Virgin Trains is making safety modifications to its entire fleet of Super Voyagers after one crashed into the buffers at Chester Railway Station last year (2013).

Preliminary findings of a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) probe had already concluded slippery rails were the cause of the incident on November 20, 2013, which led several passengers to fall, with one taken to hospital as a precaution.

RAIB’s final report recommends automatic sanding equipment to improve adhesion during slippery conditions and Virgin has confirmed this will be actioned.

The report stated: “The accident was caused by the train sliding on wet rails that were also contaminated with leaf residue and traces of lubricating oil. The train was not equipped with automatic sanding equipment, which could have applied sand to the rails to improve adhesion. The train was fitted with emergency sanding equipment but the driver did not activate this until the train was too close to the buffers to be able to stop before striking them.”

The Virgin train from Euston to Chester failed to stop in time at Platform 1 on November 20 2013

The RAIB recommends operators of Voyager and Super Voyager trains fit auto-sanders that apply sand when wheel slide is detected during heavy braking. Virgin has informed the RAIB of its intention to fit such equipment.

It was fortunate the quick-thinking driver had slowed the train to 25mph on approaching Chester station – normal speed is 30mph – after the Wheel Slip Protection indicator began flickering. But the “old-design” timber and steel buffer stop disintegrated on impact. And the report found a risk review had not been carried out on the buffer within the previous 10 years in contravention of guidance.

A modern energy-absorbing buffer would have prevented the train from overriding it and mounting the platform. “It was fortunate that there was no-one in this area at the time,” said the RAIB.

The RAIB said the rails were not pre-treated as there was no history of poor adhesion at this site. And the driver did not adopt the Virgin Trains defensive driving policy for low adhesion conditions because it did not apply on approach to buffer stops.

Learning points were that data from train data recorders will be used to highlight low adhesion hot-spots on the network. And the RAIB says infrastructure managers need to be aware of changes in traffic patterns necessitating the reassessment of the adequacy of buffer stops in terminal platforms.