Lack Of Sand Blamed For Runaway Train

Poor maintenance involving a lack of sand on slippery rail lines led to a rush-hour passenger train going nearly two-and-a-half miles through its intended stop, an accident report revealed today.

The 8am London to Hastings train operated by the Southeastern train company should have stopped at Stonegate station in East Sussex on November 8 last year, the report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said.

But on a day when fresh leaf fall and rain had led to poor rail conditions, the driver of the train was unable to reduce the 64mph speed he had reached just before braking on the approach to Stonegate.

He then used the emergency brake, with the train going through the station at about 50mph, passing a level crossing at Crowhurst Bridge before coming to a stop 2.45 miles from the station and at a point 3.22 miles - and six-and-a-half minutes - after first applying the brakes.

Making safety recommendations to Southeastern, the RAIB said it was likely the train had failed to stop as there was ``almost certainly'' no sand in the sand hoppers that would have deposited sand on to the track when the train braked.

The report said:

:: The train did not deposit sand when demanded because the leading sand hoppers were almost certainly empty. Southeastern has reported that its procedures have been amended to remove trains that require sand replenishment from service;

:: The maintenance processes involved in the replenishment of sand did not ensure that the sand hoppers were refilled, despite there being information that the sand was low;

:: The driver had no information about the availability of sand, and so was unable to take action to mitigate the lack of it. Southeastern has reported that its class 375 trains have been modified to provide the driver with an alarm when sand levels become low.

No-one was hurt and there was no damage to train or track in the incident.

The train was running under clear signals throughout the incident and correctly operated and traversed Crowhurst Bridge's automatic half-barrier level crossing before coming to a stand.

The driver reported the incident to the signaller while the train was still moving.

After the train had stopped, the driver restarted the train and, finding out that no-one had intended to get off at Stonegate anyway, continued the journey to Hastings.

A spokesman for the Southeastern train company said: ``We welcome the RAIB report and have already implemented its recommendations. Although the driver and passengers were in no danger, of course this was a significant incident that we have taken very seriously.

``More sand would have helped reduce the length of the overrun but would not have mitigated against it completely.

``We've already made changes to strengthen our internal processes and Network Rail has enhanced its track-clearance programme to ensure the likelihood of this happening again is much reduced.

``Every day our trains stop 24,000 times at stations, around eight million times a year, and our performance this autumn has been much improved.''