Paddington train crash: Safety levels lower on UK side of tunnel, says Eurostar driver

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The Independent Online

A French Eurostar train driver described yesterday how he felt his train Òbecame more dangerousÓ when it passed through the Channel Tunnel.

A French Eurostar train driver described yesterday how he felt his train Òbecame more dangerousÓ when it passed through the Channel Tunnel.

ÒOnce you arrive in England at the controls of a Eurostar, the levels of safety fall rapidly,Ó G?rard Tavernier told Le Parisien. ÒThe train can go through a red light at high speed without being stopped. There is no automatic stopping system. Everything depends on the driver. The slightest human error can be fatal.Ó

His comments ÿ and others in France yesterday ÿ fail to take account of older safety devices that have existed on UK railways for more than half a century. It is not possible for a driver to go through a red light in Britain without acknowledging ÿ and then ignoring ÿ a warning hooter in the cab.

However, the remarks drew attention to the huge technological advances in train security made on the Continent in the past six years.

In October 1991 the driver of a night express from the south of France ignored a red light at M?lun, near Paris; 11 people died in a collision with a freight train. The driver had heard and acknowledged the warning hooter in his cab ÿ the same system that has existed in Britain since the 1930s ÿ but he had unaccountably gone through the red light anyway.

The French state railways, the SNCF, decided soon after to install a second, more advanced system of radar-based train control. The system is broadly similar to the automatic train protection (ATP) system that was recommended in the UK after the Clapham Junction disaster but rejected as too costly.

The system works through radar speed detectors in the tracks, which automatically stop a train before a red light if the driver has failed to slow in response to a warning amber at the previous signal. Installation on every kilometre of French railway line ÿ at a cost of about £1bn ÿ began in 1993. Three quarters of the network, including all high-speed and main lines, are now equipped. It will be fitted on all lines by 2003.

Since the modernisation began, no train has passed a light on red in France on an upgraded line. This compares with an estimated 600 instances in the UK last year.

French railway officials refused yesterday to be quoted on the success of their system. But Mr Tavernier had no difficulty making the claim: ÒAn accident [like Paddington] could never happen over here.Ó

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