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Railtrack vows to help crash victims

Rail investors at annual meeting urge haste in compensation cases
Railtrack yesterday pledged to speed up moves to compensate the victims of a series of train crashes after coming under attack from shareholders, unions and Government ministers.

Sir Bob Horton, the Railtrack chairman, pledged to take action after the Transport Minister Glenda Jackson wrote to him drawing attention to delays in dealing with claims from a number of residents affected by a train collision in Stafford 16 months ago. Railtrack was also criticised for delays in compensating victims of two other crashes at Bexley, Kent, earlier this year, and at Watford Junction last August.

Sir Bob told shareholders at the annual meeting at the Barbican in London that he would be bringing together all interested parties to try to speed up the processing of claims.

"We will deal with its speedily and get the parties together. It does the reputation of the rail industry no good if these things are allowed to drag on."

Keith Bill, national secretary of the campaign group Save Our Railways, told the Board of Directors that victims of the three crashes were still waiting for compensation, adding: "Every conceivable obstacle has been put in the way of achieving the truth about these crashes."

Outside the meeting Jimmy Knapp, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said fragmentation of the railways had given individual companies the opportunities of avoiding their responsibilities to accident victims.

"You cannot have private companies boasting about their profits while innocent victims of crashes are left destitute," he said.

Railtrack came under fire at the meeting for delays to paying compensation to people at Stafford. Stafford's Labour MP David Kidney said residents living alongside the line where two trains collided had modest claims for compensation, but no one had accepted liability.

Although the meeting was dominated by questions about compensation, the anorak brigade still found time to indulge their obsession, tackling the Railtrack chairman on a range of arcane subjects ranging from infill elctrification schemes to ultrasonic testing of rail tracks.

Sir Bob, perched above the rest of the Railtack board on a high chair looking for all the world like the fat controller, took most of them in his stride.