5th October 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the Ladbroke Grove railway accident. Two passenger trains collided head on resulting in 31 deaths and over 350 injuries.
At that time I was the HM Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) Operations Intelligence Manager, and this account is about what I remember about that day – the initial adrenaline of receiving details, dealing with enquiries and then the realisation that people had lost their lives.
I arrived at work at 8.25am on a sunny crisp October morning, and was told there was a fire on board a train at Paddington. Minutes later news reports of a collision at Paddington started to come in then we received an initial report from the Department for Transport (DfT) of a collision between two trains, with possibly one fatality and serious injuries.
We started to gather in the office of the Chief Inspector, to review what we knew and decide what actions we needed to take, all the time staff were arriving in our office and the phone started to ring with people desperate for information.
Initially there was confusion about the trains involved, some thought a passenger train and freight train had collided, but we knew that it was two passenger trains.
All the time more staff were streaming into the office and I, and others, started regularly trekking upstairs from our base on the second floor to the Health and Safety Executive’s press office on the 9th floor to crowd around the TV screen, watching the emergency services professionally going about their work and knowing that the toll of fatalities and serious injuries was growing ever more horrific.
A sombre mood pervaded the office and it was difficult to concentrate on ordinary tasks; information came through that one of the trains had passed a signal at danger – a SPAD to the industry – and later it became known that a serious SPAD had occurred at the same signal in February 1998.
All day the reports continued and the number of people killed and seriously injured just kept growing. At home that evening, I sat and watched the rolling news reports that painted a grim picture of just what happened.
Three days after the disaster and interim report was published and in the days and months that followed further investigations went on leading to lasting change in the industry, including revised arrangements for the reporting of SPADs and a weekly briefing to Ministers.
To see more details of the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry – see the Railways Archive website at https://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/eventsummary.php?eventID=142