The Ladbroke Grove Rail Crash
(also known as the Paddington train crash
) was a rail accident
which occurred on 5 October 1999
at Ladbroke Grove
. Thirty one people were killed as a result of the collision and over 520 injured.
The disaster occurred at 08:08 and 58 seconds BST
, when a three-car Class 165 diesel multiple unit
train operated by Thames Trains
collided with a First Great Western High Speed Train
(which consisted of eight Mark 3
passenger carriages with a Class 43
power car at each end) at Ladbroke Grove Junction, about two miles (4 km) west of the terminus at London Paddington station
. The trains collided almost head-on at the junction with a combined closing speed of approximately 130 mph (210 km/h).
The first car of the Thames train, the 0806 from Paddington to Bedwyn, Wiltshire, driven by Michael Hodder, was totally destroyed on impact, and the diesel fuel carried by this train at the start of its daily journey ignited, causing a series of separate fires in the wreckage, particularly in coach H at the front of the HST, which was completely burnt out. Thirty one people, including the drivers of both trains involved, were killed, and 227 people were admitted to hospital. A further 296 people were treated at the site of the crash for minor injuries.
The immediate cause of the disaster was identified as Driver Hodder passing signal
SN109 when it was showing a red aspect (technically known as a Signal Passed At Danger
or SPAD), 563 metres before the impact point. However, the public inquiry conducted over the next year by Lord Cullen
identified many contributory factors, blaming Thames Trains' driver training procedures (Driver Hodder had only qualified two months earlier), and Railtrack
's Great Western Zone (who were responsible for the maintenance of the track and signalling
) who had not taken appropriate action in view of the fact that there had been eight SPADs at signal SN109 in the preceding six years (although all those trains stopped before reaching the junction), or taken sufficient action in response to complaints from train drivers about the visibility of various signals, particularly SN109.
The Health and Safety Executive's HM Railway Inspectorate was also criticised for its inspection procedures, and the Railtrack signalling centre staff at Slough were criticised for not sending a radio "emergency all stop" signal immediately when it was realised that the Thames Train had passed a signal at danger. They were expecting the train to stop shortly after the signal as had happened with the earlier SPADs at that signal, and it is not known if the radio signal eventually sent was received before the impact 33 seconds later. Finally, the system did not provide flank protection; points ahead could have been set as a default to divert an overrunning train to a parallel line instead of into a head-on collision. (Hall 2003)
Lord Cullen led a public inquiry into the crash, the recommendations of which led to the creation in 2003 of the Rail Safety and Standards Board
On 5 April 2004, Thames Trains was fined a record £2,000,000 for violations of health and safety law in connection with this accident.
On 31 October 2006, Network Rail pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 in relation to the accident. They received a fine of £4 million on 30 March 2007, and were ordered to pay £225,000 in costs.
Signal SN109 was brought back into service in February 2006. It and many other signals in the Paddington area are now single-lens type signals.
The crash site
The disaster occurred at the point where the main line from London to South Wales
and the West of England
switches from two lines in each direction, carrying fast and slow trains, to multiple lines signalled to allow trains to travel in either direction, in and out of the platforms of Paddington Station. The track layout had been modified in this way by British Rail
in the early 1990s, but the line had subsequently been electrified to allow the new Heathrow Express
service to operate from 1994, and the new overhead catenary obstructed the view of various signals. Signal SN109 had a particularly restricted view as there was a road bridge over the railway line a few hundred metres before the gantry on which SN109, together with four other signals, was mounted. The design of signal SN109 was non-standard, in that it was shaped like a reversed "L", with the red lamp on the horizontal arm rather than below the other lenses as is standard, and it is thought that this, together with the bright sun rising in the east behind the train and shining directly into the signal lenses may have misled the inexperienced Driver Hodder into thinking that the signal was showing a proceed aspect.
This was the second major accident on the Great Western Main Line in just over two years, the first being the Southall rail crash of September 1997, a few miles west, and this severely damaged public confidence in the safety of Britain's privatised railway system.
A memorial garden, partially overlooking the site, is accessible from the adjacent Sainsburys supermarket car park.
On 20 September 2005
, a 90-minute documentary-drama programme based on the events at Ladbroke Grove, was aired on BBC1
. This dramatisation was heavily criticised in the railway press, with the editor of Rail magazine
(Nigel Harris) describing it as a "trashy piece of subjective story-telling" (issue 523). The programme itself clearly stated that the chronology of actual events had been changed, and some scenes fabricated, to "add clarity".
(2003). Beyond Hidden Dangers: Railway Safety into the 21st Century
. Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-2915-6.