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Fatal track work was ‘due to start after line closure’

Michael ‘Spike’ Lewis and Gareth Delbridge died while working for Network Rail.

The scene of the accident on a section of track near Port Talbot, South Wales (Jacob King/PA)
The scene of the accident on a section of track near Port Talbot, South Wales (Jacob King/PA)

By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

Railway maintenance work which saw two people struck and killed by a train was not due to start until the line was closed, investigators have found.

Michael “Spike” Lewis, 58, and Gareth Delbridge, 64, died while working for Network Rail near Port Talbot, South Wales on July 3.

An interim report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) said planning documents for the work indicate it was due to start at 12.30pm to coincide with the blockage of the line.

But six track workers split into two groups and began their tasks at about 8.50am.

Witness evidence suggests there was a widespread belief at the local maintenance depot that there was “no need to wait” for the planned line closure in the afternoon, the RAIB found.

There was a “general lack of understanding” as to how the planning paperwork should be interpreted, investigators added.

There was no formally appointed lookout in place when the two men were struck by a Swansea to London Paddington Great Western Railway train approaching at around 73mph.

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Gareth Delbridge died while working for Network Rail (Family Handout/PA)

Mr Lewis, from North Cornelly, and Mr Delbridge, from Bridgend, were working alongside a third man, who fell backwards out of the way and suffered severe shock.

“All had become focused with the task they were undertaking” and none were aware of the train until it was too late to move to a safe position, the RAIB found.

It said the men were “almost certainly wearing ear defenders” because one of them was using a noisy power tool.

The two victims had worked on the railway for more than 40 years.

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Michael ‘Spike’ Lewis (Family Handout/PA)

The system of work proposed by the person in control of site safety “was not adopted” and the alternative arrangements “became progressively less safe as the work proceeded that morning”, the report added.

Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s safety director, said: “The whole railway family shares the loss of Gareth Delbridge and Michael (Spike) Lewis.

“Nothing will lessen the pain but understanding what went wrong and learning from it is the only way we can make sure it never happens again.

“We will continue to fully support the investigation and the findings and recommendations.”

The families of the victims have launched a civil claim against Network Rail alleging it was negligent in its duty of care as an employer.

PA

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