BR plans safety shake-up at tunnel

BRITISH RAIL is to carry out safety and communications improvements at the Severn Tunnel as a result of a collision involving two trains in which nearly 100 passengers were injured.

Tomorrow the public inquiry investigating last December's crash will be given details. The result should be closer liaison with emergency services, with measures to improve access in any future accidents following delays of two hours in reaching 300 passengers stranded on the two trains.

More than 50 recommendations, some already put into action, have emerged in the wake of BR's internal inquiry into the crash, in which a high-speed InterCity 125 Paddington to Cardiff express was rammed from behind by a Portsmouth to Cardiff Sprinter train about a mile from the Welsh end of the tunnel.

The InterCity driver, David Robertson, told the inquiry how his train was hit after signalmen instructed him to pass through a red danger light. Following BR rules, he stopped at the red signal and when he did not receive any further instructions got down from his cab to speak to a signalman via the trackside telephone.

'He told me they had some problems and instructed me to pass the signal and danger. I got back into the cab, gave a blast on the horn and moved off,' he said.

BR has accepted responsibility for the accident and several passengers have begun legal action for compensation. A fault with signalling equipment is believed to have allowed both trains into the tunnel at the same time.

Tomorrow, the concluding day of the inquiry at Cardiff City Hall, lawyers for BR are expected to submit details of the safety shake- up to Robin Seymour, chief inspecting officer of railways at the Health and Safety Executive.

Estimates are being prepared for a comprehensive new communications system in the tunnel, with installation of permanent lighting to start early next year.

An exhaustive inquiry by BR signalling engineers has so far failed to identify the exact cause of the fault, which is believed to have changed a red light to green near the entrance of the tunnel. At the time of the collision, the signalling equipment used to control trains through the tunnel was not working properly.