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The Southall rail crash

The Southall rail crash was an accident on the British railway system that occurred on 19 September 1997, on the Great Western Main Line at Southall, west London. Seven people were killed and 139 injured.

The crash occurred after the 10:32 Great Western Trains passenger train from Swansea to London Paddington, worked by power cars 43173 + 43163 and operating with a defective Automatic Warning System (AWS), passed a red (danger) signal (SPAD), preceded by two cautionary signals and collided with a freight train entering Southall goods yard shortly before 13:20 local time. Six people were killed, and a seventh passenger died in the hospital.

If the AWS equipment on the High Speed Train (HST) passenger train had been working, the chance of the accident occurring would have been highly unlikely, though not completely eliminated, since the AWS is only an advisory system.

The driver’s attention had been distracted (he had bent down to pack his bag) and he did not observe the preceding signals visually, but AWS would have given him a clear audible warning, which would have required him to acknowledge the warning.

Failure to acknowledge the warning would have caused the train’s brakes to be applied. Automatic Train Protection (ATP) equipment would have almost certainly prevented the accident. The train was fitted with ATP but this was switched off.

At the time of the accident, the ATP equipment was not required to be switched on, as it had proved troublesome in service. In addition, not all drivers had been trained on it.

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