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776 Split responsibility for collapsed boundary wall adjacent to railway

Report ID: 776

Published: Newsletter No 51 - July 2018

Report Overview

A train driver reported striking debris from a collapsed wall in an urban location.

Report Content

A train driver reported striking debris from a collapsed wall in an urban location. The material was part of a boundary wall that runs along the top of a retaining wall adjacent to the railway. The boundary wall was known to be in poor condition, including being disturbed by the removal of a large tree, according to the reporter. The ownership/responsibility for the retaining wall and the boundary wall was split, which led to a breakdown in communication for undertaking the required remedial works.



This apparently minor incident could have had serious consequences because it occurred alongside a railway line. The 2011 HSE report Preventing catastrophic events in construction defines Catastrophic Events as those that are beyond the ordinary or routine, and are characterised by being of low probability but high consequence.

Examples of occurrences which may be Catastrophic Events include structural collapse of permanent structure(s) with potential consequences for multiple deaths and serious injuries in a single incident and/or serious disruption of infrastructure (e.g. road, rail) and/or services (e.g. power, telecoms).

There is no indication in the report that this wall collapse might have had catastrophic consequences, but the circumstances might have been slightly different. What might have been the result if there had been a derailment? CROSS reports frequently demonstrate that there is a very fine line between a near miss and a disaster; it is often a matter of luck and timing. It is the duty of all who own, or who manage assets adjacent to major communications links, such as railways, to be aware of their responsibilities.

Rail companies have significant influence over anything that could affect the operation of the railways, so, regardless of who the asset belonged to, they would ensure appropriate measures to keep the system safe. In the broader context, if a professional engineer sees something that looks dangerous they should, as an ethical duty at least, report it.


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View other CROSS reports published in Newsletter No. 51

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