THIRTY years ago, on December 12, 1988, a busy commuter train ran into the back of another packed train, which had stopped at a red signal outside Clapham Junction.
Moments later a third train hit the wreckage.
It was a catastrophe in which 35 people lost their lives and 484 were injured. It’s a day I can never forget as it was also my first wedding anniversary.
My pager bleeped around 08.45 and displayed the awful news of a serious train crash.
In the subsequent public inquiry report by Sir Anthony Hidden, recommendations included ensuring work was independently inspected, and a senior project manager be made responsible for all aspects of any major, safety-critical project, such as re-signalling work.
Very worrying, therefore, was the collision in the throat of Waterloo station in August 2017 between a passenger and engineering train, found to have been caused by undocumented wiring, coupled with a question over the competence of the person checking the work.
There were fortunately no injuries in last year’s incident because it was a low-speed collision, but nevertheless there were chilling echoes of the Clapham crash 30 years previously.
It also begs the question how rife the practices uncovered by RAIB are among signalling contractors and others. And equally concerning, is whether some of the recommendations of the Hidden report, which were adopted and remain in use today, are being passed on to today’s technicians.
Are the lessons learnt after Clapham starting to fade?
Britain has an exceptionally safe railway network, but there is no room for any short cuts, sloppiness or complacency in working practices, regardless of the pressure to hand back possessions on time.
Network Rail and its contractors must view the Waterloo collision as a wake-up call.
Time for more innovative thinking?
THE rail industry is often accused of a lack of innovative thinking, so I take my hat off to Virgin Trains for sticking it’s neck out and removing off-peak ticket restrictions on a Friday afternoon.
The result has created a much more even flow of passengers in the afternoon as well as a far greater chance of getting a seat through the resultant reduction in overcrowding, and rather than the cheaper fares reducing revenue, it has very slightly increased revenue.
It’s also probably reduced the dangerous concourse stampedes that occur when the platform appears on the departure boards.
Passengers are delighted with the change as it can also extend their weekend by several hours, and staff are less stressed, too.
Whether other operators make the same move or extend it to other days remains to be seen, but it’s pleasing to see new ideas trialled with great success.
Hopefully, there will be a few innovations in the pipeline to benefit the passenger.
THE editor and staff wish all readers of The RM a very Happy Christmas and peaceful New Year.Enjoy more of The Railway Magazine reading every month. Click here to subscribe.