Failure of safety system and back-up led 10.32 to disaster

A second safety system which could have prevented the fatal train crash at Southall was not working. Kim Sengupta and Louise Jury investigate why the driver was left "naked".
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The Independent Online
As the driver of the 10.32am InterCity Swansea-Paddington service headed towards London on Friday, he was operating with no technological back-up.

The failure of his Automatic Warning System (AWS) left him dependent on his own observation of signals while travelling at up to 125 mph. Until last year, when a new agreement was reached by rail unions and Great Western Railways, a second driver would have been in the cab at speeds above 110mph.

Questions have been raised already about whether Automatic Train Protection (ATP), an advanced system which automatically stops a train in danger, was functioning. The introduction of ATP was a key recommendation of the Clapham rail disaster inquiry and was under trial on the tracks, but had allegedly proved unreliable when retrospectively fitted. It is thought not to have been switched on at the time of the crash.

Nevertheless, the driver should have been able to rely on AWS, an older, more basic system of warning bells in his cab. Yet sources said when the driver took over the train at Cardiff, the AWS was recorded in the log book as "isolated" - not functioning. It was normal procedure to continue to his destination where the train should have been taken out of service.

Transport insiders claimed it was understood that ATP would be fully implemented when rail unions agreed single-man working over 110mph. Yesterday, as the clearance operation continued at Southall, Lew Adams, general secretary of the Aslef rail union, said: "We may have to look again at the question of the second man where there is no ATP installed."

But a Great Western spokeswoman said agreement was reached after examination by independent safety assessors and Railtrack's safety inspectorate. "ATP was not a requirement," she said.

The driver, who was yesterday off duty, voluntarily went to the police and made a statement on Friday. Police were investigating whether he should face manslaughter charges.

The AWS failure was not the only problem in the system, it has emerged. Five hours before the Southall crash, an accident was avoided "by a matter of seconds" at Paddington, west London. A Great Western InterCity express, from Exeter, was wrongly directed into a platform already occupied by a train, but the driver managed to stop when he saw the carriages ahead.

The trains involved in both the Paddington and Southall incidents were guided by the Integrated Electronic Control Centre based at Slough. After the near-miss, the centre was shut for an hour and 50 minutes while officials examined what had gone wrong.

At 1.28pm, while a report on the Paddington incident was still being compiled, the InterCity from Swansea leapfrogged over the freight train at Southall resulting in the six deaths and 160 injured. Computer tape recordings at Slough should show what signals were functioning as the trains proceeded. A British Transport Police source said signalling would play a crucial part in the investigation. "We certainly have not made up our minds that human error was responsible for the crash."

However, a Railtrack spokeswoman said that different computer panels were responsible for guiding trains into Paddington and for the trains at Southall.

The most seriously injured victim of the crash has injuries worse than those suffered by Trevor Rees-Jones, the bodyguard who was injured in the car crash which killed the Princess of Wales, a spokesman for Charing Cross Hospital, London, said yesterday. The 65-year-old pensioner from Bridgend, Glamorgan, faces painful surgery to rebuild his shattered face and body. He has undergone nine-and-a-half hours of operations and remains unconscious in intensive care.

Alan Napier, the deputy leader of Easington District Council, was also in intensive care, but was said to be doing well, in the Royal London Hospital.

The clearance and repair operation was continuing under arc lights last night. The final rail carriage was removed in the early evening, but a Railtrack spokeswoman said it would take some time to check exactly what damage had been caused.

British Transport Police investigators carried out final searches of the most damaged carriage during the afternoon to check there were no bodies left undiscovered inside.

A Railtrack spokeswoman said: "We are aiming to have service restored by Tuesday morning. Anything we get tomorrow [Monday] morning would be a bonus."

ADVICE FOR COMMUTERS

There will be no Great Western services to Paddington today but a near-normal service will operate to Waterloo.

Passengers travelling from Wales and the West have been advised to allow up to an extra hour for their journey because of the need to change trains at Reading.

Great Western will provide some additional services from Wales and the West, two to Basingstoke and four to Waterloo in the morning, with return services tonight.

Normal services from Reading to London, which run at 15-minute intervals, will be busy. Thames Trains hoped last night that two tracks would be open at Southall through to Paddington for three hours in the morning and three in the evening, allowing a limited rush-hour service. If not, they were advising passengers they would run trains to Hayes and then provide a bus service to Ealing, where passengers could join the Underground system. Anyone living in Slough was advised to go to Windsor.

An AA spokeswoman said the impact of the disruption was likely to be seen on the roads, with the rush hour from west London starting half an hour earlier.

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