Damning safety report accuses Railtrack of `disturbing failures'

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The Independent Online
RAILTRACK WAS accused yesterday of a "very disturbing" failure to maintain safety standards by the industry's chief inspector.

Vic Coleman, of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the infrastructure company allowed the number of broken rails to increase by up to 100 per cent and did not always put safety above performance.

His annual report, which was published yesterday, revealed that one- third of the track was declining in quality. It warned that the "margin of safety was being eroded". Most disturbing was the state of the lines in the Midlands, where the number of broken rails had doubled.

While Railtrack pointed out that the statistics in the report were eight months old and said that track quality was being addressed, Mr Coleman said there had been no sign of safety improving.

The pressure group Save Our Railways said that the report constituted the "most damning indictment yet" of the privatised company.

Mr Coleman reported that 56 per cent of train accidents were due to acts of vandalism - "a scandalously high figure," he said. He also declared "very serious concern" about the number of trains jumping red signals. Figures released by the HSE in September showed the number of signals passed at danger had increased by 46 to 639 over a one-year period - a reversal of a long-term downward trend.

In a statement, Railtrack said it recognised that it needed to invest more to improve its infrastructure and had earmarked an additional pounds 90m to improve track quality.

Peter Rayner, a rail consultant who quit his post as a British Rail chief operating manager in protest at the way privatisation was being handled, said: "There is no doubt Railtrack has boasted about spending money, but it is essentially spending it on the wrong things - on doing up stations and selling more pizzas."