WCRC suspended from running trains

WCRC diesel Upwey

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.

WCRC diesel at Weymouth
A WCRC Diesel locomotive at Weymouth 5th Sept 2015. Image: John New
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.

A WCRC run steam hauled rail tour
A WCRC crewed tour. 70013 near Weymouth. Image: John New.

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.

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Legal constraints on blogging

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015

Legal constraints on railway bloggers

Legal constraints do not often come to mind when writing about railway matters. I am a transport historian with an interest also in modern railways.  The law rarely impacts on that interest.  Although transport photographers have occasionally had issues over interpretation of photography rights by heavy handed security officers, and there is an obvious need to follow access and trespass guidelines, generally the law is unobtrusive.  This year that has changed.

34067 Tangmere – Wootton Bassett and legal constraints

34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015
34067 Tangmere at Weymouth 9 September 2015 Image John New

It remains possible to talk about this locomotive in general terms and to share photographs like the one above.  It also remains possible to mention that it is operated by the West Coast Railway Company (WCRC).  However during 2013 and 2015 the combination were involved in incidents one of which is now subject to a pending court case.  The debate on the Wootton Bassett incident of 7 March 2015 is therefore now sub judice.  This court case means there are now legal constraints on what can be debated and blogged about regarding WCRC.  As a result of that I am only including the link to the public Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) page with regard to background on the matter.  The incident was heavily debated on national rail forums previously and also covered by BBC News until the related court cases were announced; however, nothing can now be added.

34067 Tangmere – Winchfield and Weymouth

Whether open debate on two other incidents involving the locomotive and WCRC is possible may now also be questionable, hence my mentioning only facts and reports.

The first was in November 2013 when a maintenance issue led to a very serious incident of equipment failure at Winchfield.  The RAIB report has now been published, and no prosecutions have been announced.

The second was at Weymouth when some internet forum reports suggest Tangmere was apparently allowed to hit the buffers on 5th September 2015.  That something did hit the buffers and move them is undeniable, as identified by the scrape mark visible in the photograph below taken four days later. The RAIB website has been checked and this incident is not on the currently under investigation list.  It appears therefore that there are no legal constraints arising due to possible court action on either of these specific incidents. Despite that, there must still be a grey area for bloggers. Can we currently debate the competence of WCRC?  This arises as an assessment of their competence will arguably form a key part of the forthcoming court cases arising from the 7th March incident.  I have chosen not to take the risk, only adding links to previously published facts and showing my own photograph of the publicly visible trace evidence.

Photo of the buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.
The buffers at Weymouth showing the scrape mark from impact. Image: John New.

Reports of disappearing society funds.

As I was preparing this post another grey area case came to light via an internet forum post.  A name was mentioned for an individual leaving a society, together with reports of a police investigation into a substantial shortfall in the funds.  In the absence of information regarding whether any arrests have been made etc., not something to debate further as it would be too easy to accidentally mention issues that have subsequently become sub judice.

As bloggers we know that fraud has happened before, for example in this 2010 case in Wimborne, but we also know that honest individuals do resign when money is found to have gone missing on their watch.  The clear difference between the current and the former scenario is that the Wimborne situation is now closed and can be debated openly, the contemporary one, arguably, should not.

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