Hatfield Rail Crash (2000)The causes and effects of the Hatfield Rail disaster of 2000Callum Rowe 170320043School of EngineeringNewcastle UniversityNewcastle, Tyne and WearC.
[email protected] Abstract This report will look at the reasons behind the Hatfield rail disaster of 2000 as well as the short and long term impacts it had on the companies involved and on the railway industry as a whole. The crash was responsible for the deaths of four people and injured many more. The train was carrying around 200 people and travelling at well over 100 miles per hour when it derailed, so it could have been even more catastrophic than it was. Inadequate rail inspection and maintenance by the company Railtrack eventually lead to the rail breaking when the train passed over it which caused the train to derail.
The effects of the crash can still be seen today with the government bringing in nationwide speed limit reductions. This crash was also a significant reason why the company responsible for Britain’s rail system and station, Railtrack, went into administration and was eventually bought over by government owned, non-profit organisation, Network Rail. The Incident – could this be an intro?At 12.25pm on Tuesday 17th October 2000, the Great North-Eastern Railway (GNER) train from London headed for Leeds derailed between Welham Green and Hatfield 9, killing four people and injuring between seventy and one hundred and two, two of which were GNER staff. The train was traveling at 117 miles per hour when it derailed. The driver’s cab and the first carriage remained on the track and remained intact, whereas carriages B and C derailed but upright and stayed intact 9.
Moving through D, E and F, the carriages are at more and more of an angle to the track, with F fully on its side. The next carriage was the Buffet car, which derailed, toppled over as well as having its roof ripped off. It collided with two trackside overhead line masts, the first of which almost caused the carriage to break in two 1; this was the worst hit of all the carriages and this is where all four of the deaths occurred. Some 100 metres further back 2, past various parts of train and track, carriage G is also on its side, having derailed, rolled over and had some overhead lines fall on it. Luckily, nothing in this carriage came loose so there was nothing acting as a possibly dangerous projectile 9. The final carriage, H, and the rear cab were relatively unharmed in the event and remained on the tracks despite the line was going around a corner at the time. The mechanical causesThe cause of the rail breaking, and therefore the crash, was a slow growing crack, 3 causing fragmentation, on the left rail, which due to the stresses of the trains going over it at such high speeds, eventually caused it to break.
The cracks on the rail are described as ‘head fractures’ as they form in the centre of the rail. Head cracks are an example of rolling contact fatigue 4. Cracks normally start as short cracks at a shallow angle, however as time passes, the angle can become steeper as the crack widens and gets longer 4. Next source bit here. The effects of rolling contact fatigue can vary in severity depending on the contact pressure and shear stresses. On most British trains, due to the slightly rounded top to the rail cross section, the contact area between the wheel and the track is about the size of a 5p coin so the forces are spread over a very small area (see figure 2) meaning pressure and shear stress are higher. The human causesDue to the fact that the cracks grow quite quickly, regular, thorough maintenance is necessary. The crack on the rail had two distinct parts: a duller part that had been open to the air for some time, and a bright part that had just recently been exposed to the surroundings.
This fact allowed forensic engineers 3 to determine the size of the crack just before the crash. They concluded that the crack had been growing for a large amount of time. They also discovered a lot of other cracks that could have caused a similar event to occur if it hadn’t happened when it did 9. This showed that it could be described as an accident waiting to happen. The reason the cracks had got so bad is they did is lacklustre checking by Balfour Beatty.
They failed to work to the standards set for them, and as well as this, “routine inspections were not carried out to the standards of frequency or quality” 1. On top of this, Balfour Beatty had been aware that some rails in the area of the crash were starting to get sizable cracks in them for some time before the crash, and yet they still didn’t replace them or even put in temporarily reduced speed limits on the areas with “poor quality rails” 5. Before the crash even happened, a report by the Transportation Technology Centre Inc was submitted and was critical of how Railtrack dealt with broken rails and contact rolling fatigue which was the cause of the crash. This led the HSE to seek a detailed report from Railtrack on how it intends to improve in these areas 9. The driver of the train was still in training and was therefore not meant to be driving the train, even with a supervisor, for another four weeks at these high speed, however it was soon found that the driver was not at fault for the crash 17. This still shows however, that Railtrack seemed to have a slapdash, hazardous and potentially dangerous approach to running the rail network. Positives arising from the crashThe crash was clearly a terrible accident to happen, but there were some positives that can be taken from it. Despite the high speeds and the fact that the train was heading round a bend at the time of the crash, some of the carriages, and both cabs, remained on the tracks and most of the carriages remained upright.
Most of the injuries obtained in the crash were largely being described as just “bumps and bruises”. This shows that the carriages were mainly well built as the damage to the was relatively minor despite the scale of the crash and the speed the train was travelling at the time. Only the buffet car has seriously damaged in the incident, which also shows the structural integrity of most of the train carriages as they all received only minor damage and nothing structurally integral.
A large component of the relatively low death count is that no tables or chairs broke that could form potentially dangerous projectiles 9. This meant that the number of injuries and deaths were kept right down as this is often the cause of many injuries in similar accidents such as such as the one at Hither Green on 5th of November 1967 in which a train, similarly to the Hatfield case, derailed due to a broken rail. This crash however killed 49 people (see figure 4) which shows how the technology and therefore safety has advanced over the years 14. Effects – short termWhen work-related accidents like this happen, there are a lot of companies, including the government in some capacity, who get involved to ensure that the investigation into the accident is done correctly and thoroughly. Almost three years on from the crash, in July of 2003, six engineers and rail managers, as well as Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance Ltd (BBRM) (the company responsible for the maintenance of the track) and Network Rail, Railtrack’s successor, were prosecuted with charges of “manslaughter due to gross negligence” 1 and other offences in the “health and safety at work act of 1974” (HSWA). All six individuals were found not guilty, but the companies were convicted of breaching parts of the HSWA. Railtrack was fined £3.
5 million and Balfour Beatty £10 million (it was reduced to £7.5 million after an appeal) 6. The judge responsible for the case for Balfour Beatty claimed this was “one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high-risk industry” 10.The different organisations involved in this process all have different roles, but each must be done for the investigation to be done fully. The BTP took the lead role and remained in this position for the duration of the investigation. The other main bodies involved in this instance were: The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Railway Safety, Railtrack (became Network rail) and the Industry’s Formal Enquiry Panel 1. In the first hours after the crash, only the police were allowed at the scene as they had to ascertain whether it was an act of terrorism. Once this had been dismissed, the HSE were allowed on go the (from the morning of the 18th of October) 7.
In their second interim report, they discovered that the rail had been checked only a week before the crash occurred and the cracks were not found. They also said that the rails were built to a standard that was standard for the time they were constructed 9 which meant it was down to poor maintenance rather than faulty rails. It was also largely responsible for Railtrack going into administration which lead to changes in how the national rail system worked.
The reason Railtrack had such severe financial difficulties was that, after the crash they imposed decreased speed limits on large sections of track to allow time for checks to be carried out to look for more cracks in the rails 8. This led to large scale delays and cancellations which meant many customers had to be reimbursed which cost the company millions of pounds. During the time after the crash, the stocks of the company fell dramatically, from an all-time high of £17 to less than £3 8 which contributed to its decline during this period. This is a fall of 82% and this is extremely damaging to any company. It also led Railtrack chairman, Gerald Corbett, to resign in November of the same year after having a previous resignation offer rejected just after the crash. Recommendations and regulations coming from the incidentThe disaster did lead to some changes in national law as well as how the ail companies worked.
The national rail speed limit was lowered to 125 miles per hour as this would decrease the rate at which surface cracks could form on the rails. This now means that high speed trains, such as High speed 1, from London and the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, must be on separate rails that are built to a higher quality and have to be checked much more often to avoid rails breaking as they did here. Rail companies now also must check the rails for cracks more regularly. It would also mean that if a train did derail, the effects would be less catastrophic compared to an even higher speed.
As well as this, Network Rail now manage the maintenance on their own rails. This change happened to stop third parties not doing their job properly, which was what happened in this case. According to Mick Whelan, the Train Drivers’ Union general secretary, the crash was an example of the “serious shortcomings of the privatised infrastructure company” 11.
He believed that the crash was partly caused by the fact that Balfour Beatty was a private company and therefore it was designed to turn a profit as opposed to acting in the interests of public views and safety. Ethics Conclusion In conclusion, it is clear that the effects of the Hatfield rail disaster of October 2000 can still be seen today. Network Rail is now in charge of the rail system, this is a government organisation, so this means that it should be run for the people and not to make a profit. Private third parties are used as little as possible to ensure that the rail industry continues to look after public safety. This crash also brought rails breaking back into the public eye meaning that the companies involved are far more likely to do something about it as it may affect their revenue. This is apparent as there haven’t been any other major rail crashes caused by broken rails due to rolling contact fatigue showing that the rail industry is now far more aware of the problem and successfully trying to combat it.