A Direct Rail Services (DRS) locomotive hauling an empty nuclear transport wagon collided with a car straddling the level crossing at Silverdale on the Cumbria/Lancashire border at around 1900 hours last night (14th January 2014). The car driver managed to abandon the vehicle before it was struck by the train from Sellafield which carried the car some 300 metres down the track. No injuries were sustained as a result of the accident and there was no derailment of the locomotive or nuclear wagon. The railway line was cleared and re-opened by midnight. The level crossing has warning lights and barriers covering half of the road either side of the junction.
Nuclear transport trains routinely leave the Sellafield site on a number of days each week, returning empty spent fuel flasks to nuclear power stations around the UK where they are subsequently refilled and returned to Sellafield for the spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed. Rail company DRS is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) who initially told CORE today that the nuclear transport wagon, hauled by a single locomotive, was not carrying an empty transport flask inside the wagon’s cabin and was making a scheduled return to Berkeley nuclear power station in Gloucestershire. Subsequently, after CORE had pointed out that Berkeley closed in 1989 and had been fully defueled by 1992, the NDA confirmed that the train was actually bound for the Oldbury nuclear power station (which shares the Berkeley railhead) to collect spent fuel for Sellafield.
The twin reactor Oldbury station, operated by Magnox Limited, was closed down in February 2012. De-fuelling of the reactors is scheduled to be complete by 2016 with 1-2 transport flasks per week expected to be hauled by DRS to Sellafield in 2014.
Last night’s accident comes just three months after a rail accident outside Barrow docks last autumn involving three nuclear transport wagons. With each wagon carrying an empty high level waste (HLW) flask being returned from Japan, two of the wagons derailed causing a partial blockage of the main railway line serving Barrow and the cancellation of some main line services for several days. Whilst a Network Rail investigation has yet to be published, an in-house investigation by DRS concluded that the derailment occurred as a result of an error by train crew.