A TRAIN driver worried about the Covid lockdown sent several texts about childcare concerns minutes before a railway crash in Bromsgrove on the same day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the restrictions.

A Rail Investigation Accident Branch report on the accident, which happened south of Bromsgrove station, on Monday, March 23, 2020, concluded the driver had been distracted by ‘personal issues’.

The unnamed man was driving a class 66 locomotive which derailed after running through a buffer stop at the end of a siding and came to rest on the main line, where it was hit by a passenger train travelling at 85mph.

Only four passengers and two crew members were on board the service – the 21:05 Cardiff Central to Birmingham New Street – when the crash happened at 10.44pm and nobody was injured.

The passenger train suffered significant damage along one side of all three of its coaches, the RAIB report added, although it did not derail, while the locomotive’s leading cab was also damaged.

The report said the driver of the locomotive had worked on the railway for 18 years and had no significant safety-related incidents on his record.

The collision occurred because there was insufficient time between the locomotive derailment and the passenger train’s arrival for the alarm to be raised and the passenger train to be stopped.

“It is possible that if the accident had occurred during the hours of daylight, the [passenger service] driver might have seen the locomotive slightly earlier, and been able to reduce the collision speed a little,” the report said.

The RAIB investigation said that the locomotive driver had watched the PM’s announcement to the nation before driving to work when he received a phone call from a family member.

“There was a worried discussion about what the earlier televised announcement would mean for his childcare arrangements,” the report added.

Later, while driving the locomotive from Walsall to Bromsgrove, he “received three text messages on his personal mobile phone” over a period of 11 minutes and sent “four text message replies”.

All of the messages related to concerns about childcare and the closure of schools and at 10:38pm, six minutes before the crash, he received and replied to a picture message showing advice from the school relating to school provision.

The report added that the train driver’s childcare arrangements ‘had relied on support from other family members which would be prohibited under lockdown. It was clear to him that this would make it very difficult for him to continue to manage his shift working pattern’.

The RIAB report said the use of a personal mobile phone in the drivers’ cab was against policy but the driver said he had forgotten to put it in his bag and instead left it in his pocket.

“The fact that the mobile phone was vibrating in his pocket, combined with the significant, unresolved childcare issue, drew him to read and respond to the mobile phone messages while he was driving the locomotive,” the report added.

“He sent no further messages, but continued to worry about how the childcare issue could be resolved, while the locomotive coasted along the siding towards the buffer stop.

“The result of this was that he was temporarily distracted from the driving task while in the siding.

“It was only when the locomotive was about 40 metres away from the buffer stop that the driver became aware of his location and immediately made a full application of the locomotive’s brakes. However, it was too late to avoid a collision with the buffer stop.”

RAIB recommended Network Rail review its processes and standards for managing buffer stop collision risk on non-platform terminal tracks.

It also identified three learning points for drivers, relating to compliance with mobile phone policies in the driving cab, informing signallers of accidents and safe exit from trains during an incident.