Runaway Caledonian Sleeper train overshot Waverley because brakes wrongly set

The overnight train from London with 120 passengers on board stopped 650m beyond the platform in Edinburgh after an uncoupling error when it was divided at Carstairs.

The train approaching Waverley station during the incident. Picture: Peter Fitton.
The train approaching Waverley station during the incident. Picture: Peter Fitton.

A report into the incident published today said the train was stopped by the train manager applying the emergency brake – but only when he realised it was not going to stop at the platform.

The driver had been unable to contact him “because he was not in his office and did not have a radio”.

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The UK Department for Transport’s rail accident investigation branch (RAIB) said the driver should have followed the “train in distress” procedure of continuous long blasts on the horn, which could have alerted the train manager.

The train disappearing into a tunnel after overshooting the station. Picture: Tremayne Elson.

The train was travelling at 41mph – more than twice the 20mph speed limit – as it passed Princes Street Gardens on the final approach to Waverley.

It reached Waverley at 30mph and had slowed to 23mph as it ran out of the east end of the station.

The RAIB concluded the fault was caused by the brake pipe isolation cock being manually closed when the Edinburgh and Glasgow-bound sections of the train were split at Carstairs.

That removed control of the coach brakes from the driver.

The Caledonian Sleeper train involved at Edinburgh Waverley.

That confirms The Scotsman’s revelation the incident was caused by human error.

Caledonian Sleeper subsequently admitted there had been an "isolated operational mistake".

Train managers have also been given access to a radio.

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The carriages involved were part of a brand-new fleet introduced three months before.

‘Learning points’ advised

The RAIB has advised Sleeper operator Serco to review procedures to “to prevent inadvertent operation” of the brake isolating cocks.

The body also asked for changes to railway rules to make clear brakes should be tested after all coupling-related activities have been completed.

The RAIB said it had also identified six “learning points” including over procedures for coupling and uncoupling trains.

It said the incident happened on 1 August last year when the driver of the service from Euston found he was unable to control its speed as it approached Edinburgh at about 7:25am.

The train approached Haymarket at 50mph, above the 40mph speed limit.

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The report stated: “He was unable to comply with the maximum permitted speed at Haymarket East junction, and would have been unable to stop the train before the junction if there had been a conflicting train movement.

“Had the route not been clear, it is possible a collision between passenger trains at significant speed could have occurred at the junction or in Haymarket station.

“The driver was also unable to stop the train at Edinburgh Waverley station.

“The train came to a stop approximately 650 metres beyond its intended stopping point at platform 11, after the train manager operated an emergency button in a coach.

Passenger alarm activated

“As the train was passing through platform 11, the train manager realised there was a problem and operated the passenger alarm button in his office to try to stop the train.

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“The passenger alarm button alerts the train driver to an emergency and applies the train brakes after a ten-second delay.

“When nothing seemed to be happening, because of the ten-second delay, the train manager operated a second passenger alarm button in the passenger area outside his office, and he then felt the brakes apply sharply, bringing the train to a stop.

“By this time the front of the train was in Calton South tunnel, with the rear between platform seven and the tunnel.

“The train crew subsequently identified that an air isolation cock between the locomotive and the coaches was closed when it should have been open.

“After identifying this and obtaining permission from the signaller, they reversed the train back into the platform where the passengers alighted.

‘Outcome could have been much worse’

“There were no injuries and no damage occurred.

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“However, the outcome could potentially have been much worse, had it led to a collision with another train, either at Haymarket East junction or at Edinburgh Waverley station.

“The driver was unable to stop the train because the brake pipe isolating cock on the leading end of the leading coach was closed.

“This prevented the brakes on all the coaches from operating when demanded by the driver, although the driver still had control of the brake systems on the locomotive.

“The isolating cock became closed during coupling operations when the Edinburgh train was split from the Glasgow train at Carstairs station [29 miles from Edinburgh].

“This happened after the mandated brake continuity test had been completed.

“The closure of the valve was therefore undetected prior to the train’s departure from Carstairs.

“The effectiveness of the brake systems on the locomotive also masked the absence of the coach brakes until the train was approaching Slateford, on the approach to Edinburgh.”

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Ryan Flaherty, Serco managing director of the Caledonian Sleeper, said: “We welcome this constructive RAIB report and have co-operated fully with the investigation.

“Our priority is to ensure such an incident can never happen again and we have already implemented the recommendation that has been made to Caledonian Sleeper, as well as addressing the learning points.”

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