Fire risk on Tube 'does not justify cost of changes'

SOME recommendations of the report into the King's Cross Tube disaster should not be implemented because their cost cannot be justified, a report to the Health and Safety Executive says.

The risk of a disastrous fire on the London Underground has been dramatically reduced by measures implemented as a result of the King's Cross disaster. Brian Appleton, the author of the HSE report, suggests that fire risk now 'needs to take its rightful place as one risk among others on which money needs to be spent'.

There are now only 1,000 fires on the system each year, compared with 5,000 before the disaster, and only 40 per cent cause any disruption to service, he says.

Mr Appleton, who was an assessor in the public inquiry into the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, says plans to install fire-resistant walls in stations, which would cost pounds 23m for preliminary surveys and design alone, are unnecessary. Most fires are in tunnels and trains, and escalator mechanisms all now have sprinkler systems.

A large escalator fire is now likely to happen only once every 500 years compared with once every 10 years before the improvements. The risk of dying from a collision in the Tube system is 15 times greater than dying from a station fire, and therefore resources would be better spent on improving signalling.

Mr Appleton says new fire regulations are now needed to replace those implemented following the disaster.

Mr Appleton's report was commissioned as a result of an incident on the Central Line in February 1991 when seven trains near Bethnal Green, east London, loaded with 6,000 passengers, were trapped for five hours in tunnels between platforms after a bomb alert.

Mr Appleton says that since this incident, procedures on closure of stations following alerts have been greatly improved. When all London British Rail main line stations had to be closed after bombs were found at Victoria and Paddington stations in February 1991, it took seven hours for the network to be brought back into operation. After a shutdown in December 1991, when a device exploded near Clapham Junction, south London, it took two and a quarter hours.

The number of alerts caused by suspect packages and anonymous calls rocketed in 1991 but London Underground has become much more skilled at assessing risk and dealing with them. During alerts less trains are being stuck in tunnels as they are allowed to run through stations without stopping.

Mr Appleton said managers who decided whether to evacuate stations 'always err on the side of safety and I support that'.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Combined LUL and BR security incidents 1984-91 ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 Devices found 8 22 9 22 4 1 5 8 Anonymous calls 327 393 358 217 282 389 446 1683 Suspect packages 62 147 388 83 133 202 270 1961 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Leading article, page 18

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