An incident which could have derailed a passenger train has been the subject of a critical report by rail investigators.
The dossier from the Government’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch said Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) should improve how it copes with rain and floods in the wake of the perilous event.
It unfolded last year at Knockmore, outside Lisburn, after a service was travelling along a raised embankment with a dip on either side.
Pictures in the report show that, following very heavy rainfall, part of this raised embankment had simply been washed away.
The rails and sleepers were left suspended in mid-air, without ground underneath to support the track.
This “washout”, as the report calls it, was not spotted until the last minute.
As the train approached just after 7am, a warning was shouted and the emergency brake was hit – but it was too late to stop the first set of wheels rolling over the unsupported section of line. The report found the vehicle “dipped noticeably” as it passed over.
The front wheels of the first carriage stopped on the other side of the undermined track, while its back ones stopped just short of passing across.
But the drama was not over.
The driver felt the embankment was about to collapse further beneath the stopped train, and feared “the leading vehicle might fall into the void”.
He called the control room to seek permission to reverse, but a controller declined.
He decided to do it anyway, said the report, and by 7.20am, the train had reversed away from danger safely.
The service had been bound for Portrush, but was travelling on a lesser-used line via Lisburn. It was inspected in the days before the incident, and no problems observed.
No-one was injured, but the report found derailment had been a real risk.
It also found a number of deficiencies in NIR’s procedures, and recorded that, among other things, NIR’s “preparedness procedure” did not include a plan to cope with flooding or heavy rainfall.
The report’s recommendations include that NIR draw up a heavy rainfall plan, and “be fully aware of locations on its network which are vulnerable to heavy rainfall”.
Translink said the rainfall which hit that part of track was a “one in 200-year event,” and drainage on adjacent land had not been adequate, adding: “Translink operational staff on board the train on the day are properly commended as having made the correct decisions and acted quickly and effectively. Translink accepts the report’s recommendations; indeed many are already complete or well under way.”