A train driver died of head and lower limb injuries after being struck by a train near West Worthing station, an inquest heard. Michal Piotr Olesiak stepped from his cabin and was struck by a passing train on February 1 last year.
On June 15, a jury inquest at County Hall North, Horsham, gave a narrative conclusion which provided the circumstances leading up to the death. The inquest was heard by coroner Lisa Milner.
Mr Olesiak, 39, was an experienced driver with more than five years of experience and lived in Crawley with his wife and children. On February 1, 2023, at 10.22pm, his train arrived at West Worthing station, its final passenger stop, before departing the station and parking at the middle siding at 10.25pm.
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Between 10.25.25pm and 10.26.04pm, CCTV captured Michal changing ends. Then, at 10.32pm, the cab door was opened with Mr Olesiak neither communicating his intentions nor putting on his Hi-Vis jacket or taking his torch.
Around 50 seconds later, Mr Olesiak was struck by an oncoming train, with evidence suggesting it would have been unable to stop in time. He died of head and lower limb injuries. There has been no evidence to explain why he exited the cab.
A previous report by the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) in February said it is “probable, but not certain that the driver descended to the track from the cab for a personal reason”. Possible reasons posed were that he was going to the toilet or for a smoke.
The report added that Michal suffered “immediately fatal” injuries after being hit. Having not informed anyone of his intentions to leave the train, the incident was only noticed when the train had not begun its return journey to Brighton.
Signallers could not reach Michal, so a train from Durrington-on-Sea was asked to stop alongside Michal’s train. The driver noticed the open door to the cab, which was empty, before the headlights of another train illuminated the area sufficiently to see a person lying on the track ahead. After the conductor rail was switched off, the driver of the Durrington train reported that Mr Olesiak was dead.
The driver who struck Mr Olesiak had been aware he had struck a dark object which was low down and travelling from left to right – first believing it to be a deer or dog. Due to the driver’s description of events, the RAIB believes Mr Olesiak was probably in a crouched or bent-over position.
When considering the factors of why Mr Olesiak was struck by the train, it determined four potential reasons. These were:
- The driver may have fallen from the cab of train and accessed the track outside the train unintentionally
- The driver exited the cab of train and intentionally accessed the track outside the train for a work-related reason or for a personal reason
- The driver may have believed that it was safe for him to be outside of the train
- After accessing the track, the driver entered the path of train 1H63 as it passed the middle siding
The RAIB believed the most probable reason for leaving his cab was a personal reason. Mr Olesiak’s cab contained a large, empty water bottle inside and he had not been allotted a toilet break for several hours and had no access to toilet facilities onboard.
Govia Thameslink Railway had also been clamping down on drivers throwing bottles of urine onto the siding at West Worthing. The RAIB urged GTR to improve driver access to toilet facilities whilst asking the Department for Transport to fit new and existing trains with forward-facing CCTV equipment.