Railways Illustrated

Ex-merseyrail driver guilty following Kirkby accident

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FORMER MERSEYRAIL train driver Phillip Hollis has pleaded guilty to endangerin­g the safety of passengers, in a hearing at Liverpool Magistrate­s’ Court on February 8.

Mr Hollis was driving a Merseyrail service from Liverpool Central to Kirkby on March 13, 2021, when the train collided with the buffer stop at the end of the platform. It derailed and came to a rest beneath a bridge, causing extensive damage to the train and the station platform which separates Merseyrail and Northern’s regional services. The lead unit of the train, 507006, was written off and has since been scrapped. Thankfully, only minor injuries were suffered by the 12 passengers and guard travelling on the train.

The accident was investigat­ed separately by the Rail Accident Investigat­ion Branch and British Transport Police (BTP), but the prosecutio­n of Mr Hollis was brought about by BTP after mobile phone analysis showed he had been using Whatsapp less than 30 seconds before the crash occurred. BTP said the Network Rail speed limit for the approach to Kirkby is 15mph but the train had been approachin­g at 40mph – almost three times the speed limit. Examinatio­n of the train’s on-train data recorder showed that Mr Hollis had applied the emergency brakes but too late to stop the train in time.

He initially told police his bag had fallen off a cupboard in the cab and he’d stood up to retrieve it, along with a bottle of Lucozade, before sitting back down and seeing the buffers approachin­g. However, mobile phone analysis showed he had sent a Whatsapp message 26 seconds before the crash. When interviewe­d again by detectives, Mr Hollis admitted his phone should have been turned off in the cab.

BTP Detective Chief Inspector Steve May said: “This was a complex investigat­ion but we could be confident from our analysis that Hollis was using his phone in the seconds before crashing the train into Kirby station at high speed. I have no doubt that this will have caused him to become distracted while driving, endangerin­g the safety of the passengers and staff on board. It was only through sheer luck that they weren’t seriously injured or worse as a result of this incredibly dangerous incident.”

Mr Hollis was dismissed by Merseyrail in September 2021 and will be sentenced at a later date.

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