Socialist Worker

Network Rail safety failings led to the deaths of two workers

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2731

The scene on a section of track near Port Talbot after two railway workers died after being struck by a train

The scene on a section of track near Port Talbot after two railway workers died after being struck by a train (Pic: PA)


A report into the deaths of two rail workers in July 2019 has revealed wholly avoidable safety failures.

Michael “Spike” Lewis from North Cornelly and Gareth Delbridge from Kenfig Hill were hit by a Swansea to London train.

They were working on tracks near Port Talbot in South Wales.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report released last week said three track workers were working on a line that was open to traffic.

There were no lookouts to warn them of approaching trains.

All three workers were almost certainly wearing ear defenders, because one of them was using a noisy power tool.

They would not have been able to hear the train’s warning horn.

None of them was aware that the train was approaching until it was too late for them to move to a ­position of safety.

At the time of the deaths a maintenance engineer who had worked on the same stretch of track where the two men were killed told newspapers, “It can be very dangerous.

Money

“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.

The investigation asked why Network Rail had not created ­conditions needed to achieve “a significant and sustained ­improvement in track worker safety”.

This was despite warnings about “too many near misses in which railway workers have had to jump for their lives”.

It concluded, “Over a period of many years, Network Rail had not adequately addressed the ­protection of track workers from moving trains.

“The major changes required to fully implement significant changes to the standard governing track worker safety were not effectively implemented across Network Rail’s maintenance organisation

“Network Rail’s safety management assurance system was not effective in identifying the full extent of procedural non‑compliance and unsafe working practices, and did not trigger the management actions needed to address them

“Although Network Rail had identified the need to take further actions to address track worker safety, these had not led to substantive change prior to the accident at Margam.”

The RAIB does not apportion blame or carry out prosecutions.

But it is clear that, as so often, workers died because their lives were put second to “getting the job done” and making profits.

The top bosses of Network Rail should be facing jail.


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