Letter: In peril on the rails

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Mark Steel's impressive piece (Comment, 26 October) on the Paddington accident inspires this regular user of that ill-fated service to respond.

The Government needs to realise a hard truth: that it needs to build in mechanisms that link safety to "shareholder value", the new mantra of the boardroom. To generate this linkage in the short term there could be punitive fines for every signal passed at danger, distributed between Railtrack and the operating companies.

The revenue from fines should help to fund both safety systems and an effective regulatory structure. The current regime is manifestly too soft and reactive, relying on the threat - rarely exercised - of prosecution following incidents, and reluctant to apply preventative orders.

A more pro-active body would be empowered to summarily withdraw operating licences or impose fines on discovery of safety lapses that might lead to accidents. It would take a holistic view of risk, not a narrow technical view.