Train firms must spend pounds 250m on safer travel

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A pounds 250m package of safety regulations designed to prevent train crashes and derailments and to strengthen or replace the old slam-door trains was laid out by the Health and Safety Commission yesterday.

The measures will require the fitting of new systems on trains and track which will prevent drivers going through red signals. The commission said the system, which is cheaper than automatic train protection (ATP) - which can make the train brake automatically - must be fitted to all potentially dangerous signals in Britain by January 2004.

It also wants Mark 1 rolling- stock, the older slam-door trains which have limited crash resistance, to be withdrawn or substantially improved by January 2003. The regulations, which will be binding on rail companies, are expected to come into force next year.

Frank Davies, HSC chairman, said: "Railways are the safest mode of land travel in Britain, but improvements in technology mean they can be made safer." After the 1988 Clapham rail crash, in which 35 people died, it was recommended that ATP be introduced throughout the network but because of its cost, it has only been fitted on two lines.

Last month a Health and Safety Executive report concluded that a driver going through a red signal was the main cause of the 1996 Watford crash, in which a woman died and 70 other people were injured. The HSC said a simpler and cheaper train protection and warning system was undergoing trials and should be used to help meet the January 2004 requirement. "We want a system which will be able to apply the brakes automatically if a train passes a red signal or is travelling too fast," said Mr Davies.

The new protection system is expected to cost Railtrack and train companies pounds 100m, including maintenance costs, over a 30-year period. Various options for dealing with slam-door trains will cost pounds 50m to pounds 150m. Mr Davies said: "It is not our problem whether train companies can afford to make these changes. It is our duty to look at all aspects of safety."

Rod Muttram, director of safety and standards at Railtrack, said: "We very much support the idea of the train protection and warning system, as this is a system which we are developing ourselves."

The commission will also ask for views from the industry and passenger groups on whether carriages should be modified to include centrally locking doors. Passengers can open slam-doors themselves while the train is moving. Five people have fallen to their deaths in the past two years.

Slam-door trains were built between 1951 and 1974 and at least 1,300 of them are likely to remain in service after 2000, mainly on the south- east England commuter routes.

Stan Robertson, the Health and Safety Executive's chief inspector of railways, said: "In normal everyday use, these trains do not pose unacceptable hazards but they do not meet modern standards of construction. The carriage bodies are relatively weak and in a collision there is a tendency for one carriage to over-ride another."