Rail sale 'added to coast line chaos'

THOUSANDS of train passengers who suffered lengthy delays when a tractor crashed onto the West Coast main line would not have had to wait so long had it not been for rail privatisation, a former British Rail station manager has confirmed.

The delays happened on Friday at the height of the weekend rush, when a muck-spreading tractor broke through a fence at Bourne End, near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, slid down an embankment, crashed through signalling equipment and severed a power cable before coming to rest across all four sets of tracks.

The accident left 14 trains stranded between stations, trapping 5,000 people. Those on the Euston-to-Liverpool service were stuck in their carriages for six hours, and another 20,000 passengers were left waiting at stations along the line.

Anthony Williams, a former manager based at Manchester's Victoria Station, said that fragmentation of the rail service exacerbated the delays. Under the previous, fully nationalised system, a contingency plan would have been implemented immediately after such an accident, switching trains to other tracks and speeding up the recovery of services.

"The service might have been slightly delayed but you wouldn't have had the standstills we have had this time," he said yesterday.

Under the present system, Mr Williams said, the train-operating companies must sign contracts with Railtrack (which is responsible for tracks and signalling) before trains can be diverted onto lines the operators do not normally use.

"The operating service, in this case InterCity West Coast Ltd, will have had to pay track-access charges to Railtrack before implementing a contingency plan and moving trains onto other lines," he claimed.

InterCity West Coast agreed that such charges do have to be paid but added that it was "very unlikely" that plans to help free passengers were stalled while access charges were negotiated.

"I don't think for a minute that we or Railtrack would have waited to sort out the charges while passengers were delayed," said a spokeswoman yesterday.

However, Labour's transport spokesman, Henry McLeish, said the incident demonstrated the problems of "near-farcical proportions" being generated by rail-privatisation plans.

"If you take British Rail and split it into 95 parts," he said, "you are going to get fragmentation, you are going to get confusion."

BR admitted the clearance operation had not been ideal."I don't think anyone is going to say everything went smoothly, but we are satisfied we did all we could in a difficult situation," said a spokesperson.

The incident is likely to leave BR with a large compensation bill. It could have to pay out as much as pounds 625,000 to the estimated 25,000 passengers affected if they are refunded their full fares under the passengers' charter.

n The owner of the tractor that blocked the West Coast line last night apologised to the passengers affected.

Mark Gardener, of Boxted Farm in Hemel Hempstead, said the driver was in a state of shock over the incident.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'