Investigators rule on accident in which equipment came loose from train travelling at 80mph near Littleport

The smashed windows of the train

The smashed windows of the train - Credit: Archant

A DELAY in carrying out maintenance on overhead cables contributed to a railway accident between Littleport and Ely in which a pantograph came loose and smashed into a train travelling at 80mph, shattering windows and injuring a passenger.

The pantograph which came loose from the train in high winds

The pantograph which came loose from the train in high winds - Credit: Archant

The area of rail line where the accident happened

The area of rail line where the accident happened - Credit: Archant

According to a report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, maintenance on the overhead line carrying passengers between King’s Lynn and King’s Cross had not been carried out “in accordance with Network Rail standards”.

As a result, a pantograph, a device that links the train to the overhead cables, came loose from a moving train in 50mph gusts on January 5 last year and smashed into the side of the train.

Trains running between Littleport, Ely and Kings Cross were cancelled for the entire day after the pantograph was blown off the 7.19am First Capital Connect service about two miles outside of Littleport Station.

The passengers were disembarked and the power shut off while engineers worked to restore the line, which had suffered extensive damage over 150 metres. Two windows of the train were also smashed.

The ambulance service was also called to the scene to treat one passenger for minor injuries, while another two suffered from shock.

The investigation branch’s report, published on Monday, said: “As it fell, the pantograph hit two of the train’s side windows. This caused both windows to shatter and one of the window panes fell into the passenger compartment.

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“The train lost power, but the driver allowed it to coast to the next signal where he

brought the train to a stop and contacted the signaller. The train stopped near

Queen Adelaide crossing, about 1.75 miles from the accident location.”

Investigators said that while exceptional wind speeds, which could have gusted at 70mph, provided a “partial explanation” as to why the pantograph came loose, there were also other factors at work.

The foundations of track equipment, having been built on fen soil, were likely to have moved and rotated over time, resulting in the overhead line being rotated away from the centre of the track.

The report noted that inspections to monitor this sort of movement should be carried out every six years, but this had not been the case. An inspection had been completed in 2003 but a follow-up inspection scheduled for 2010 had not been carried out.

Had the inspection been carried out as was scheduled, the report noted that “it is likely that the increased risk of dewirement would have been identified”.

Tottenham MDU, which was responsible for maintaining the line, said it had developed a plan aimed to address the backlog of six-yearly maintenance checks of the overhead line equipment.

Network Rail has subsequently reported that the backlog of wire runs in this area, that were outside their maintenance period tolerances, had been reduced to eleven by the end of April 2012.