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Fresh safety calls a decade on from the Tebay rail tragedy
IN THE early hours of February 15, 2004, a team of 10 men were replacing a section of track close to Tebay.
None of them saw or heard a trolley, loaded with 17 tonnes of scrap rail, which rushed silently towards them as they went about their work.
Colin Buckley, 49, and Darren Burgess, 30, both from Carnforth, Gary Tindall, 46, from Tebay, and Chris Waters, 54, from Morecambe, were all killed at the scene, while six men suffered psychological and physical injuries.
“If we’d just had just a few seconds of warning on that night in 2004, the men would still be alive I think,” said survivor, Tom Angus, who stepped away from the track moments before the trolley hit his colleagues.
“Years ago we used to have a lookout – and a man would literally look out and see if anything was coming.
“Then they did away with lookouts because they brought in a system where they said ‘nothing is running so you don’t need anyone’.
“But as 2004 proved, there needs to be a better system.”
Both he and the RMT Union now want a device known as a treadle – for which a prototype has been developed – to be introduced.
The treadle would be placed at the side of the track where engineers are working and would trigger a warning siren if it detected anything running.
“A siren would have alerted us and everyone would have stepped back and got out of the way,” continued Mr Angus, of Lancaster, who said he was ‘mentally scarred’ by what he saw.
“But we just didn’t see or hear it until it was too late.”
Mr Angus said he believed there have been around 70 similar incidents since the Tebay disaster, although none with loss of life.
The most recent one, to his knowledge, was in Glasgow when a runaway trolley knocked a man from some scaffolding.
This week, his calls for better safety were echoed by Steve Metcalfe of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union.
“The RMT has campaigned ever since Tebay for improved protection on track,” said Mr Metcalfe, of the Lancaster branch of the union.
“This has to change and workers’ grievances must no longer be sidelined.”
Last year RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, also called for the system to be introduced, saying it would give track workers ‘one last chance to escape with their lives’ should other systems fail.
A spokesman for Network Rail, which operates the track, said a ‘secondary protection system’ for track workers has been trialled in the North West, although a full-production model was yet to be deployed.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our workforce and the travelling public,” he said.
The Tebay incident happened around 6am, on Sunday February 15, after the 20-tonne maintenance trolley rolled three miles from Scout Green, north of Tebay.
On its journey it reached around 40mph, approaching the point where the men were working in minutes.
In the darkness, the men, employees of Carillion, were using petrol-powered generators to light the site and some may have been wearing ear defenders.
It is thought the men died instantly on impact.
“On the 10th anniversary, my thoughts and prayers are with families of the four workers who lost their lives,” said South Lakes MP Tim Farron. “We must work tirelessly to improve safety on our railways.”
* There is a memorial event at midday on Saturday and anyone who wishes to pay their respects is welcome.
A service will be held at the memorial, near where the tragedy happened, where the A685 crosses the rail lines.