Woman died after leaning out of train window and hitting tree branch

Charity worker, 28, died of head injury after leaning out of train window and hitting overhanging tree branch at 75mph while on way home from Christmas shopping, inquest hears

  • Bethan Roper, 28, suffered fatal head injuries on  Great Western Railway in 2018
  • Was travelling at around 75mph when she stuck her head out the window
  • Miss Roper was leaning out window when head was struck by an ash tree branch
  • She was returning home with friends from day out Christmas shopping in Bath 
  • Miss Roper declared dead by ambulance staff at Bristol Temple Meads station

Bethan Roper, 28, suffered fatal head injuries on a Great Western Railway (GWR) train travelling at around 75mph on the evening of December 1, 2018 

A charity worker was killed when she was struck by an overhanging tree branch while leaning out of a train window, an inquest has heard.

Bethan Roper, 28, suffered fatal head injuries on a Great Western Railway (GWR) train travelling at around 75mph on the evening of December 1, 2018.

Miss Roper, from Penarth, South Wales, 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, the inquest heard. 

She was returning home with friends from a day out Christmas shopping in Bath at the time.

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

The London Paddington to Exeter service had just left Bath Spa station heading for Bristol Temple Meads when the accident occurred in the Twerton area, Avon Coroner’s Court heard.

Mark Hamilton – an inspector with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch – told the inquest: ‘We established that one of the group of friends opened the window of the door and at least one other friend leaned out of the window.

Miss Roper, from Penarth, South Wales, 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, the inquest heard. Pictured: The stump of the branch of the tree which Ms Roper is believed to have hit

An aerial photo shows the branch sticking out over the track. A report found the line had not been inspected since 2009

‘But around two and a half minutes after the train departed Bath Spa station, Bethan leaned 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 Bethan’s head came into contact with a lineside tree and that tree was growing on Network Rail infrastructure.’

Mr Hamilton said the carriage was a Mk 3 type coach and fitted with an opening window to enable passengers to use the handle on the outside when they needed to leave the train.

‘There is no physical feature fitted to the train to prevent a passenger opening the window when the train is away from the station,’ Mr Hamilton said.

Ms Roper, 28, was travelling to Bristol on her way home to Penarth, Wales from Bath

A picture of the train involved shows how low the windows on the doors can go

He said Mk 3 coaches – first introduced in the 1970s – are being phased out across the network and being replaced by doors that open and close with the use of an electronic button.

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

‘One of the causal factors was in relation to the warning signs and we concluded Bethan, as a passenger, was not deterred by these warning signs,’ Mr Hamilton said.

‘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.

A warning sign saying ‘caution’ on a Great Western Railway (GWR) train with the message: ‘Do not lean out of window when train is moving’

A graphic from a report into the accident shows how the tree grew from a stump over 20 years

She was returning home with friends from a day out Christmas shopping in Bath at the time. Pictured: The tree branch sticking out of undergrowth

‘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.’

He added: ‘It is not possible for us to understand or conclude exactly what influence that signage had on the decisions Bethan made.’

The inquest heard that after the death of a passenger leaning out a window on a train in south London in August 2016, GWR completed a risk assessment of its droplight 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 Miss Roper was killed seven months later.

Two staff members involved in the task had left the company and a system that tracks pieces of work failed. The signs were updated following the death of Miss Roper.

Mr Hamilton said Network Rail, which is responsible for managing lineside vegetation, had carried out inspections of the section of line when the incident happened but the tree was ‘not deemed to be a hazard’.

A post-mortem examination gave the cause of Miss Roper’s death as head injuries.

Toxicology tests found she had a blood alcohol level of 142mg in 100ml of blood – meaning she was nearly twice the drink drive limit.

Miss Roper worked for the Welsh Refugee Council charity and was chairwoman of Young Socialists Cardiff.

The inquest continues.

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