Nine rail workers were just seconds from being killed by a train travelling at 80mph in a terrifying incident reminiscent of the Tebay tragedy which claimed the lives of four men 10 years ago.
The track workers were given no warning that a passenger train was bearing down on them, rail accident investigators said.
The group, operating on a small bridge on the West Coast main line in Hest Bank, was reliant on getting visual and audible warnings of approaching trains as their view was restricted by the curvature of the track.
But they received no advance warning that an Edinburgh to Manchester Airport train was approaching and had to leap to safety with four seconds to spare.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said: “They were forced to take immediate evasive action when the train first became visible, approximately four seconds before it reached the site of work.
“Some staff were unable to reach a safe position and pressed themselves against the bridge parapet.”
The incident bore frightening similarities to the Tebay tragedy in 2004 in which four railway workers were killed after being hit by a runaway trailer.
Colin Buckley, 49, of Carnforth, Darren Burgess, 30, also of Carnforth, Chris Waters, 53, of Morecambe, and Gary Tindall, 46, of Tebay, died when a wagon carrying 16 tonnes of steel rail tracks came out of the darkness and hit them as they worked on the West Coast Main Line.
The rail workers had no warning of the approaching wagon
Rail boss Mark Connolly, 44, of north Wales, and crane operator Roy Kennett, 29, of Maidstone, Kent, were both later jailed for manslaughter.
The RAIB has launched an investigation into the latest incident, which happened south of Hest Bank between Carnforth and Lancaster at 2.23pm on September 22.
The RAIB said the track workers included contract staff and a controller of site safety employed by Network Rail.
They were packing ballast under sleepers on the up (towards London) main line on a small bridge.
A lookout-operated warning system (LOWS) was being used to give warning of approaching trains because of the gang’s restricted view.
This system is designed to allow lookouts to signal the approach of a train by operating two toggle switches on an LOWS lookout unit.
This then transmits a radio signal to a LOWS static unit which then gives both visual and audible warnings.
The RAIB said that on the afternoon of the near-miss, the LOWS equipment was being operated by two Network Rail lookouts, one on each side of the site of work and each equipped with an LOWS lookout unit.
The lookout watching for trains on the up line was located about half a mile from the site of work, in a position which gave him a good view of trains approaching from the north.
The static unit was located near the track workers. The LOWS is reported to have been both tested and operating normally prior to the incident.
At about 2.23pm, a train, the 12.12 Edinburgh to Manchester Airport service, approached the site from the north (on the up line).
The train was travelling at an estimated 80mph as it passed the group at a location where the maximum permitted speed is 125mph.
RAIB’s investigation will examine the reasons why no warning was provided to the track workers.
It will consider the sequence of events and factors that may have led to the incident, and identify any safety lessons.
RAIB’s investigation is independent of any investigations by the railway industry or safety authority.
The RAIB said: “Our investigation will examine the reasons why no warning was provided to the track workers.
“It will consider the sequence of events and factors that may have led to the incident, and identify any safety lessons.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “This incident once again illustrates the dangers that confront track workers on Britain’s railways on a daily basis.
“We have repeatedly raised concerns about the safety of the LOWS and this RAIB report should force the pace for Network Rail to come up with a safer alternative.”