Train disaster firm apologises

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The Independent Online
GREAT WESTERN Trains showed a "blatant disregard" for vital safety measures before the Southall rail disaster, the Old Bailey heard yesterday. Devices which may have averted the crash were introduced within days of the accident that killed seven passengers and injured 150, the court was told.

Stephen Climie, prosecuting, said the equipment was installed "with consummate ease and at negligible cost". But the company tried to minimise its responsibility for the disaster when an express from Swansea to Paddington hit a goods train at nearly 125mph.

Great Western insisted its failure to ensure the operation of an automatic warning system was not a "significant cause" of the crash. The Automatic Warning System (AWS) and Automatic Train Protection (ATP) was later introduced very quickly, Mr Climie said.

The driver was packing his bag when the express ran through two signals at red and was unaware he was heading for disaster because alarms were not operational. The company said the driver, Larry Harrison, 57, had not operated the train as he was trained to do.

Yesterday Jonathan Caplan QC for Great Western offered the court an "unqualified" apology for the crash in September 1997. "The remorse and responsibility are unqualified," he said.

Mr Justice Scott-Baker said Great Western had taken a "deliberate decision" to pursue profits before safety. But he added: "There is another aspect - the degree of energy which the management of the company puts into matters of safety." The AWS had been switched off because it had been affected by an intermittent fault.

Manslaughter charges against Great Western and the driver have been dropped, but the company has admitted charges under the Health and Safety Act.

The hearing was adjourned until today.

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