Railtrack misled public over signals danger

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The Independent Online

Transport Correspondent

Railtrack yesterday admitted misleading the public by saying that no passengers had been put at risk during a series of signal failures in Scotland.

The failures took place on a pounds 2.4m resignalling project on the Glasgow- Stirling-Perth line when faulty work was carried out. The report details errors such as short-circuiting wires by piercing them with screws - similar to the mistake which caused the Clapham rail disaster in 1988. Two weeks ago, when a report into the incidents last autumn and winter was leaked, Railtrack said the failures were "during testing" and did not involve passenger trains. In fact, the incidents, which involved signals allowing trains through when they should have been at red, occurred when passenger trains were on the track but were spotted by signals staff.

Fortunately, because the line uses old-style mechanical signals, regulations specify that signals staff must verify the position of signals before allowing trains through and in all 10 cases the mistakes were spotted. Work on the line has been halted while Railtrack considers the report into the faulty work, which a senior railwayman said was the worst he had seen.

Railtrack yesterday issued a statement admitting its error. It said: "There was no intention to deliberately mislead anybody. In the initial rush to reassure the public, there must have been some confusion. What we wanted to get across was that the public was in no danger." A spokesman said the error had resulted from confusion between the press office and the authors of the leaked report.

Henry McLeish, Labour's transport spokesman, said: "Railtrack simply did not tell the truth over the safety risks that they were subjecting thousands of travellers to every day. I am sick of Railtrack issuing cosy statements that everything is all right as soon as more safety problems are unearthed."