Parallel inquiry into Stafford crash

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The Independent Online
CHRISTIAN WOLMAR

Transport Correspondent

Transport ministers were yesterday forced to announce an independent inquiry into the Stafford train crash amid from the local Tory MP that an internal inquiry by Railtrack was "wholly inappropriate".

Bill Cash, MP for Stafford, described the accident as "horrendous" and insisted: "It should be a full and complete public inquiry, which deals with all aspects of this matter including Railtrack maintenance."

There was also disquiet in Parliament and in the railway industry that Railtrack had been so fast to discount any cause for the accident which might reflect badly on its own operations. On Saturday, less than 24 hours after the accident, Railtrack said that initial inquiries found no evidence that a track defect or signalling had caused the accident.

Yesterday, Railtrack announced that attention was focussing on whether a broken axle had caused the freight train to derail before the mail train hit it. Railtrack said a derailment investigation team, part of British Rail Research,was "specially focusing on the collapse of one of the axles on one of the four-wheel tank wagons".

A senior industry source was surprised by Railtrack discounting possible causes, saying: "How could they know there wasn't a broken rail under the wreckage? Even if there is a broken axle, that did not necessarily cause the crash as it could have resulted from the impact."

Railtrack has appointed James Ward, a former director of safety and quality at British Rail, as an independent chairman to lead the internal inquiry.

However, despite Railtrack's appointment of an outsider to head its own inquiry, the Railways Minister John Watts announced that the Health and Safety Executive had been asked to carry out "an independent investigation and prepare a special report" in addition to Railtrack's report.

During transport questions in the Commons, Clare Short, Labour's transport spokeswoman, asked Mr Watts: "Don't you think it's disgraceful that Railtrack should absolve themselves of responsibility for this terrible accident at Stafford before we have had the inquiry? Don't you agree that it would be absolutely wrong to allow Railtrack to be floated before its safety standards have been sorted out?" Railtrack is expected to be floated on the stock exchange in May.

Mr Watts replied that Ms Short had presented a "false" picture and that safety on the railways was at an all time high. Mr Watts said it was "unwise to speculate as to the causes of this accident" when only preliminary information was available.

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