A train carrying cement to North Lanarkshire derailed on a junction near Carlisle due to faulty wheels, an investigation has found. The accident closed the line for two months and caused significant damage to the track and the bridge.
How the derailment happened
According to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), the derailment occurred because one set of wheels on the ninth wagon in the train stopped rotating during the journey. These wheels had stopped rotating up to 55 miles before the junction and continued to slide along the railhead causing considerable damage to the profile of the wheel treads.
This meant that the wheels were unable to safely negotiate a set of points just before Petteril Bridge Junction, damaging them and causing the ninth wagon to become derailed. Five of the wagons derailed due to the consequent track damage and two of them fell off the side of the bridge.
What caused the wheel slide
The RAIB report said that the initial wheel slide was probably the result of a normal brake application made in low adhesion conditions that were not abnormal for the route at the time of year. The wheel slide continued because the adhesion between the wheels and the rails was then insufficient for the wheels to restart rotation.
The non-rotating wheels were not identified by the signallers on the route, nor by the train driver or any engineered system, meaning that the train was not stopped before it reached Petteril Bridge Junction.
The impact of the derailment
The derailment caused no injuries but had a significant impact on the railway infrastructure and services. The lines from Carlisle to Newcastle and Settle were closed for almost two months, affecting passenger and freight trains. Network Rail said it had taken 40 engineers and more than 25,000 hours of work to restore the line.
The derailment also damaged two bags of cement powder that fell from a bridge, causing environmental concerns. The Environment Agency said it had monitored the water quality in the nearby River Petteril and found no evidence of harm to wildlife or fish.
The recommendations of the RAIB
The RAIB investigation made a number of recommendations to improve the safety and performance of freight trains in low adhesion conditions. These include:
- For the railway industry to undertake work to understand the specific risks to freight trains in low adhesion conditions.
- For rail firms to review requirements for stopping and examining trains.
- An improvement in the requirement for drivers to look back along their trains.
- A reminder for signallers of the circumstances in which they should stop and examine trains.
The response of GB RailFreight
GB RailFreight, the operator of the train, said it had cooperated fully with the RAIB investigation and welcomed its findings. It said it had taken steps to prevent similar incidents from happening again, such as:
- Installing new wheel slide protection equipment on its locomotives.
- Enhancing its driver training and monitoring systems.
- Reviewing its maintenance procedures and standards.
GB RailFreight also apologised for any inconvenience caused by the derailment and thanked Network Rail and other stakeholders for their support and assistance.
The future of superconductivity
The derailment also raised questions about the potential of superconductivity, a phenomenon that allows materials to conduct electricity without resistance or loss of energy. Superconductors could revolutionise the fields of electricity and electronics, but they usually require extremely low temperatures or high pressures to work.
However, a team of Korean physicists claims to have created a material that has no electrical resistance at room temperature and normal pressure. The material is called LK-99 and is created through a solid-state reaction of lannarcite and copper phosphide. The team has measured its electrical resistance and magnetic properties and says it shows zero resistance and levitation.
The team’s claims have not been peer reviewed or replicated by other researchers. There have been false claims of room temperature superconductors in the past. If true, LK-99 will be a breakthrough discovery that will transform electricity and electronics.
Will LK-99 prove to be a real superconductor? Or will it turn out to be another false hope? Only time will tell.