Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

Tragedy as 28-year-old woman killed by tree as she leant out of train window

Bethan Roper, 28, was hit by an overhanging tree branch when she leant out of the window on a 75mph Great Western Railway train. The young woman, who worked for the Welsh Refugee Council charity, suffered fatal head injuries and died.

An inquest at Ashton Court, near Bristol, heard Ms Roper from South Wales, was pronounced dead on the evening of December 1, 2018. She had been Christmas shopping with friends in bath and was on the train home when the accident happened.

Avon Coroner’s Court heard that she was leaning out of the window of a door when her head was struck by an ash tree branch growing on land adjacent to the line in the Twerton area.

Despite receiving first aid from fellow passengers, Ms Roper was declared dead by ambulance staff at Bristol Temple Meads station, WalesOnline reports.

Mark Hamilton, an inspector with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), told the inquest: “We established that one of the group of friends opened the window of the door and at least one other friend leant out of the window.

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“But around two and a half minutes after the train departed Bath Spa station, Ms Roper leant out of the window and a few seconds later she fell backwards having sustained a serious head injury.

“The simple conclusion we have drawn from the evidence presented was that Ms Roper’s head came into contact with a lineside tree and that tree was growing on Network Rail infrastructure.”

Mr Hamilton said that the train Ms Roper was travelling on was first introduced in the 1970s and was fitted with an opening window to enable passengers to use the handle on the outside when they needed to leave the train.

He added: “There is no physical feature fitted to the train to prevent a passenger opening the window when the train is away from the station.”

These trains are being phased out and replaced by doors that open and close with the use of an electronic button.

The inquest heard that above the door was a yellow sticker with the words: ‘Caution- do not lean out of window when train is moving’.

Mr Hamilton continued: “One of the causal factors was in relation to the warning signs and we concluded Ms Roper, as a passenger, was not deterred by these warning signs.

“Our report has concluded the warning sign on display complied with the railway group standard that was in force at the time.

“However, the RAIB considers that wording, particularly the use of the word ‘caution’, suggests that perhaps leaning out is something that maybe done with a degree of care.

“The yellow background is traditionally recognised as a characteristic of a warning sign whereas red backgrounds may convey danger. We also observed the sign is much smaller than the other signs.”

Mr Hamilton also said that Network Rail, which is responsible for managing lineside vegetation, had carried out inspections of the line but the tree was “not deemed a hazard”.

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The inquest heard that after a passenger suffered a similar fate leaning out a window on a train in South London in August 2016, Great Western Railway completed a risk assessment of its windows.

This resulted in a plan to install enhanced warning signs with a red background by May 2018, but this had not happened by the time Ms Roper was killed.

The signs were updated following the death of Ms Roper and the inquest continues.

Additional reporting by Rod Minchin.

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