WCRC – Legal constraints update
This legal constraints update is a follow up to my blog entry of 5th January this year regarding the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC). At that time the company’s operations were under the spotlight due to the pending court case action arising from the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015. That case is still proceeding and therefore although some aspects, for example the name of the driver involved, can now be reported many of the the legal constraints still apply. The ORR report that the next hearing will be at the Swindon Crown Court on 18th March.
West Coast Railway Company suspended.
In the earlier post an incident at Weymouth on 5th September was mentioned and as that has been an influence in another decision relating to WCRC, now published, further albeit cautious comment is appropriate. The Office of Road and Rail (ORR) had been conducting a review during December and January of their competence to operate trains on the national network and their findings have led to a suspension notice being issued today.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:
“A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.
We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations. Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”
The ORR website has a full copy of the letter sent to West Coast available for public reading and their website was also the source for the quotes included above.
The issues leading to the suspension
“The safety incidents involving WCRC over the past year include:
- In June 2015, a WCRC train moved forward while preparing to leave Reading station, due to miscommunication between the guard and driver.
- In September 2015, a WCRC train collided with the buffers at Weymouth, In September 2015, ORR inspectors found WCRC’s safety risk assessments for operating steam trains were out of date and that, even so, WCRC staff were not aware of their existence.
- In October 2015, staff on a WCRC train near Doncaster turned off its Train Protection and Warning System isolation equipment, designed to apply an emergency brake if the driver makes an error.”
The quote above is from the ORR website.
The suspension in context
As West Coast are the leading provider of the crews to operate steam hauled excursions on the mainline network this suspension will leave a serious hole for the short term in the ability of tour companies to run trains. However, this does not only affect steam tours; West Coast are also the supplier of locomotives and crews for a variety of other services too including maintenance services for Network Rail.
This suspension will not totally stop all mainline steam locomotive operations as an alternative Train Operating Company (DB Schenker) also has a licence to operate steam tours. However, DBS do not currently contract to do as many and only time will tell if they have the desire and/or capacity in appropriately qualified staff to fill this (hopefully) short term void.
This suspension will, undoubtedly, have a knock on effect therefore beyond the immediate, and direct, impact on West Coast Railway Company. We have to hope for the tourist industry’s sake that this company can sort out these ORR identified issues quickly and create the long-term safety culture, which is apparently lacking currently.
The good news to emerge is that it is at least only a repeat suspension, not a complete withdrawal of the ability to operate, there is a light visible at the end of the tunnel if the right steps are taken.
For the sake of all concerned let us hope scenes like the one above will not be absent from the rail tour scene for long.