Points set wrongly before Cumbria crash

LONDON (Reuters) - Rail infrastructure firm Network Rail had incorrectly set up the points whose failure led to the crash of a high-speed London to Glasgow train last year, accident inspectors said on Thursday.

Rail workers examine the scene of the Virgin train crash at Grayrigg in Cumbria, February 25, 2007. REUTERS/Owen Humphreys/PA/Pool

One person died in the crash at Grayrigg in Cumbria, northern England, and 30 others were seriously injured.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch said in a final report that the Virgin Pendolino derailed and rolled down an embankment after fastenings on the points failed.

It blamed the crash on a combination of three factors: the mechanical failure of a bolted joint, the incorrect set-up of the points and a track inspection that was missed five days before the accident in February 2007.

The inspectors said Network Rail had an “incomplete understanding of the design, maintenance and inspection” of the design of stretcher bars used in the points.

Network Rail had believed the points were a low risk design as there had been no previous catastrophic accident associated with that design of points in the 35 years since they were introduced.

Immediately after the accident, Network Rail conducted a check of the points on its tracks. Although some defects were found, none was in the same state as the Grayrigg points.

Network Rail has already accepted responsibility for the accident and has changed its maintenance programme.

“The tragedy at Grayrigg was caused by the failure of our infrastructure, something we were devastated to discover,” said the firm’s chief executive, Iain Coucher.

“Following a comprehensive and detailed industry investigation, we made immediate changes to our maintenance regime.

“Today there is no safer form of travel than rail and despite Grayrigg, the railways are safer than ever before.”

But the RMT rail union called for a joint public inquiry into Grayrigg and the 2002 crash at Potters Bar, north of London, when seven died.

“Network Rail’s spending targets have been slashed by 30 percent over the last five years and we have raised concerns about the workloads placed on individuals on a number of occasions,” said RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.

“The report points out that staff had complained before the crash at the lack of track access due to timetable changes, and that hard-pressed staff were forced to squeeze too many inspections into a few hours on a Sunday morning,” he said.

Editing by Steve Addison