'Make do and mend' worker is blamed for Potters Bar crash

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The Independent Online

A "make do and mend" approach by a maintenance worker was the most likely cause of the Potters Bar rail disaster, according to sources close to the investigation.

While last week's report into the crash offered general criticism of the way maintenance was managed, both the British Transport Police and rail inspectors privately believe the points at the heart of the crash had been deliberately adjusted by an unknown track employee to save time and money.

Investigators argue that a bar that keeps the rails apart was "misaligned" on purpose to gain extra purchase on threads which had worn away.

Yesterday, Louise Christian, a solicitor representing the relatives of some of the seven people who died in the crash last May, revealed that she had given the former infrastructure company Railtrack and the maintenance contractor Jarvis until Friday to admit liability for the accident or face High Court action. Ms Christian is also threatening the Legal Services Commission with a judicial review for refusing to allow her clients legal aid.

Ms Christian said that apart from any court proceedings both Jarvis and Railtrack should face a public inquiry for allowing a culture to develop in which workers believed it was permissible to adjust rather than replace defective equipment. Jarvis maintains that sabotage was the most likely cause and may argue that deliberate misalignment of the points supports this theory.

However, Ms Christian said: "The most worrying aspect of all this is that no one has accepted liability and so no one is taking action to put things right. Last week's report into the crash was extremely alarming because it revealed that similar deficiencies had occurred across the network.

"Potters Bar could happen again. It may not be points next time, it may be another part of the infrastructure. It seems that equipment can be damaged for some time with nobody doing a thing about it."

The report, drawn up by the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) rail inspectors, confirmed that on 10 May last year a set of points just outside Potters Bar "fell apart" as the fourth carriage of a four-coach express from King's Cross to King's Lynn sped over it. The final car "became airborne", hit a waiting room at the Hertfordshire station and ended up wedged under the canopy and straddling two platforms.

Rail inspectors blamed management failures for the "poor condition" of the points, saying there had been "inappropriate adjustment and insufficient maintenance". Evidence was found elsewhere near the site of the crash that threads had worn and maintenance workers had experienced difficulty in keeping nuts firmly attached.

Investigators found that there was no guidance for setting up, inspecting and maintaining the kind of points involved in the derailment. Even several weeks later it was found that there was a failure to apply good practice to similar points elsewhere on the network. Investigators concluded there might have been a wider problem.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said yesterday that since the accident it had introduced a new maintenance programme where employees were involved in deciding what work should be done. They also made sure it was "done properly" she said.

A Jarvis representative said the HSE document did not rule out sabotage and did not reach a definitive conclusion about why the points failed.

British Transport Police are still investigating the accident and are due to send a report to the Criminal Prosecution Service in August.