The Ladbroke Grove Rail Crash 1999– The big one waiting to happen

Welcome to our blog series looking at the causes and consequences of well known disasters. This blog looks at the Ladbroke Grove Rail Crash, on the Great Western Main line, which is also known as the Paddington Rail Crash of 5th October 1999 which resulted in 31 people killed and 417 injured.  

The Incident

At about 8.06 am a Thames Trains service to Bedwyn railway station in Wiltshire left Paddington Station. The 2 miles to Ladbroke Grove had bi-directional lines signalled to allow trains to travel in either direction in and out of Paddington station. The main line to South Wales outside Ladbroke Grove had a more conventional layout with two lines in each direction, carrying fast and slow trains.  

The outbound train should have been routed into the Down Main line at Ladbroke Grove.  It should have been held at a red signal at Portobello Junction until it was safe to progress, but this did not happen and it ran past the signal and was brought onto the Up Main Line at Ladbroke Grove.  

It collided almost head on with the high speed train from Cheltenham to Paddington.  

The diesel fuel carried by this train ignited in a fireball causing a series of fires in the wreckage.  The front coach was completely burnt out.  

Drivers of both trains were killed.

The Causes

The immediate cause of the accident was that the train to Wiltshire passed a red signal instead of being stopped.  

As the driver was killed in the accident it was not possible to establish why this happened, but it was known that the driver was inexperienced, having only qualified as a driver two weeks before the accident. His driver training was found to be inadequate.  

There were also problems with visibility because of the low early morning sun.  

The H. M. Railway Inspectorate published a detailed investigation and response to Railtrack  and the railways industry in September 1999, with their assessment of railtrack’s management of Multi- SPAD (Signals Passed at Danger). 

They identified generic risk factors and issued a number of improvement notices covering the top 22 Multi SPAD signals. 


The Lessons

The lack of competence, training and/or supervision of people at work can significantly increase the likelihood and severity of an incident occurring.

Implementing a formal health & safety training for staff through the organisation will not only reduce the risk of an incident occurring but may also provide some defence in the event of a prosecution.

There are many ways to deliver health & safety training including:

  • Formal qualifications such as a university degree,
  • Industry diploma such as the NEBOSH Diploma,
  • Internal classroom training,
  • Online Health & Safety Training, (eLearning)
  •  Informal ‘toolbox talks’ with peers.

Assent’s Health & Safety Consultants can help you manage occupational risks, while our training team Lorators can manage your Training Programme including developing bespoke health & safety eLearning Content.

Contact us for more information.

Peter Clements
Peter Clements
Articles: 13