Jarvis faces new inquiry over rail safety breaches

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The Independent Online

An urgent inquiry has been launched into allegations of serious breaches of rail safety regulations by Jarvis - the company at the centre of the Potters Bar train crash investigation.

Staff working for Jarvis allegedly left a railway line near Milton Keynes station in such a dangerous condition that debris flew into the air as a 100mph express passed on 20 August, injuring two passengers waiting on the platform.

At the same time on the same day at Retford, the Network Rail confidential log reports that Jarvis employees failed to tell a signal-box to halt trains after a broken rail was discovered. A senior manager was subsequently ordered to explain to Jarvis staff "the error of their ways".

News of the incidents comes while Jarvis is trying to secure other public contracts. To the anger of families bereaved by the Potters Bar crash, the company signed a £270m deal with Herefordshire County Council last week to provide a range of services including transport. The company is pursuing £3bn worth of public-sector business.

Earlier this month, Jarvis was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,500 costs after two rail workers were electrocuted near York when a crane jib hit an overhead wire carrying 25,000 volts. In March it was fined the maximum £25,000 after a rail vehicle carrying workers, but not intended for that purposes, derailed and overturned. The group is also facing court proceedings in Liverpool over the death of a girl aged eight who stepped on a live rail.

Jarvis insists that the Potters Bar crash, in which seven people were killed, could have been caused by sabotage, although rail inspectors argue that the most likely cause was poor management.

Concern over the company's safety record will be raised by the incidents in August, reported in Network Rail's internal log. In the first incident, at Milton Keynes station, Jarvis workers left the site in a "mess" after work to renew the track during the night, according to senior managers. When a high-speed train from Wolverhampton to London Euston sped through the station in the morning, nylon insulator pads were "blown up with the turbulence, showering the passengers", the internal report said. Hundreds of the six-inch pads, which reduce noise and vibration, were "scattered" around.

More than five hours later, a Virgin driver reported seeing Pandrol clips "flying along the platform" having been dislodged by another train. The metal clips are used to secure the rails and weigh about 3lb each.

In a separate incident at Newark, Jarvis workers reportedly told their managers that the line should be blocked because of the broken rail, but failed to tell the local signal-box which can stop trains immediately.

Peter Rayner, an expert on railway operations, said the incidents indicated a failure to understand basic procedures.

"It is terrible that anyone can walk off the job and leave the track in such a dangerous condition," he said. "It is also astounding that people do not understand that when a broken rail is discovered, the first thing you do is stop the railway. It is the kind of grassroots knowledge that seems to have been lost during the time of Railtrack."

Network Rail, the state-backed organisation that took over from the private-sector company Railtrack is taking maintenance for some parts of the system back in house. However, renewing infrastructure, rather than maintaining it, will remain in contractors' hands.

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