Watford rail crash

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Watford rail crash
Watford rail crash.jpg
Date8 August 1996
Line West Coast Main Line
Cause Signal passed at danger
List of UK rail accidents by year

In the early evening of Thursday 8 August 1996, a Class 321 passenger train operated by Network SouthEast travelling from London Euston on the West Coast Main Line Down Slow line at around 110 km/h (68 mph) passed a signal at danger. Having applied the brakes it eventually stopped 203 m (222 yards) past the signal and was traversing the junction between the Down Slow line and the Up Fast line. An empty Class 321 coaching stock train approaching at roughly 80 km/h (50 mph) collided with the stationary passenger train approximately 700 m south of Watford Junction whilst progressing across the connections from the Up Slow line to the Up Fast line. [1]

British Rail Class 321

The British Rail Class 321 alternating current (AC) electric multiple units (EMU) were built by British Rail Engineering Limited's York Works in three batches between 1988 and 1991. The design was successful and led to the development of the similar Class 320 and Class 322.

Network SouthEast former passenger sector of British Rail formed in 1982

Network SouthEast (NSE) was one of the three passenger sectors of British Rail formed in 1982. NSE principally operated commuter trains in the London area and inter-urban services in densely populated South East England, although the network reached as far west as Exeter. Before 1986, the sector was known as London & South Eastern.

West Coast Main Line railway route in Britain

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is one of the most important railway corridors in the United Kingdom, connecting the major cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow. It is one of the busiest mixed-traffic railway routes in Europe, carrying a mixture of intercity rail, regional rail, commuter rail and rail freight traffic. The core route of the WCML runs from London to Glasgow, with branches diverging to Northampton, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, totalling a route mileage of 700 miles (1,127 km). Services from London to North Wales and Edinburgh also run via the WCML; however the main London-Edinburgh route is the East Coast Main Line. In addition, several sections of the WCML form part of the suburban railway systems in London, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, with many more smaller commuter stations, as well as providing links to more rural towns.


One person was killed and sixty-nine were injured, including four members of the train's crew. The person who was killed was Ruth Holland, book review editor of the British Medical Journal . [2]

Criminal proceedings

As a result of this accident, the train driver was charged with manslaughter by the Crown Prosecution Service on 10 January 1997, following an investigation by the British Transport Police. On 11 March 1998, the driver was acquitted at Luton Crown Court.

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BCE.

Crown Prosecution Service United Kingdom government non-ministerial department

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the principal public prosecuting agency for conducting criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. It is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

British Transport Police British police force that polices railways and light-rail systems

The British Transport Police (BTP) is a national special police force that polices railways and light-rail systems in England, Scotland and Wales, for which it has entered into an agreement to provide such services. Seventy five percent of the force's funding comes from Britain's privatised train companies. British Transport Police officers do not have jurisdiction in Northern Ireland unless working under mutual aid arrangements for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in which case any duties performed on a railway will be merely incidental to working as a constable in Northern Ireland.

In its report, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advised that there was insufficient evidence to justify legal proceedings against the other involved parties, namely Railtrack and Network SouthEast.

Health and Safety Executive Organisation responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare in Great Britain

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Great Britain. It is a non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom with its headquarters in Bootle, England. In Northern Ireland, these duties lie with the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland. The HSE was created by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and has since absorbed earlier regulatory bodies such as the Factory Inspectorate and the Railway Inspectorate though the Railway Inspectorate was transferred to the Office of Rail and Road in April 2006. The HSE is sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions. As part of its work, HSE investigates industrial accidents, small and large, including major incidents such as the explosion and fire at Buncefield in 2005. Though it formerly reported to the Health and Safety Commission, on 1 April 2008, the two bodies merged.

Railtrack was a group of companies that owned the track, signalling, tunnels, bridges, level crossings and all but a handful of the stations of the British railway system from 1994 until 2002. It was created as part of the privatisation of British Rail, listed on the London Stock Exchange, and was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. In 2002, after experiencing major financial difficulty, most of Railtrack's operations were transferred to the state-controlled non-profit company Network Rail. The remainder of Railtrack was renamed RT Group plc and eventually dissolved on 22 June 2010.

Incident report

Following delays caused by the criminal proceedings against the driver, the HSE and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) jointly published its Report into the railway accident at Watford South Junction on 8 August 1996 [3] on 29 April 1998, a summary version was published on the internet on 21 May 1998.

Contributing factors

The HSE and the ORR concluded in its incident report that there were a number of mitigating factors that contributed to the incident.

  1. The collision would have been avoided if the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system had been fitted to the train and track.
  2. The inappropriate positioning of a speed restriction sign as a result of imprecise wording in the Railway Signalling Standard which gave confusing information to the driver of the passenger train.
  3. The signal passed at danger had a shorter than normal safety margin known as an 'overlap' intended to reduce risks from small misjudgements by train drivers or increased braking distances (e.g. as a result of wet leaves on the line).

See also

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  1. "Signals blamed for Watford rail crash". BBC News. 29 April 1998. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  2. "Ruth Holland Obituary". British Medical Journal. 313: 620. 1996.
  3. Health & Safety Executive (1998). Report into the railway accident at Watford South Junction on 8 August 1996 (PDF) (Report). Office of Rail Regulation. Retrieved 19 May 2010.

Further reading

Coordinates: 51°39′29″N0°23′18″W / 51.6580°N 0.3884°W / 51.6580; -0.3884