How Hatfield changed rail safety

This week marked the 23rd anniversary of the Hatfield rail crash, a tragedy that killed four people, seriously injured 19 and left many more with minor injuries.

The crash happened just a year after the Ladbroke Grove disaster which killed 31 people, and two years before another tragedy in Potters Bar killed seven, so it became difficult to ignore the poor state of some of Britain’s railways. Experts at the time said the crash was ‘destined to change the face of Britain’s railway network forever’.

What happened in the tragic incident?

On October 17, 2000, the 12.10pm London King’s Cross to Leeds GNER service left the capital, and by 12.24pm it had derailed between Welham Green and Hatfield.

The train was travelling at almost the line speed of 115mph at the time and, while there was no negligence on the day of the incident, the crash soon exposed a number of failings by Railtrack, who were responsible for the infrastructure at the time.

What caused the crash?

The investigation found that the track had become subject to Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF).

RCF occurs when cracks form in the rail, and if left untreated, lead to the rail breaking under pressure.

Most worrying is that this was not an unexpected problem. In 1999 Railtrack admitted their existing lines were not up to a high enough standard to prevent against this type of fatigue, while just a week before the accident there was a visual inspection of the track – the cracks were not seen.

What happened after the crash?

Following the crash, the rail network suffered severe disruption. Speed restrictions were put in place, and engineering work ordered as Railtrack tried to ensure it would be the last accident of this nature. It was succeeded by Network Rail, who began a program of works in the fight against RCF.

How is RCF monitored and treated?

There are now programs in place to both prevent and treat RCF. These include Non-Destructive testing of Rails, including Ultrasonic testing alongside Magnetic Particle and Liquid Penetrant testing. Both methods help identify the length and depth of the crack and whether they can be treated via Rail Grinding or Rail Milling, or whether the track will need replacing.

There are also regular patrols and Switch & Crossing inspection regimes in place to prevent derailments caused by other categories of RCF.

NRL became part of the fight by becoming suppliers of Ultrasonic testers and RCF Grinding teams in 2001 and continue to do so, with over 22 years’ experience – with a shared commitment to safety and hazard prevention.

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