Train fault may cost millions

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The Independent Online
The potentially lethal problem of trains sliding out of control is much more widespread than was originally thought, a senior Railtrack official said yesterday.

The Independent revealed yesterday that British Rail was urgently reviewing the safety of some of its trains after a series of incidents in which trains skidded for up to half a mile.

The Independent has obtained a list of 28 incidents involving overruns in the Great Western zone alone, including four trains that actually missed stopping at stations altogether, three that overshot by half a mile or more and one that went through a level crossing.

The senior manager said yesterday: "This has been a problem ever since they started introducing these trains with disc brakes. We've been particularly worried that a train will hit another or go through a level crossing. There is a big safety issue here."

He pointed out that as well as problems with the Turbo trains operating on the Chiltern and Thames line highlighted in yesterday's article, Sprinters - more than 200 of which are used on many cross-country regional routes - have also been badly affected.

He that the accumulation of leaves on the lines was one of the key causes of trains failing to stop correctly and Railtrack was facing a bill of "tens of millions of pounds" to cope with the backlog of tree-clearing needed to prevent the the problem. It costs between £20,000 and £50,000 per mile to clear trees by the tracks.

The clearance backlog built up during the Sixties and Seventies after the withdrawal of steam engines. Until then, fear of cinders causing fires by the track meant that trees and bushes were cut back regularly.

John Ellis, production director of Railtrack, said proposed cuts in the tree-felling budget had been reversed and "Railtrack is already spending £5m per year on tree felling". Mr Ellis admitted that disc brakes on modern trains had made slippage more likely than old-fashioned clasp- brake systems."

Mr Ellis, who is soon to leave Railtrack to become director of Scotrail, attempted to play down the importance of his memo, leaked to the Independent at the weekend, which mentioned "a disastrous leaf fall season".

He said it was written on 10 November, when "it seemed we were heading for a particularly bad season but in the event it was an average year". But he accepted that last year saw a greater number of life-threatening incidents than usual.