver’s view of the line ahead limited by the body of the locomotive ahead of him. On approach to the platform, the line starts to curve to the right and the body of the locomotive further obscures the driver’s view ahead. A reconstruction by RAIB of the approach and entry to the platform showed that the driver would only have been able to see the rear of the last coach of the train ahead when the front of the Class 20 was approximately 16 metres from it."

The report also found that the driver did apply brakes when the crew realised he was going too fast, and emergency braking slowed the speed to 5mph, but the decrease in speed began when the carriages were only 20 metres away.

In interviews the driver said he thought the train was further along the platform and that he had more time and space. The RAIB found his unfamiliarity with the engine compared to those he usually operated was a contributory factor.

A distraction caused by the three other people in the cab - who also included a cleaner and fireman - was ruled out as a cause.

However, the NYMR was criticised for being unable to provide paperwork proving that the traction inspector held the relevant driving competency for the Class 20.

The man has worked on the NYMR since 1997 and had been a volunteer for 23 prior to that, and had maintained and driven all of the line's diesels.

As a consequence of the accident, the government's Office of Rail and Road issued an improvement notice on October 7 requiring the railway to be able to demonstrate the competence of its drivers for operation on both its own infrastructure and on Network Rail’s Esk Valley line.

In 2012, retired police officer and NYMR volunteer Robert Lund, from Beverley, died when he was crushed between two carriages when a locomotive slipped into the wrong gear during a shunting manoeuvre while he was working as a guard.