Socialist Worker

Questions raised about safety of rail system after two workers die on tracks

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2662

Two rail workers died after being hit by a train between Port Talbot Parkway and Bridgend stations this week

Two rail workers died after being hit by a train between Port Talbot Parkway and Bridgend stations this week (Pic: @IanBroughall/Twitter)


Two rail workers died on Wednesday after being struck by a Great Western Railway train on tracks near Port Talbot in south Wales.

Michael "Spike" Lewis, aged 58 from North Cornelly and Gareth Delbridge aged 64 from Kenfig Hill, were hit by the Swansea to London train.

The RMT transport union has rightly called for all “similar works” to be suspended while the crash is investigated.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said, “This is shocking news. RMT is attempting to establish the full facts but our immediate reaction is that this is an appalling tragedy.

“No one working on the railway should be placed in the situation that has resulted in the deaths that have been reported this morning.

“As well as demanding answers from Network Rail, and a suspension of all similar works until the facts are established, the union will be supporting our members and their families at this time.”

There are reports the victims were wearing ear defenders and could not hear the train apporaching.

Reports also claim signal workers were unaware that workers were on the line.

One railway worker quoted by the Mirror website said, “The driver immediately called in the accident saying he had struck the three workers and ambulances were called.

“A signal worker didn’t know that they were there. It could be that they hadn’t notified the right people.”

System

If that is true it will be about a system failure, not the actions of a worker.

The tragedy happened just three months after the Rail Accident Investigation Branch warned there were "too many near misses in which railway workers have had to jump for their lives".

In 2018 there was one death on the mainline railway and 6,641 injuries, of which 164 were major.

A maintenance engineer who has worked on the same stretch of track where the rwo men were killed told newspapers, 'It can be very dangerous.

'The rail gangs tend to come from the South Wales valleys and Merthyr Tydfil areas. Lads can pick up a lot of money but it's very risky work. It's danger money."

In other words, people from areas of low wages and high unemployment risk their lives to make ends meet.

Investigation

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association union, said, “There must now be a full investigation. It is simply not acceptable that in the 21st century people go out to work and end up losing their lives.

In 2006 a privatised rail contractor was sentenced to nine years imprisonment for the manslaughter of four maintenance workers near Tebay in Cumbria two years previously.

Colin Buckley, Darren Burgess, Chris Waters and Gary Tindall died almost instantly after a runaway wagon, laden with 16 tonnes of steel rail track ploughed into them at 40 miles per hour.

They were working on the west coast mainline. Boss Mark Connolly had deliberately dismantled the hydraulic brakes on two of his wagons to save money.

His co-accused, Roy Kennett, was sentenced to two years for manslaughter and breaching health and safety laws.

Bob Crow, who was then the RMT general secretary, said, “The railways’ safety culture has been systematically undermined by privatisation, and it is that basic faultline that must be repaired. Profit and safety do not mix—and the privateers must go.”

Questions will now be asked about whether similar factors had any connection with this week’s deaths. People’s lives must always come before profit.


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