John Halsall, managing director, Southern region
It’s been three weeks since a freight train derailed at Eastleigh and since then I’ve tried to be as open as I can be about the causes of the incident, so the people who have been so badly affected can at least understand why it happened.
I know people have more questions for me about the derailment and also what I and my team knew about the state of the railway in that area, so I’ll address them here.
Firstly the basics: the train derailed because eight rail fastenings failed and as the train made its way across the track the outer rail was pushed away from its normal alignment – what we call “gauge spread” – and the wheels dropped into the gap.
Some of those fastenings had already failed before the incident, however the nature of the failure was such that our two-week visual inspections would not have picked up that problem.
When we retrieved those failed fastenings we found “bolts” (actually integral to the fastenings) had sheared off below the surface of the bearers they were drilled into (the concrete sleepers that support the track), which could not be seen with the naked eye.
You can see from this picture the fastening on the left has the full-length bolt and the fastening on the right has lost 75% of its length, highlighted in red. The red line is the level the bearer came up to, showing how the failure was hidden out of sight.
This type of fastening is very unusual on our railway and a result of the Eastleigh incident we inspected over 2,000 of these fastenings in similar locations, both visually and using tactile inspections, and found only one that needed attention.
There has been speculation that previous issues had been identified with these fastenings. It is not unusual for the housings of these fastenings to become detached, and we simply replace the housing.
However, this is the first time across the country that we have encountered this type of failure, where the bolts broke below the surface and a visual inspection would not pick them up.
There were extra tie-bars in place nearby the derailment to keep the tracks secure, the clips for which are circled in the picture, however these were only there to support two bearers that had known problems with them, and they were nothing to do with the derailment.
Finally and most importantly, I have seen that people from within Network Rail have expressed public concern about the railway at Eastleigh and our maintenance of it. Let me be clear, we will never knowingly put anyone’s safety at risk, and the concerns of our people are being taken seriously. We’re double checking the quality of the work and infrastructure in the area to reassure both ourselves and you.
It’s so important to me that our people feel able to raise concerns about the railway with me and my team. There are several ways of doing that internally including CIRAS – the industry-wide confidential safety reporting service. In fact if anyone has concerns I have always said to contact me directly if they have to and I will always listen.
In this case we have acted on the concerns raised through the media by a member of our staff, in the positive spirit in which they were raised. An independent internal investigation has been commissioned to look into these issues.
Our next step is to complete fixing the track and allow full services to resume to the station. We anticipate this will take a few more weeks to achieve.
Everyone here in my team is working hard to run the best railway we can and we know we have a lot of work to do to earn your trust and I hope my words today will go some way to showing you we really mean it.
That’s why we are working with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) on their ongoing investigation into the incident. Read the RAIB's initial findings.