Almost fully loaded runaway train hits the tracks on its own

In the dark of a winter night, an alert signaller and successful operation of trap points prevented a runaway train causing havoc in the East Midlands. On 17 January the alarms sounded in the East Midlands Control Centre as a bulk train rolled away, uncontrolled, and crashed off the rails just before the running lines.

A full train of 22 open wagons, loaded to almost 1900 tonnes, rolled loose from Old Bank sidings at Toton, the site of a major marshalling yard, a motive power depot, and earmarked for an important HS2 interchange. Britain’s independent watchdog, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has just released its interim report.

Alarm in the East Midlands Control Centre

The area is crossed with rail lines and heavily populated. However, no injuries were reported. “At 04:42 hrs on 17 January 2021, a rake of 22 wagons ran away from a siding within Old Bank sidings at Toton”, said the RAIB statement. “21 wagons were loaded and the full rake had a reported weight of about 1870 tonnes.”

As the train ran away out of the siding, the rake passed a red signal, which generated an alarm in the East Midlands Control Centre. This alerted the signaller, who could see that track sections along the line leading away from the exit to the sidings were being occupied. The rake then passed a second red signal and, a short distance later, the leading four wagons derailed at the end of the run-out rails associated with a set of trap points at Toton South junction.

Advice on runaway risk management

“The trap points worked as intended to derail the unauthorised movement”, said the RAIB statement. “However, the front two derailed wagons stopped foul of the adjacent running line, although no trains were nearby when the derailment occurred.” The rake of wagons ran away for a total distance of about 0.5 miles (0.8 km).

Disused parts of the Toton site will become the East Midlands Hub for HS2 (WikiCommons)

“Our investigation will seek to identify the sequence of events which led to the accident”, said the RAIB. “It will also consider the processes that were in place for securing trains within the sidings, any factors relevant to how the risk of runaway wagons from within the sidings was being managed, the performance and design of the trap points, and any relevant underlying factors.”

The RAIB will, as usual, publish their findings, including any recommendations to improve safety, via their website.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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