Crash overshadows gains in rail safety

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The Independent Online

Safety on the railways improved markedly in the year before the Potters Bar crash, which killed seven people, a rail industry report showed yesterday.

Safety on the railways improved markedly in the year before the Potters Bar crash, which killed seven people, a rail industry report showed yesterday.

But there was a rise in the number of robberies and attacks on passengers and staff, and the death of four track workers in the period from April 2001 to the end of March was the worst annual figure for nine years. The Potters Bar crash in May came six weeks after the cut-off point for collating the figures.

Railway Safety, a subsidiary of Railtrack that published the Annual Safety Performance Report, said there had been23 per cent fewer deaths and injuries than in the previous year, but reported attacks on rail staff rose by 34 per cent from the previous 10-year high 12 months earlier. There were about 2,400 attacks on staff, representing more than six attacks a day. They included verbal abuse, which accounted for nearly half of the recorded rise, and threats.

Railway Safety said some of the increase was the result of improved reporting procedures by train companies, with 40 per cent of the reported assaults coming from just four operators, Arriva Trains Northern, GNER, Virgin and South West Trains.

Aidan Nelson, of Railway Safety, said: "I would say it has been a very positive year with no passenger fatalities, overall a very good performance.

"But if we put the workforce fatalities into the equation we must be a lot more muted."

He said more effort had to be put into making the railways a safer place to work. "We must do more to plan inspection, maintenance and renewal of the rail network in a way that separates workers from the risk of being struck by trains," he said.

The figures showed serious train accidents down by 30 per cent and the underlying level of risk had also been reduced because the number of signals passed at danger had also diminished.

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