November 10, 2004

More on the Ufton Train Crash 

The British Health & Safety Executive (HSE) already published an interim report (PDF 80K) with the first results of the investigation on the train crash occurred at Ufton, Berkshire, on Saturday 7 November. The final toll is 7 deaths and 37 injured. From the document, it emerges that at least high-speed trains in the UK have sistem called OTMR (On Train Monitoring Recording) to record speed and other relevant data, like activation of brakes and other controls.

There is no evidence of errors by the railway staff, or faults with the train, level crossing or signalling system. The sole culprit is the man who parked his car on the level crossing.

Trains cannot brake to a stop in any useful distance: on italian railways, it is considered that a train needs at least 600 m to stop completely - not surprising if you consider the kinetic energy of a 500 t body at 120 km/h. In most cases, when the driver sights an obstruction on the track it's too late to do anything about it.
Collisions of trains with road vehicles at level crossing are a somewhat common occurrance - that's why newer railways have no level crossings. Usually, the event ends with destruction of the road vehicle (if it's a car), death of its passengers, and minor to serious damage to the train, with only slight injuries to the train's crew and passengers.
Sometimes the leading wheelset of the train derails at impact, but usually the train stays upright and it does not end in a catastrophic derailment with cars leaving the rails.

In this case, however, it happened: at about 91 m past the level crossing, there is a switch where another track called Down Goods Loop braches from the main one. When a train with a derailed bogie hits a switch (or pointwork... I don't have a deep knowledge of these specific terms in English), bad things will happen. Basically, some wheels/bogies will tend to go in one directions, others in the other. The first such coach will tend to stop abruptly, but the following ones still have a lot of momentum, and so they will leave the tracks, roll over, jump up and such. Here's a photogallery showing the level of damage in the derailment. Many years ago, a freight train with a single broken and derailed axle struck the switches of my village's station: half of the train derailed, and wagons were scattered around tracks and platforms causing huge damage. No casualties because the accident happened at something like 3 am.

This for the technical part. Journalists discovered other weird facts about the Ufton derailment. The Sun, always hungry for scandals and skimpy babes (although its news section and columns are not that bad), says that the suicide drive Brian Drysdale was a sleazy junkie, often doing drugs and into the gay bars scene.
The Mirror, maybe even more scandalistic, reports that the guy spent most of his money on drugs, drinks and picking up boys in gay bars. His personal hygiene is reported to be "appalling" and he left an apartment in such a pitiful state that it needed re-decoration and the bathroom replaced.


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