Ufton level crossing report issued – support for union

13 July 2005

The Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) has issued its report of the formal inquiry into the Ufton rail accident.

The full report is available on the RSSB website http://www.rssb.co.uk


The accident was caused by a collision with a road vehicle and led to derailment of the London to Plymouth train at Ufton Level Crossing in Berkshire on 6 November 2004. HSE reported that early indications were that a car driver stopped his vehicle on the crossing before the barrier sequence commenced. Nevertheless, following normal practice the formal inquiry was convened to establish if there were any safety lessons for the rail industry. 

A panel of independent experts appointed by RSSB has examined the accident, which tragically resulted in the deaths of seven people. As with all such inquiries, the panel"s task was to establish the immediate and underlying causes of the accident and make recommendations to prevent, or reduce the risk of, recurrence.

Among the recommendations Ufton Level Crossing report and recommendations is that the RSSB and Network Rail conduct research to establish whether a practical system can be developed to detect and to provide a timely warning to train drivers of an obstruction at AHB level crossings.

The union has already made it’s position clear on this – and has called for the use of the (readily available) technology to enable the driver to see up to two miles along the track, thus giving him or her the time to react to any obstruction. 

ASLEF will be pressing for a full trial of the system explained in the following 12 point Safety Briefing document:




1 Obstructions on the track make rail travel unsafe. That is a fact. But it is not a ‘fact of life’ we need to endure, because it is possible – cheaply, simply and quickly – to remove 99% of the risk element. 

2 The union has argued that the solution to accidents caused by track obstruction is to use technology to relay electronic messages warning of obstructions from track to cab. The idea has never been challenged, but it has always been treated as a ‘visionary’ solution: something out of Star Trek or Tomorrow’s World. 

3 The point of this briefing is to refute this view entirely. The system is not ‘futuristic’. In fact, it is historic. A firm based in South Wales has been providing exactly this technology for the track between Hong Kong and its international airport for the last eight years. There is empirical evidence that it works. The company is Global Laser Technology Solutions Limited, Mediallion Technology Centre. Abertillery. Gwent. NP13 1LZ (telephone 01495 212213 website www.globallasertech.com)

4 The product it developed for the Hong Kong authorities is called TrackMaster. Basically it is a track to train surveillance system that gives the driver real-time video information about passenger safety in the station and onboard the train, as well as giving advanced warning of any hazard points on the track ahead. The basic system transmits pictures from one or more cameras to a monitor in the train cab via infrared laser. The laser beam is relayed via an optical fibre to a remote transmitter that can be placed up to 2 miles down the track. This briefing is concerned with obstructions, but there are clearly other safety issues that could be addressed by a system such as that marketed by Global Laser. 

5 For our purposes, the driver is made aware of an obstruction two miles before the train arrives at that point. That is, three quarters of a mile before a 125 train travelling at 125 miles an hour can come to a full stop. The driver can receive high quality pictures of potential hazards such as level crossings and any vulnerable road/rail or busy rail intersection. The system does not need local power sources, and it has night vision capability. 

6 The Hong Kong rail authorities originally wanted the system – eight years ago – for practical as well as safety reasons. They wanted to maximise the efficiency of their station air conditioning, so they looked for a way of keeping doors closed until the final moment before the train was ready to depart. They also sought security improvements, to enable staff to ensure passengers were not trapped in doors and to ensure that baggage – mounted at the back of the train – was not offloaded unofficially. A further development came with the introduction of CCTV within the train. The project by that time had given the driver ‘eyes’ not only to see the exterior of the train, but also throughout the entire length of its interior.

7 The next logical step was to extend the system to give the driver ‘eyes’ to see along the track. This was achieved by positioning transmitters by the side of the rails that could withstand interference, vibration and weather. The other half of the equation was to fit the train with devices that look like headlamps, but are in fact video or audio receivers. This was developed successfully and efficiently – a fact proven by its eight year Hong Kong ‘trail run’.

8 The driver of the train is given the ability to see - separately on a single flat screen or globally on a screen split into eight - the whole of the interior of the train, the outside of the vehicle, and the track two miles ahead. This offers the potential for massive increases in safety and security. The evidence is overwhelming. 

9 The next question is cost. It need not be restrictive for three reasons.

10 Firstly a negative reason. Last year the number of prosecutions linked to rail safety doubled, and total fines for rail firms exceeded half a million pounds for the first time. All the signs are that the public is becoming increasingly litigious: this is the amoral case for rail safety, but it confirms the financial sense of an initiative such as the one ASLEF advances. Secondly, a positive reason. If the optic fibre technology were introduced, it would enable other messages to be introduced into the train and extend a vast potential for the transmission of advertising from each base – or station – along the route. Thus local advertising would become possible and feasible, targeted by companies along the line. Finally, the technology is not complex in itself: for the most part it involves the adaptation of existing systems.

11 We believe our case is irrefutable, morally, financially and practically. ASLEF therefore calls on the government to 

· call for an immediate and full report on the Hong Kong initiative

· receive a full presentation of most recent developments (including costings) from Global Laser or a similar company in the market; and

· commit itself in advance to at least part-funding a UK experiment of this technology in two distinct geographical areas of the UK unless the two reports above prove the ASLEF initiative seriously flawed. 

12 As ASLEF acting General Secretary Keith Norman has said, “A few months ago I had to visit the widow of a train driver killed because of an obstruction on the line. That was a terrible experience for me. To have to do it again now that we know the solution lies in a South Wales factory would be not a tragedy, but a crime.”

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