Paddington inquiry chief asks Prescott for pledge on action

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The Independent Online

The leader of the Paddington disaster inquiry has taken the unprecedented step of demanding assurances from the Government that his recommendations on train safety will not be ignored.

The leader of the Paddington disaster inquiry has taken the unprecedented step of demanding assurances from the Government that his recommendations on train safety will not be ignored.

Amid concern among the bereaved about the rail industry's intentions, Lord Cullen has asked for a guarantee from John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minster, that his conclusions will not gather dust. Representatives of the survivors yesterday called for immediate talks with Mr Prescott, fearing that Lord Cullen's deliberations had been "pre-empted". They are planning to hold a demonstration today outside Mr Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to protest against the Comprehensive Spending Review and its expected provision for "inferior" rail safety measures.

Lord Cullen is believed to have been persuaded out of retirement on the basis that his recommendations from the inquiry into the Paddington crash and from a joint investigation into safety systems would be treated with more respect than proposals made by the hearing on the Clapham and other rail disasters. Robert Owen QC, counsel to the inquiry, contacted ministers yesterday to secure further assurance.

Relatives of the 31 people killed at Paddington on 5 October are calling for the fail-safe automatic train protection (ATP) system to be installed nationally. The less sophisticated train protection warning system (TPWS) is already being introduced by the industry with the backing of the Government.

Louise Christian, lead solicitor for the bereaved and those injured, said her clients were deeply concerned that ministers and rail companies were pre-empting the hearings by pressing ahead with TPWS. The report on the Clapham disaster 12 years ago urged ATP to be used throughout the system but it was ignored.

Yesterday Terrance Worrall, director and general manger of Thames Trains, told the Paddington inquiry that his company would have signed contracts for the introduction of TPWS before the second phase of the hearing into train safety systems began. He said that did not "necessarily" close down other options. In the Paddington disaster one of his company's services is said to have jumped a red light on its way out of the west London station before smashing almost head-on into a Great Western express.

Pam Warren, who was on the Great Western service and who wears a mask to protect scar tissue on her face, said decisions affecting rail safety had been taken before the second phase of the inquiry. "Those decisions may well fall short in delivering a safe and reliable system," she said.

Failure to install the best rather than the cheapest system would mean another disaster, she added. Bonus payments to rail company directors should be blocked until network safety measures were in place. The state of the railways was "unforgivable" and could be attributed to "ineptitude, mismanagement and pure greed" by those in positions of authority."

The hearing continues.

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