'I pulled the wrong lever - and that was £2m down the drain' | Nostalgia

Last Thursday week I published a photograph lent by Alan Wright of the derailment at Fratton on the night of November 17/18, 1999.As a result of that I have now received information from the man who, quite innocently, caused the incident.

Saturday, 7th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 7th December 2019, 6:00 am
Carriages wedged beneath the footbridge at Fratton, 1999.

Les Broad wrote to tell me: 'I can give you more information about it than anyone else because I was the one who caused the accident.’He goes on: ‘It was a cold, wet November night and I was the ground frame operator for that shift. The fact that I wasn’t even rostered but swapped with a colleague who had tickets for an England football match at Wembley makes the whole saga even more bizarre.'We were short shunting at the time so instead of taking the units out under Fratton Road bridge we were stopping them short, just clear of the points to take them back into the yard.

‘The driver stopped the unit but the pick-up shoe was half on/off the third rail causing it to arc like hell. It was in my mind that I had to tell the driver when he walked back through to not open it up too much and cause the breakers to blow.

‘While he was on the way back I set the points to what I thought was the shed but in fact I pulled the wrong lever under the train and set them for No 1 reception road.

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Workers begin the operation to lift the carriages back on to the track at Fratton.

‘The driver got back into his cab, I gave him a green light and the rest is history.

‘One part went to the shed and the other started to head for London. Once I realised what was happening I stopped all movements on the mainline and yard then sat down and buried my head in my hands.’

Les recalls: 'I remember everyone being really good to me. The depot manager came down and asked me why I didn’t take out the washer because he could have had a new one on the insurance. Network Rail thought it could have a new footbridge, but it turned out it was a listed structure so they had to have it repaired.

‘The inquiry in London was daunting but some interesting points came out. They couldn’t believe there were no locking devices to prevent that points lever being pulled in error and there was nothing in the rule book to say we couldn’t do short shunts but recommended that they didn’t take place in the future.

The 1999 train derailment at Fratton.

'That’s how a chain of little events ended up costing £2m (so I was informed) including the cost of late or cancelled trains. There were no injuries to anyone apart from my pride.

‘As you would say Bob, Ooops!'

• With VAR now an established part of football in England will it bring about the demise of the referee as we know them?

As someone who officiated at more than 700 games of football I know I would not be happy if a machine overruled decisions I made.

Of course, all referees make mistakes, as do players, but that is part and parcel of the game, in any sport in fact.

But I can see a time when, instead of a referee being on the pitch, the match will be ruled by someone watching a screen in the bowels of the stadium and blowing a hooter to stop the game if there was a foul.

Then there would be constant reviews of the incident with the match lasting two hours or longer.

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• I see there is going to be yet another rise in the price of train ticket.

Jeremy Corbyn tells us he is going to reduce ticket prices in his manifesto.

Perhaps he might think about reintroducing the workman’s ticket. At one time anyone travelling into the city from as far out of town as Chichester or Petersfield could purchase a reduced-rate ticket. If I remember correctly it was only valid until about 9am.

It might just do something to reduce the amount of traffic travelling into Portsmouth during the rush-hours too.