Old trains taken out of service

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New fears over rail safety surfaced yesterday as a team of more than 100 engineers worked round the clock to restore services at the scene of Thursday's Watford train crash in time for the start of the working week.

With dozens of trains a day being cancelled as engineers repaired track, gantries and signalling systems, a Railtrack spokesman said the company was "hopeful" some services would be running by early on Monday.

Thirteen victims of the crash - which killed Ruth Snook, the 54-year- old books editor of the British Medical Journal, and injured 69 other people - were still in hospital yesterday.

Meanwhile, urgent checks on old rolling stock were being carried out by three private rail companies, two of which have temporarily withdrawn their Class 421 trains.

South West Trains, a subsidiary of Stagecoach Holdings, said it had taken its 34-strong fleet of Class 421 trains out of service because of a suspected problem with wheel bearings, while a spokeswoman for the South Eastern Train Company said it, too, had temporarily withdrawn its 21 Class 421s for safety checks.

Network SouthCentral, which operates 70 Class 421s, said it would check every one, although none was being withdrawn.

South West Trains said its decision came after five incidents of wheel- bearing failure. The slam-door trains are used on many of the network's routes, including some Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton and Alton services, and the company said the withdrawal was a precaution.

The move prompted Labour's transport spokeswoman, Glenda Jackson, to call for an independent safety executive to monitor safety standards across the board.The emphasis on safety currently lies with the companies.

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