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West Coast Railway Company prohibited from main line running

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has issued a Prohibition Notice to West Coast Railway Company (WCR) preventing it running its heritage rail services on the main line railway, with effect from February 18. The notice relates to concerns about WCR’s management of safety, following a number of incidents over the past year.

ORR launched a review of WCR’s safety certification in December 2015, following a number of incidents over the course of the year. The first of these, on March 7 2015, involved steam locomotive 34067 Tangmere passing a signal at danger at Wootton Bassett Junction on the Great Western Main Line and overrunning by 689 metres. It straddled the junction around a minute after a First Great Western High Speed Train had passed through (RAIL 771-773).

Following this incident, ORR issued an Improvement Notice requiring WCR to strengthen its approach to safety management. However, safety issues continued.

ORR said it considers that “WCR continues to present a safety risk, hence we are issuing a Prohibition Notice. 

“Under the terms of the notice, the company will not be able to operate trains on the main line network until we are satisfied its governance and operations meet industry practice and are fit for the scale of its operation. 

“Steps the company must take include: the introduction of clearer governance structures with proper accountability for safety; more robust risk assessments; and enhanced processes for managing staff with a focus on safety culture.”

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR, said: “A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the main line network. 

“We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCR will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations. Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”

WCR Managing Director Patricia Marshall said: "West Coast Railways has today received notification on the ORR decision to revoke the company’s Safety Certificate. West Coast Railways is pleased that the ORR has not found it necessary to revoke its Safety Certificate.

"West Coast Railways is somewhat disappointed that the ORR has issued a prohibition notice, preventing WCR from operating trains until some issues have been resolved.

"West Coast Railways will continue to work closely with the ORR to demonstrate that it can continue operations on the National Network in a safe and proper manner."

Safety incidents involving WCR over the past year include:

  • In June 2015, a WCR train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
  • In September 2015, a WCR train collided with the buffers at Weymouth. ORR inspectors found WCR’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date, and that (even so) WCR staff were not aware of their existence.
  • In October 2015, staff on a WCR train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error. WCR was temporarily prohibited from operating steam trains on the national network following this incident.

The company was also unable to run trains on the network in April 2015 after Network Rail suspended WCR’s track access as a result of “concerns about WCR’s performance of its Safety Obligations... Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway.”

The ORR is separately prosecuting WCR in relation to the incident of March 7 2015, when steam locomotive 34067 Tangmere passed a signal at danger at Wootton Bassett Junction. The second hearing is due to take place at Swindon Crown Court on March 18.

You can read the ORR's decision letter here.

For more on this story, see RAIL 795 (on sale March 2).

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