THE driver of a train which ran out of control along more than two miles of the West Coast railway line was probably suffering from fatigue, accident investigators have concluded.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said the northbound freight train reached a maximum speed of 51mph when it ran back along the track in Eden on August 17 last year.

If it had not been stopped within minutes, it could have been derailed with serious consequences.

The train, operated by DB Schenker, was travelling between Tebay and Shap summit at just after 2am when it slowed to a stop before running back along the track.

Five minutes passed, during which time the train travelled 2.2 miles, before the driver manager to brake the train.

The RAIB report said: “The incident caused no injuries or damage; however the consequences could have been worse.

“If the driver had not braked when he did, the rear of the train would have travelled over a turnout into Tebay sidings at an excessive speed, which might have led to derailment, damage and obstruction of the adjacent line on which trains travel south.”

The investigation found that DB Schenker’s train driver, who was working the first of a series of night shifts, was ‘probably fatigued and not sufficiently alert at the time of the incident’.

Investigators also found that although DB Schenker had used a recommended mathematical model and industry guidance to plan the shift, the driver had been exposed to a work pattern that was likely to induce high levels of fatigue.

The RAIB report concluded that the mathematical model adopted by most of the rail industry was likely to under-predict the probability of high levels of fatigue experienced by people working a first night shift.

As a consequence of this accident, the RAIB has made four recommendations, incluing one targeted at DB Schenker concerning the management of fatigue.

The Office of Rail Regulation was also told it needed to enhance guidance on managing the risk of fatigue; and give advice on the accuracy and limitations of mathematical models.

The RAIB has also made a recommendation to the Rail Safety and Standards Board to improve rail industry information on fatigue-related accidents and incidents.

The RAIB says its investigations aim to prevent future accidents and incidents and improve railway safety but not establish blame, liability or carry out prosecutions.