Highly damaging repercussions are piling up for West Coast Railways following the serious Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) by its steam charter on March 7, in which a 100mph collision was avoided by barely a minute (see separate story).
Network Rail quickly responded with an unprecedented network-wide suspension of WCR’s track access rights from April 3, with the hardline comment that “recent events lead NR to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway”.
Meanwhile, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR, formerly the Office of Rail Regulation) announced that it is “reviewing the company’s safety certification - needed to operate trains on the rail network”.
In simple terms, it has launched formal proceedings to revoke WCR’s safety certificate. This means that even if WCR satisfies the stringent NR demands to end the track access ban imposed until May 15, it would still be unable to run any trains itself if the ORR revocation goes ahead.
In addition, ORR is investigating possible criminal prosecution of WCR for health and safety breaches, for which there is already precedent (First Capital Connect in 2014, RAIL 771).
“Our initial investigation has found significant weaknesses in the company’s safety management systems,” an ORR spokesman told RAIL.
“ORR is carrying out further assessments to determine whether health and safety laws were breached, and the appropriate enforcement action required.”
Both ORR and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) are investigating the SPAD, which ranked as the most serious this year anywhere on the network. RAIL understands that both organisations have visited WCR’s offices to collect evidence.
Following the track access suspension, WCR released an official statement saying: “Passenger safety is our number one priority.”
It says in relation to “a recent breach of safety regulations”, WCR “considers this to be sufficient to carry out a full internal inquiry with the support of NR, and at this time will not be running trains under their current operator licence”.
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