Lloyd's register, the 250-year-old body which polices marine safety, is urging ministers to give it overall responsibility for the safety of the national rail network.
The not-for-profit organisation, whose origins stretch back to 1760, has also approached train operators and Railtrack itself with proposals to become the official body charged with devising and executing a safety case for the railways. Its remit would also stretch to approving train design.
Lloyd's Register believes that its independence and non-profit making status and its wealth of experience in overseeing ship safety, would make it an ideal choice to take on a similar role in the rail industry.
The body, which classifies all merchant ships as fit to put to sea, is also the safety authority for a number of overseas rail systems including the Paris-Amsterdam high-speed line, Europe's east-west rail freight link and the $14bn (£9.6bn) Taiwan high-speed rail project.
If ministers approve, Lloyd's Register would take control of the Rail Safety Authority, the body which the Cullen inquiry proposed should take over the functions of Rail Safety.
Rail Safety is the arms-length company set up by Railtrack a year ago to oversee safety on the network. It is chaired by Sir David Davis, the academic who carried out the independent review of train safety systems after the Paddington crash. Its chief executive is Rod Muttram, the former director of safety on the Railtrack board, and it has about 150 staff.
Rail Safety's staff are paid by Railtrack and its directors are appointed by Railtrack. David Moorhouse, the chairman of Lloyd's Register, said: "To me, and I suspect to the public at large, that does not sound like an independent body."
Discussions are understood to have been at an advanced stage with Lloyd's Register until Stephen Byers shocked the industry by placing Railtrack in administration.
It is also thought that WestLB, the German-owned investment bank which is planning a bid for Railtrack, is interested in talking to Lloyd's Register. One of the key elements of WestLB's proposals is to separate responsibility for safety from the commercial operation of the network to reassure the travelling public that profits will not be put before safety.Reuse content