It's easy to say nothing has been done. But that ignores the evidence

Comment

The Hatfield crash has raised concerns yet again about the safety of travel by rail among a large section of the public. Several criticisms are being voiced about the rail industry.

The Hatfield crash has raised concerns yet again about the safety of travel by rail among a large section of the public. Several criticisms are being voiced about the rail industry.

The rail safety groups that have sprung up in response to other accidents have expressed concern that nothing has been done since the disasters at Ladbroke Grove and Southall.

There are even suggestions that far from improving, safety on the railway is deteriorating and that there are more accidents than in the past. Moreover, comparisons are being made with our European counterparts, suggesting that Britain's railways are less safe than those on the Continent.

These arguments are all largely mistaken but are gaining wide currency among a public faced with headlines such as yesterday's in The Mirror, which suggested that taking a train was the "new national lottery". Of course, with the third part of the Ladbroke Grove inquiry due to start at the end of this month, and its report not due out until the middle of next year, much remains to be done but in the interim, the fitting of the Train Protection and Warning system has been speeded up, driver training has been improved and a better system of dealing with incidents of Signals Passed at Danger has been introduced. The Health and Safety Executive is introducing a system whereby train companies will have to show how they intend to improve safety year on year, rather than just maintaining the same level of safety.

All this was undoubtedly too late, but it is not correct to say that nothing has been done over the past year. Moreover, the railways are getting safer decade by decade in terms of the most important measure, the number of passengers killed in rail accidents. Every decade since the war, the number of deaths has gone down, from a total of 344 in the 1940s to 46 in the 1990s, despite the 31 deaths at Ladbroke Grove.

Even the figures showing Britain's railways as more dangerous are not entirely correct. The raw figures show that Britain has 0.36 deaths per billion kilometres and is 11th in the European league table compared with 0.09 in Spain, the "safest" country. However, the figures are provided by the national railways and Britain's are drawn up conservatively. They include deaths such as drunks who fall under trains from station platforms (as long as they have a ticket, otherwise they are excluded), while in other countries only the number actually killed in crashes is counted. Moreover, in the South-east, Britain has the most extensively used rail network in Europe, which contributes to the danger. Virtually all the biggest disasters since the war - Lewisham, Harrow, Clapham and Ladbroke Grove - have been on this busy commuter network.

There are, though, some areas of great concern. The sharp growth during the 1990s in incidents of vandalism that result in damage to parts of the railway including, sometimes, the track and trains themselves, has been a big area of concern for the HSE in its recent annual reports. And Railtrack's failure to bring down the level of broken rails after a rapid rise in the years after privatisation was nothing short of a scandal for which the company will now pay dearly.

But railways remain the safest form of travel - probably by a factor of more than100 times in relation to car driving. That statistic should presage all discussion of issues of rail safety.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Press / Mac Operator / Artworker - Digital & Litho Print

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: With year on year growth and a reputation for ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Live Virtual Training / Events

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Manager is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003