Byers criticised for failing to ensure rail safety is delivered

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The Independent Online

The Government was under fire yesterday for failing to ensure that critical rail safety improvements were delivered on time.

As reported in yesterday's Independent only around half of the recommendations laid down by the Cullen inquiry into Paddington disaster in which 31 people were killed have been honoured.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that out of 40 urgent proposals just 23 had been introduced by the end of last year – the deadline suggested by Lord Cullen and endorsed by the Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

Louise Christian, a solicitor who represents many survivors of both the Paddington and Southall disasters, said Mr Byers had a major responsibility for ensuring the conclusions of the inquiry are respected and enforced on time. "He should step in and make sure the industry meets its responsibilities," she said.

Yesterday's progress report from the HSE showed that there was still a "huge amount of work to be done", she said.

"It's no good having a public inquiry and making lots of recommendations if they are not implemented. The Government should be doing more. If the privatised railway structure cannot deliver, then it ought to be changed."

Of the 40 recommendations to be implemented by the end of last year, Lord Cullen identified 25 as particularly important. Eight are still outstanding.

The 1999 Paddington disaster happened after a Thames Trains commuter service went through a red light and slammed into a Great Western express. The HSE has registered its intention to prosecute Railtrack and Thames for their role in the accident.

One of the key recommendations due to be implemented by the end of 2001, but still not introduced concerns reporting of signals passed at danger. Lord Cullen said there should be no presumption that driver error was the sole or principal cause, which tends to be the industry's initial response.

Two other recommendations not yet implemented involve changes to help passengers get out of carriages more easily in the event of a crash.

The Health and Safety Commission said of the 17 recommendations not completed, 10 were due to be introduced by June and all by the end of 2002.