Higher risk of crash line `not a factor'

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British Rail did not take the increased danger of single track lines into consideration when it decided to rip up one of the two tracks on the Oxted to Uckfield branch line, the inquiry into the Cowden train crash was told yesterday.

David Burton, BR's director of production quality responsible for the line, said that years of neglect to the line had led to a situation in the mid-1980s where closure would have been inevitable without considerable investment on new track.

Mr Burton, giving evidence on the sixth day of the inquiry into the accident which killed five people on 15 October, said the line had deteriorated so much that many 20mph speed limits were in force, causing delays.

He said: "Doing nothing was not an option. To keep the line open, £2.1m was needed for track renewal over the next five years." He said closure had been rejected, leaving three options, all involving new track: the old signalling and the double track could be retained; the signalling could be renewed with a double track: or the line could be made into a single track with new signalling.

The third option was the cheapest, requiring investment of £3.711m over 25 years, £1.1m less than leaving the double track and installing new signalling. The work was completed in 1990 and led to most of the line being single track apart from passing loops. The two trains in the crash hit each other head-on near Cowden station.

Although the Hidden report into the Clapham railway disaster was published before the work on the Oxted to Uckfield line, Mr Burton was unable to say whether its recommendations led to any reappraisal of the scheme. He accepted that while existing safetymeasures were incorporated, the increased risks of a single line were not taken into account: "This project was designed eight years ago. Such risk assessment procedures were not available at the time," he said.