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Mother and child almost fall through floor of moving train

The rescue happened on the South Devon Railway in June. Credit: ITV West Country

A mother has saved her child from falling through the open floor of a toilet compartment on a train on the South Devon Railway.

The train from Totnes Riverside to Buckfastleigh had just passed Staverton on 22 June 2017 when the pair opened the door of the lavatory compartment on the fourth carriage. They found that the floor was missing, exposing the wheels below.

The mother managed to catch hold of her child and stop him falling. The small boy is reported to have suffered minor bruising while both were in shock.

The open floor of the toilet compartment revealing the wheels and ground beneath. Credit: South Devon Railway

The passenger reported the incident to the guard of the train, and the railway took action to secure the lavatory door. The incident was reported to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, RAIB, three days later on 25 June.

The carriage had been out for repairs to its brakes and the toilet floor was removed to allow the work to take place. The floor was not replaced afterwards and staff had put a notice on the toilet and tried to secure the door but this did not work.

The RAIB will investigate:

  • the events leading up to the incident,
  • he actions taken to return the carriage to service
  • the adequacy and suitability of the measures to secure the door
  • the railway’s safety management system
  • the arrangements for managing the competence and fitness of the staff of the carriage and wagon department
  • the systems in place for assuring the safety of rolling stock in service

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch will publish its findings and any safety recommendations on its website.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is also investigating.

South Devon Railway has apologised for the incident. Credit: ITV West Country

South Devon Railway has issued the following statement:

We regret that this incident took place and wish to apologise to the lady and family involved for the trauma which they suffered. The coach was taken out of service and quarantined pending the different investigations by the RAIB, ORR and SDR.

On the day in question, something clearly went wrong with our safety control and hazard monitoring systems as evidenced by the incident having taken place – it simply should not have happened.

As a result, we took steps to check all of our coaches and, subject to RAIB and ORR guidance, plan to implement an enhanced and rigorous inspection and monitoring regime for all passenger vehicles for the future.

– Spokesman, South Devon Railway

He goes on to say that some of the trains are more than 60 years old and require considerable maintenance efforts to keep them in order, explaining why the floor of the toilet compartment was removed.

“On train toilets are problematic for us -- and every other heritage railway in the country - not only because some toilet floors have rusted out over time and so need to be replaced, but also because access to the vital brake pipes are beneath them. This is why the toilet floor had been removed in this coach for brake pipe repairs to be carried out and the toilet door sealed out of use.

– Spokesman, South Devon Railway