Chief rail inspector 'too soft' on safety

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Britain's chief rail inspector, Vic Coleman, will admit today that he has been too soft on the industry. He will urge those who have failed to put safety first to "do better or get out".

In his strongest message to rail chiefs, Mr Coleman will say that his department at the Health and Safety Executive is "reeling" from last week's damning report by Lord Cullen into the 1999 crash at Ladbroke Grove, west London.

Mr Coleman will warn that he will be much tougher in future: "I hear people in the railway industry hide behind a background of improving statistics and the mantra that railways are safer than other transport systems. Behind the absolute truth of those words are some appalling failures."

He will tell a conference held by the Institute of Economic Affairs: "Ladbroke Grove should have been the wake-up call, but for those who smugly pointed to the statistics and hid behind the failures of others, I have a clear message. Do better or get out. HSE will pursue all companies that fail to put safety first. Our inspectors will no longer 'trust the industry'."

* The rail industry will be "dead in the water" unless it improves punctuality and reliability, a survey presented to the conference yesterday by the management consultants Cap Gemini Ernst & Young warned.