Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd (GTR) has today, 17 July, been fined £1 million after a passenger died when he opened a window marked ‘press and pull down to open’ and struck his head against a steel gantry.
Southwark Crown Court heard how, on 7 August 2016, 24-year-old Simon Brown had been traveling on the Gatwick Express train bound for London Victoria when he suffered the fatal blow.
Jonathan Ashley-Norman QC, prosecuting for Office of Rail and Road (ORR), told the court that ‘for reasons unknown’, Mr Brown’s head had passed through a droplight window of the door on the Class 442 train.
His head struck a trackside gantry – a steel structure suspended across tracks used for mounting signals – as the train, which was travelling at approximately 60mph drew close to Balham Station in South London.
The window was in a carriage door in the corridor opposite the Guard’s compartment and was fully accessible to the public.
A metal bar ran along the top of the window pane bearing the instruction ‘press and pull down to open’. This allowed the window to be lowered to a point about two-thirds of the way down the frame to enable passengers to reach the external door handle and open the door when the train was in a station.
There had been a warning sticker on the door, the BBC reported. But Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC, at Southwark Crown Court, is said to have told the court this was "jumbled" around other notices.
"The signage around the window was confusing," he said.
The ORR’s investigation revealed that there had been a similar incident in 2002, which resulted in enforcement action being taken against the train operator South Central Limited.
The ORR told the court that the risks associated with droplight windows should have been identified by a suitable risk assessment, and control measures introduced accordingly. However, GTR failed to take the appropriate action.
Preventing future tragedies
ORR has written to operators instructing them to take immediate action to prevent a similar tragedy happening again. Ian Prosser, ORR Director of Safety and HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “There are still some trains with droplight windows operating on the network.”
In court it was also heard that, following the incident, GTR immediately took steps to place bars across the windows. It still possible to lower the window, and therefore open the door when necessary, but it is not possible for passengers’ heads to be outside the carriage.
Simon Brown, from East Grinstead, West Sussex, had been a life-long railway fanatic who was working in the rail industry, according to BBC’s report of the case.
As a child, he had volunteered on the Bluebell steam railway in Sussex and had been working before the incident as an engineering technician with Hitachi Rail Europe in Bristol.
HM Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser said: "Our thoughts remain with Simon Brown’s family and friends at this particularly difficult time.”
Duty to protect the general public
Sentence was passed by His Honour Judge Jeffrey Pegden sitting at Southwark Crown Court following GTR entering a guilty plea at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 8 May 2019.
GTR was fined £1 million, with £52,267 costs for breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which relates to duty of employers to ensure the safety of persons other than employees, such as visitors, the general public and clients.
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