Stewarton derailment

by

Some questions that should be asked

stewarton

Derailed wagon and collapsed bridge near Stewarton, Ayrshire. Still from BBC video

(Click on picture to view video on BBC ‘News Channel’)

A massive oil tanker train fire, with flames shooting 50ft into the air and dark smoke obscuring the sky, greeted residents on Tuesday morning in Stewarton, Ayrshire. The accident scene, more reminiscent of railway disasters in the Ukraine or Byellorussia, occurred near a compound used by contractors who are reinstating a second track along a 5½ mile portion of the Barrhead to Kilmarnock line which was singled in the 1970s.

A DB Schenker train consisting of 10 BP rail wagons carrying heating oil and diesel from the Grangemouth refinery to the Scottish Fuels terminal in Kilmarnock caught fire today at 06.25 when the rear section became separated from the rest of the train. Six of the 10 wagons were derailed and one was alight. Four remained on the rails still attached to the locomotive. There were no casualties.

The site of the derailment coincides with an underbridge that was due to be demolished this weekend. It is very close to the start of a 5.5 mile ‘dynamic loop’ (one that allows two trains to pass without stopping) that is being installed between Stewarton and Lugton. The £20 million contract was awarded by Network Rail to Jarvis. Track works commenced in September 2008 with works on the stations due to start early in 2009. Work is scheduled to be completed by October 2009 for a half-hourly Kilmarnock – Glasgow service to start at the December timetable change.

There are as yet no official conjectures as to the cause of the accident. BTWT has some questions. Somehow we think that quite a few of these may be skipped over by the accident’s investigators:

  • Was the collapse of the underbridge the cause of the derailment or merely a consequence of it?
  • Was the underbridge weakened by any work carried out by the contractors?
  • Has an independent assessment been made as to whether railway engineering structures designed and built in the 19th C. (the collapsed bridge was built in 1870) have a sufficient margin of safety when passed over at speed by trains with 25 ton axle load trains? (In 1948 the maximum weight per axle was seventeen and a half tons on most routes and goods trains ran more slowly than contemporary ‘freight’ trains.)
  • Is today’s fragmented railway less safe than the British Railways’ vertically integrated railway?
  • Was the traditional experience based safety culture inherently safer than the current paper-based ‘box ticking’ safety regime which has replaced it?

Comments, from BTWT readers, as always very welcome.

More pictures and articles:

The Scotsman – Derailed train catches fire

The Scotsman – freight train derailment probed

scot-rail – Barrhead-Kilmarnock enhancement

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2 Responses to “Stewarton derailment”

  1. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    A lot of questions, some of which have been asked before, and none of which will get a straight answer (even with an inquiry as the Railway Inspectorate has been watered down) as politicians have their noses in the trough. The answers will, as usual, be evasive and inconsequential as Britain’s railways are sacrificed on the altar of profit.

    Our railways used to be the envy of the world and now they are the laughing stock…

    Thank goodness no one was hurt – but that surely is only a matter of time.

  2. Mark Dootson Says:

    It’s ironic that the last derailment at Stewarton, 35 years ago, happened when the line was being singled, this time while it was being redoubled.

    The original report is available here:

    Thankfully in both incidents no one was seriously injured

    Mark

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