Network Rail missed danger signals, say investigators

TRAIN passengers could have been killed in a disaster waiting to happen when a cutting wall, outside Lime Street Station, collapsed without warning, accident investigators say in an official report today.

Lime Street station was closed for more than a week after 170 tonnes of rubble cascaded onto the busy tracks during the evening rush hour period on February 28. Nobody was hurt or any trains damaged, but the station remained closed until March 8.

The collapse of the  wall had the potential to derail and/or crush a passing train with the consequent high risk of loss of life and serious injury, said the report.   

Simon French, of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, said: “The collapse of the cutting wall on this busy line, just outside Liverpool Lime Street, occurred without warning, and about 170 tonnes of rubble fell on the railway. It had the potential to crush or derail a passing train, with disastrous consequences.

“However, the signs that a dangerous situation was developing had been there for a long time. Network Rail’s examination system did not pick up the significant changes that were taking place behind the wall due to earth moving activities undertaken by the occupier."

The RAIB has now made a number of recommendations to prevent similar events.

French, the chief inspector of accidents, went on: “Similar changes in land use can occur anywhere, especially in areas of urban regeneration. Although I recognise that it can be challenging for the railway industry, it is vital that Network Rail carries out regular and effective checks for activities on its boundaries that may endanger the integrity of its structures. Changes in technology mean that tools, such as aerial surveys, to improve the way in which such information is gathered and analysed, are now readily available.”

French said the RAIB has made recommendations for the railway industry to put in place systems that will reliably detect threats to high risk structures, and cause prompt and appropriate action to be taken, to avoid a danger to the line.

“I hope that this investigation will result in a significant change to the way that the railway manages risk from its neighbours,” he added.

The rubble plunged from the top of a cutting  65 feet above the four track railway line between Liverpool Lime Street and Edge Hill stations. Around 170 tonnes of masonry and other debris fell in at least two separate falls.

Although no trains were struck and there were no injuries, the overhead wires on some of the tracks were brought down and all lines were blocked. This led to severe disruption of train services into the city for a week.

The investigation found that there had been developments on the leased property adjacent to the cutting, which included the addition of a soil embankment immediately behind the top of the wall.  A small portion of the developed land was owned by Network Rail and was not part of the leased property.

Heavy rainfall may also have played a role in triggering the collapse. The report said information recorded by Network Rail during its routine examinations was insufficient to detect the developments on adjacent land and the infringement of its property. The investigation also found that Network Rail did not have a suitable risk prioritisation process in place for retaining walls, such as the one that collapsed, that have a high potential safety consequence in the event of a failure.