The chief inspector of rail accidents has called for a rethink on the provision of tactile strips following the death of a visually impaired passenger who fell from a platform.
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has released its report into the incident, which took place at around 7pm on 26 February 2020 at Eden Park station in south-east London.
It said the passenger, who had impaired vision, moved near to and fell from the edge of Platform 1, ‘probably because his visual impairment meant he was unaware that he was close to this edge’, and was struck and fatally injured by a passenger train.
The platform edge was not fitted with markings intended to assist visually impaired people.
The RAIB said the combined effect of Department for Transport (DfT) and railway industry guidance and processes ‘meant that safety-based justifications for platform edge markings (including tactile surfaces) to aid visually impaired people, were not always effectively considered by the railway industry’.
Chief inspector of rail accidents, Simon French, said the industry should not simply wait until platforms are refurbished to install tactile strips.
He said: 'This tragic accident resulted in the death of someone who had impaired vision and mobility, and relied on the railway to transport him safely.
‘Our investigation concluded that the absence of a tactile strip along the platform edge may have been a factor in this accident. These strips are used to provide visually impaired passengers with an indication that they are approaching the platform edge. Around half of all mainline stations in the UK are also not equipped with this valuable aid to the visually impaired.
‘Our investigation found that government and the railway industry have policies in place to make rail travel more accessible for people with disabilities. However, there appears to have been no coherent strategy for the provision of tactile strips, despite their obvious importance to visually impaired people.
‘Although RAIB recognises that the immediate provision of tactile strips across the network would be very expensive, there is a need to develop a new policy to guide decision makers. This would inform the development of a programme for installation of tactile strips, particularly at places where the risk is likely to be higher, such as busy unstaffed stations.’
The RAIB said emergency services staff were unable to determine whether the third rail traction power supply had been turned off until a member of Network Rail staff arrived. This resulted in a delay of more than 12 minutes between London Ambulance Service staff arriving and accessing the track to provide medical care.
The report makes six recommendations:
- The first and second are addressed to DfT and Network Rail, firstly to seek improvements in the processes that govern when tactile surfaces at the edge of station platforms should be installed, and secondly to develop a plan for installing tactile surfaces at higher priority locations in a timely manner across the railway network.
- The third is addressed to the Rail Delivery Group to develop means of reducing the risk to visually impaired people using station platforms where tactile surfaces have not yet been installed.
- The fourth is addressed to the Office of Rail and Road and seeks improvements in the information made publicly available to help visually impaired people to decide whether it is safe to travel.
- The fifth is addressed to the Rail Safety and Standards Board, to develop processes to ensure that the rail industry has sufficient information, guidance and decision-support tools to fully address the safety risks associated with disabled people using the railway.
- A sixth recommendation is addressed to British Transport Police, National Fire Chiefs Council, Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and Network Rail to improve the processes associated with emergency services staff responding to incidents on the national rail network.