Paddington toll was 30 dead and 245 injured, says Prescott

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The Independent Online

Concern over a rise in the number of times rail drivers pass red lights was highlighted in a sombre statement to the Commons by John Prescott on the Paddington rail disaster.

Concern over a rise in the number of times rail drivers pass red lights was highlighted in a sombre statement to the Commons by John Prescott on the Paddington rail disaster.

The Deputy Prime Minister put the death toll at 30, with 245 injured, making it the worst rail accident in Britain since the Clapham Junction disaster in 1988, which claimed 35 lives.

Mr Prescott told MPs he was determined to see the industry took firm and urgent action to reduce the number of signals passed at danger. They had been falling from nearly 1,000 incidents in 1991 to under 600 in 1997 but they increased last year to 643.

The driver in the Thames Train service went through a red light - SN109 - before travelling 700 metres into the path of the Great Western Train heading for Paddington, he said. He also said the latest rail crash on Monday night was caused when a train left Lewes station against a red stop light.

"The Chief Inspector of Railways has made it clear that whatever the immediate causes of this tragedy, they should be considered as symptoms of more general problems in the organisations of an effective railway safety regime," he said.

"The Ladbroke Grove Junction rail crash touched the heart of the entire nation. It must be a watershed for railway safety. We must make it so."

Senior Labour MPs called for safety on the railways to be given to a totally independent body last night. Mr Prescott warned it would be wrong to leap hastily to conclusions. The Deputy Prime Minister was "minded" to take rail safety out of the hands of Railtrack, the body responsible for the rail lines. "Where these functions are best located requires careful consideration," he said. "The answer must be one which ensures greater coherence on safety and does not, through disrupting safety management, result in an increased risk."

Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour chairman of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and the Regions, urged Mr Prescott to ensure rail safety was given to a free-standing body. "It could be the first step towards a fully independent railway safety system," she said. Mrs Dunwoody wants drivers to have a confidential reporting system where they could report safety failures without a risk to their jobs.

Martin Salter, the Labour MP whose Reading constituency included many of those killed and injured, said Railtrack no longer had the confidence of the travelling public. He said the Heathrow Express had blocked sight lines for drivers on the main line and urged Mr Prescott to take a public stake in Railtrack to enforce safety. Mr Prescott refused.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, said: "If the public are to regain confidence in our railways, Railtrack must no longer have the power to set and monitor their own safety standards."

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