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Rail company fined for passenger stupidity?

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1326953.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:25 am Reply with quote

Not going to start hurrumphing about elfen-safety gorn mad, nanny state etc, but I really struggle with this case.

Essentially a passenger leaned out of the window of a moving train and brained himself on a passing* gantry. The passenger was an adult (24) and described by friends as a life-long railway fanatic who was working in the rail industry who first volunteered on the Bluebell steam railway in Sussex aged nine and was working as an engineering technician with a major train manufacturer in the UK. So he was neither an inexperienced passenger nor unaware of the trackside environment.

The train operator has been fined a million quid because the notice saying "don't be a fuckwit and stick your head out of the window" (I paraphrase) was insufficiently prominent amongst the other notices in the vicinity of the window - it's the yellow one on the left:

The trains in question were the older type where passengers have to op[en the window to get to the exterior door catch to open the door - they've since been retired (for other reasons - not because of this issue AFAIK).

Now I get it - companies should be routinely revisiting safety assessments, and have responsibilities towards their passengers, but are we serious here? I was always taught (both in professional training and as part of the system safety module of my last MSc) that the real breakthrough with the H&SAW Act was that for the first time it asserted a responsibility in people to behave responsibly (if you will forgive the lexicological deficiencies of that sentence).

Maybe I should just move to Tunbridge Wells* and write to the Telegraph under the pseudonym "Outraged" or similar.

Can anyone give me an argument suggesting this fine is rational and/or proportionate?

Voice of the Silent Majority (temporarily retired)

* "passing" from the train's frame of reference
** Needen't be that difficult as we do already own a house nearby

1326954.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:48 am Reply with quote

To be fair to the court, the anti-fuckwittery notice you refer to is:
a) the smallest of a fairly impressive collection of signs, and
b) headed 'Emergency Ventilation'

I would suggest that this does not adequately indicate the seriousness of the hazard.

I personally, am in favour of punitive (disproportionate, if you like) fines in cases like these. It says to the offender "it's going to cost you more to lose cases like this than to fix the problem".

1326959.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 8:44 am Reply with quote

I am essentially on PDR's side in this discussion - the passenger should have known better, especially given his experience with railways.

However, I think ali makes an excellent point there in post 1326954

1326964.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:37 am Reply with quote

I would agree with Ali's approach in any case where there is actually a problem - I just don't accept that this case is such an example.


1326965.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:58 am Reply with quote

It's always hard to tell where to draw the line with health and safety regulations. I note that Govia Thameslink didn't try to fight the case but simply pleaded guilty. I'm not sure what we can conclude from that. I'll let others decide.

A few other details that I found in this article which I've not seen widely reported. They may or may not be germane to the verdict.

- The window out of which the passenger stuck his head was the "guard's" window. It was one of only two on the entire train that could be opened. This implies to me that all the other windows on the train were either deliberately locked shut or were of a different design.

- The window in question "was not meant for public use - but there was public access to it"

- The window in question was already open by the time the passenger got to it.

The majority of reporting of this case seems to have focussed on the lack of appropriate signage. I wonder if that was the only factor in the decision to impose the fine, or if any of those other facts also played a part.

1326970.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:12 pm Reply with quote

ali wrote:
To be fair to the court, the anti-fuckwittery notice you refer to is:
a) the smallest of a fairly impressive collection of signs, and
b) headed 'Emergency Ventilation'

I would suggest that this does not adequately indicate the seriousness of the hazard.

But, given the brief bio presented by PDR, one would imagine that his own common sense would have been enough. As has been said before in such situations, you can't legislate for stupidity.

1326973.  Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:16 pm Reply with quote

Andy has spent much of the day watching golf. Personally I'd rather have my toenails extracted one at a time with rusty pliers, but the said golf is his "excuse" for not looking up a very long report on this particular incident which he knows to exist.

But three passing observations which he wishes me to pass on:

1. GTR may have pleaded guilty simply because it was cheaper than contesting the case, rather than because it genuinely accepts guilt. That sort of thing sometimes happens when large companies find themselves before the courts.

2. It is a principle in trials for Health and Safety matters that the victim's culpability is ignored when passing sentence. Even if court accepts that the victim was (say) 50% to blame for what happened, that does not mean that the fine will be only half what it would otherwise have been. On the other hand, pleading guilty is taken into account in sentence.

3. The "passing" gantry is estimated to have been 68 mm clear of the train out of which the decedent was leaning. That is suboptimal and would not be built today, but only if the clearance is below 50 mm is the railway required to take urgent action. The particular gantry was erected in the 50s, and there are just too many with restricted clearance to replace them all at once. It will be done when the track at that location is renewed.

When the gantry was examined after the incident, it became apparent that it had been hit by a train at least once before. Probably a freight train whose load had shifted, but the event was not reported when it took place so we don't know.

(This gleaned from a railway industry forum which, or so I am reliably informed, is usually right. Sufficiently often that railway industry managers are scared of it and have on occasion tried to ban their staff from reading it.)

1327033.  Fri Jul 19, 2019 12:05 pm Reply with quote

I received the following (from a member who'd rather remain anonymous) which also adds important context which (for me) moves it from "incandexcent of Tunbridge Wells" into the "reasonable debate about corporate and personal responsibility" category:

I see that dr.bob has made a few comments along the line of what I was going to say, but I believe that part of the reason for the penalties being imposed was the fact that the window through which that passenger was leaning through was originally intended to be used only by the guard on that train.

Now, whilst there is a compartment for a guard opposite that window, it seems that Govia have since removed the guard from the Gatwick Express, so there was no guard present on board that service.

However, although the door was now no longer being used for its intended purpose, it seems that Govia had chosen not to change the way that the window on that door operated or made any serious effort to prevent any members of the public using it, other than simply sticking that label onto the door.

Now, it seems that part of the penalty is for the fact that Govia did not review whether it would be unsafe to leave the guard door open to the public, or make any effort to secure the window - such as by fitting a lock to prevent it from being opened, or by fitting bars to prevent people leaning out.

I believe another factor weighing against them is that there was a known example of a similar accident happening in the past (in 2002) on that same line and in similar circumstances, with the rail industry then issuing recommendations on how to avoid a similar accident. It seems, however, that Govia were judged not to have followed that historical guidance.

It seems that just putting a warning label onto the door when there was a proven and cheap solution that would prevent that type of accident occurring, and when Govia should have been aware that type of accident had happened before and was fairly easily preventable, is why they're being penalised in this case.


1327060.  Fri Jul 19, 2019 4:16 pm Reply with quote

This might appear a bit callous, but for as long as I can remember, I have know not to stick my head out of a train window.
When did we forget that?

1327069.  Fri Jul 19, 2019 7:29 pm Reply with quote

After the Young Ones ?

Alexander Howard
1327106.  Sat Jul 20, 2019 6:33 pm Reply with quote

Just what I was thinking! -

(Sorry about the chap it happened to though. I blame those black-and-white films where the farewell seen always seems to involve the girl leaning out of the window of a departing railway carriage waving with a hanky. No we know why they are fated never to meet again.)

1327176.  Mon Jul 22, 2019 5:22 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
I received the following (from a member who'd rather remain anonymous) which also adds important context which (for me) moves it from "incandexcent of Tunbridge Wells" into the "reasonable debate about corporate and personal responsibility" category

Interesting stuff. Be sure to pass on our thanks to the anonymous contributor.

In the past I've found that, whenever a newspaper headline seems ridiculous, especially when it's a story about Health & Safety, there's nearly always some important context that the media have chosen not to pass on.


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