Enfield Town train crash driver jailed after admitting he fell asleep

Erkan Mehmet had also tested positive for cocaine after the incident which injured two passengers in October 2021, reports James Cracknell

The scene of the crash and (inset) sleepy train driver Erkan Mehmet
The scene of the crash and (inset) train driver Erkan Mehmet (credit BTP)

The driver of a train that crashed at Enfield Town Station has been jailed after a court heard that he fell asleep and “endangered the lives of dozens if not hundreds of people”.

Inner London Crown Court heard today (Friday 7th) that Erkan Mehmet, aged 41 of Middle Street in Nazeing, Essex, took the controls of a London Overground train on 12th October 2021 despite knowing he was “too tired” to work that day.

At 8.21am, as the train approached the buffers at Enfield Town, Mehmet fell asleep and “did not apply the brakes in time” according to a Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RIAB) report released this week. It stated the train’s brakes were not applied for seven seconds, until Mehmet “made an emergency brake application just before the train hit the buffer stop” but too late to prevent a collision.

The train – with approximately 80 passengers on board – struck the buffers at a speed of 7.7mph, causing it to “ride up” and “come to a rest with its leading wheels about 800mm above the rails”. No-one was seriously injured or taken to hospital as a result of the crash, but one was treated at the scene for a leg injury and another suffered shock.

Mehmet had pleaded guilty to a charge of ‘endangering the safety of persons being conveyed upon a railway’ at an earlier court hearing and was sentenced today to 16 weeks imprisonment.

Although the RAIB report states that Mehmet tested positive for a recreational drug – cocaine – after the incident, the prosecution in the case opted not to pursue an additional charge relating to this.

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Mehmet had said that the reason he was tired on the day of the crash was because he had been up late caring for his partner, who has a long-term health condition. However, he admitted he knew he should not have come to work and he had not reported his fatigue to his employer, who in turn had not identified that he was too tired.

In arguing that he should not receive a custodial sentence, Mehmet’s defence lawyer explained that he acted as a carer both to his partner and his mother, who also had a long-term health condition. Both family members gave evidence in court to state that they relied on Mehmet for cooking, cleaning, help going to the toilet, and to get to medical appointments. However, he is not registered as their carer and had continued to work in the construction industry since resigning as a train driver.

Sentencing, Judge Kelleher said: “The train was travelling at low speed and had been slowed down automatically by two devices, but should have had a brake manually applied to stop completely. You didn’t do that. Thankfully no significant injuries were caused.

“You were interviewed immediately and you said your wife was unwell and you had been kept up late and you shouldn’t have come to work because you were so tired […] you accept that you must have fallen asleep briefly at the exact moment the brake should have been applied.”

The judge added: “The micro-sleep fortunately happened when the train was travelling at low speed, but there was an obvious risk of a far more serious collision if you were travelling at high speed.

“The culpability is significant – you were trained not to come to work if you were unwell.”

While the offence carries a maximum jail term of two years, the judge said he took the mitigating factors of Mehmet’s family commitments into account and had reduced his sentence accordingly. But he added: “This court must not lose sight of the fact that you chose to drive a train when you knew you were tired. In doing so, you endangered the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of people.”

RAIB’s report makes two recommendations following the incident. The first is encouraging staff to report fatigue that could affect their ability to do their jobs safely and the second seeks to improve the risk assessment process for collisions with buffer stops at terminal platforms.

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