£500,000 fine for rail near-miss

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The Independent Online

Network Rail and one of its contractors were fined £500,000 yesterday over the derailment of an Inter-City train travelling at 120mph.

The First Great Western express from Swansea to London left the tracks just outside Southall station in west London and travelled for a further two miles, missing an oncoming high-speed train by 30 centimetres. There were 450 passengers on board at the time of the incident in November 2002.

Network Rail, then trading as Railtrack, and the engineering contractor Amey pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Network Rail was fined £200,000. Amey, now owned by Ferrovial, the Spanish road tolls giant that bought the airport operator BAA this summer, was fined £300,000. The two were also ordered to pay £39,429 costs.

The court heard maintenance staff had failed to tighten bolts on the track because they did not have the right kind of spanner. They had also decided to delay replacing worn rails until the weather got warmer.

Judge Richard Hone said it was "an enormous mercy" that no one had been killed or injured, although the train driver suffered post-traumatic stress.

David Morris, deputy chief inspector of railways, said afterwards: "This derailment could have caused a major catastrophe. It illustrates the importance of ensuring that railway tracks are properly maintained to a high standard." Network Rail has subsequently taken track maintenance back in-house.