Embattled railway campaigners have blasted the industry’s failure to protect track workers in the 10 years since the Tebay disaster.
Ahead of Saturday’s anniversary, survivors and relatives of those killed say it is unacceptable that equipment designed to prevent a repeat has not been introduced.
Carnforth men Colin Buckley, 49, and Darren Burgess, 30, Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, and their colleague Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay, died when a runaway trailer crashed into them as they worked in the dark on the West Coast Main Line north of Kendal, Cumbria.
Survivor Tom Angus, from Lancaster, stepped out of the path of the 16-tonne trailer, which was loaded with scrap rail, just seconds before the 40mph impact.
Mr Angus, of Scotforth, pictured below, said: “These vehicles are still running away – there have been over 70 since
Tebay. It’s another Tebay waiting to happen, yet we have been having to fight for the last 10 years.”
It has emerged that the latest runaway incident happened as recently as last April. A worker was seriously injured after a maintenance trailer crashed into scaffolding in Glasgow. It rolled away as it was being transferred to the track.
The Guardian can reveal that Network Rail plans to roll out a new warning system - which has been trialled at Carnforth - nationally later this year. But those closely linked with the February 15, 2004, horror remain sceptical.
Now retired, Mr Angus, 67, a former RMT Union Lancaster branch safety rep, said: “I won’t believe it until I finally see it. We have been this close before and it’s been taken from us. We are nowhere near now than we were in 2004.”
Darren Burgess’ parents, Christine and Tom, of Carnforth, expressed their “extreme disappointment” at the lack of progress.
Mr Burgess, 65, a retired railwayman, said: “There have been incidents of runaways well into double figures since. It’s worrying; it should have been a priority really.”
His wife, also 65, added: “We would hate it to happen again. It should have been sorted pretty much straight away.”
And Christine Waters, 60, who still lives in the Cross Street, Morecambe, home she shared with her late husband, added: “I was hoping that when the accident happened it would wake people up, but it hasn’t.”
The decade-long campaign for “secondary protection” - so called because the only chance workers have of spotting an approaching hazard is seeing it themselves - has been led by the RMT’s Lancaster members.
Craig Johnston, RMT northern organiser, said: “It’s taken ten years of battling and the branch in Lancaster has been at the forefront and they need to be commended.
“We have had to keep the pressure on and it isn’t acceptable that it’s taken this long. We should have been able to do something by now.”
Mr Angus continued: “We are asking for it to be mandatory all over the country, especially where there are gradients like at Tebay.
“I have put this to Network Rail at every meeting I have been to. I ask them how they are going to stop a trailer if one runs away today and they can’t come up with an answer.”
This week, Network Rail said additional protection will be made available nationally “in the coming months.”
Mr Angus said if Lancashire and Cumbria were the first places to get it, campaigners will have achieved “everything we set out to.”
The treadle-operated device would be fixed to the track close to where maintenance gangs are working. If anything is detected running past the treadle, it triggers a siren, giving workers down the line a ten second warning to clear the area.
Mr Angus said: “All we are asking for us is a second chance to get out of the way. We didn’t have a second chance at Tebay but ten seconds might have made all the difference.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “Ten years on from this terrible tragedy, our thoughts remain with the friends and families of the four men.
“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our workforce and the travelling public.
“All the recommendations made by the independent safety investigator into the accident have been implemented.
“This means that all road-rail vehicles of the type that caused the Tebay accident are now fitted with an automatic braking system, and any without this safety system are banned from our tracks.
“We have also been working closely with the RMT Union on engineering from scratch a secondary protection system for our track workers that has been successfully trialled in the north west of England over the last year.
“Feedback from those trials means there are modifications needed to the prototype, but we hope to deploy a full-production model in the coming months.”
Ian Prosser, director of railway safety at the Office of Rail Regulation, said there had been “some” runaway incidents in the last few years but fewer than previously.
He added: “There has been a significant amount of enforcement from my inspectors in the area of train protection and road-rail vehicles and that has pushed Network Rail to make the improvements that we see - but there’s still more to do.”
Mr Angus, who was signed off work with post-traumatic stress for six months after the Tebay deaths, said: “These families have one seat empty around the table - and that’s what it’s all about.”
Pausing to compose himself, he added: “Ten years on, I am still carrying out something that hasn’t been fulfilled. People working on the track are still in the lap of the Gods.”