Fatigue a possible cause in Essex rail vehicle crash

rail crane crash mewp in essex 2021

Fatigue was a “possible factor” in a collision between two road-rail vehicles that left a worker with life-changing injuries, a report said.

A crane crashed into a mobile-elevating work platform (MEWP) near Ramsden Bellhouse, Essex, on 2 May 2021. The vehicles were travelling towards Wickford Station after a night shift, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report said. The RAIB said there was “an opportunity missed” to avoid the collision.

The MEWP was stationary at the time of the collision, at about 07:00 BST, the report said. At about the same time, the crane operator became “dazzled by the rising sun ahead” and turned to look out the side window but did not apply the brakes. The crane hit the rear of the MEWP at about 7.5mph (12kmh), the RAIB said.

“The MEWP operator suffered life-changing injuries due to the collision,” the report added. Investigators found the crane operator “had allowed the gap between the crane and the MEWP to reduce”.

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Network Rail states operators must maintain a minimum distance of 100m (328ft) when travelling in convoy, but on this occasion the distance was about 30m (98ft).

“Fatigue was a possible factor in this accident, as the crane operator had not taken advantage of the opportunity to rest before the night shift at a hotel provided by his employers,” the report said. “He had also not declared his actual travel time when providing his journey details at the site access control point.” The RAIB said a “possible underlying factor” was the “lack of clarity in the role of machine controllers during travelling movements”.

Lessons not learned

The RAIB said a “similar collision” had occurred at Wellingborough in Northamptonshire on 15 August 2019 and an investigation found machine operators were “regularly ignoring the need to maintain an adequate separation between vehicles”.

Andrew Hall, the chief inspector of rail accidents, said it was “frustrating” that lessons “had not been learned” from the previous accident involving the same contractor. “Not applying these lessons to improve the planning of work or the site assurance processes was an opportunity missed to avoid a collision with severe consequences,” he said.

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The RAIB made two recommendations to Network Rail, to clarify the role of a machine controller when they are travelling with their vehicle and to continue to development of obstacle detection or road-rail vehicles. A spokeswoman for Network Rail said it had “held a national review of on-track plant safety risks and operations”, including working with “dozens” of contractors and suppliers. It also recommended that SPL Powerlines UK and Readypower Rail Services apply to learn from previous accidents and incidents.

All three organisations have been contacted for comment.

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