Network Rail fined almost £700,000 after serious fire accident

On the railways, substations house electrical switchgear and equipment which supply electricity to the live rail system powering the trains (‘the third rail’). Live rail systems work with direct current (DC). The equipment in a substation converts 33,000V alternating current (AC) from the railway main ring to 750V DC which is used in the live rail.

In its investigation, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) had found the conditions were unsafe, and that the failures led to an electrical arc and a fire while Network Rail’s employees were working on a circuit breaker. The conditions inside the substation on the day of the incident were described as “like a sauna.”

Sentence was passed by District Judge Barron at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court, following ORR’s prosecution. Network Rail pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act, for failing to protect the safety of staff and were fined £696,666 and ordered to pay £33,647.45 in costs

Ian Prosser CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, ORR said, “This case highlights the importance of acting to reduce or eliminate known risks at an early stage. Network Rail knew of the water leak at Godinton for nine months and despite concerns raised by staff and contractors, the required work was repeatedly delayed.  This was a known risk and the failure to deal with it effectively led to staff working in unsafe conditions, resulting in serious injuries to one employee. This case reinforces the importance of acting effectively on known concerns to protect the health and safety of employees on Britain’s railway.”

In his remarks, District Judge Barron said that 'the system of work in place at the time was not sufficiently robust and the training programme for Network Rail’s technicians at the time did not adequately identify the dangers of working near to live equipment in damp conditions.'

District Judge Barron added that 'as a result of these failures Network Rail’s employees were exposed to risk, and that risk materialised on 20th December 2018 when the flashover and fire occurred'.

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