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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee