The RSSB has drawn attention to the tenth anniversary of the Grayrigg railway accident. The tragic crash marked the last train accident that killed passengers on Britain’s mainline railways. The RSSB says this is unprecedented in the history of the rail industry.

The accident at Grayrigg 10 years ago on 23 February 2007 happened when 390033 ‘City of Glasgow’, a Virgin Pendolino, heading for Glasgow, came off the tracks at a set of points just north of Docker Viaduct in Cumbria. Eighty-four-year- old Margaret Masson from Glasgow was on the train and subsequently died in hospital.

Unprecedented respite

According to the RSSB, this was the last time a passenger died in a train accident scenario such as a derailment or collision.

Says RSSB’s director of system safety George Bearfield, ‘This unprecedented 10-year respite does not, of course, mean that train accidents are consigned to history. It’s still possible for accidents involving trains, or vehicles like trains, to happen, as shown elsewhere.

‘We have seen major accidents overseas in recent months, and also the major tram accident in Croydon in November last year. The railways’ safety performance is maintained through continual learning and industry is ready to learn any relevant transferable lessons for the mainline railway in Britain.’

Lives saved

Lives were also saved 10 years ago at Grayrigg thanks to the train’s crashworthiness and the use of laminated glass in the windows. Research shows these prevent people from being ejected from the train. At a news conference soon after the crash, Virgin chief Sir Richard Branson praised the driver, Iain Black, from Dumbarton, and thanked local people and emergency services for their unflagging help that night and in the aftermath.

Branson pointed out the driver remained at his post and made every effort to stop the train and mitigate what was happening. Iain Black spent over a month in hospital and was given a 5 per cent chance of survival. He later said, ‘I’ve got to be in the cab to help the train and it never crossed my mind to leave.’

Staff heroism

Bearfield also pointed to the heroism of rail staff. ‘By remaining vigilant and avoiding complacency, the railways have maintained a methodical and targeted approach to managing risk and improving safety. Stronger trains, better signalling and protection, and day-to-day dedication of rail staff have all played their part too.’

Iain Black, despite suffering a broken neck and blood loss managed to get his mobile phone out of his pocket and call his girlfriend, Jan Duff – also working for Virgin Trains. Jan alerted control.

Adds George Bearfield, ‘Train accidents have a tragic impact on passengers, rail staff, and their families – the derailment at Grayrigg resulted in tragedy for the family of Margaret Masson who died. It also required heroism from rail staff, emergency services and the local community in the aftermath. Our thoughts are with them as much as they are with the progress we’ve made as an industry in the intervening period.’

The points in question were later removed and the stretch is now CWR – continuous welded rail. Iain and Jan later married. Mr Black retired from the railway in 2015 after 36 years service.

Photo: Lawrence Clift/ CC BY-SA 3.0