Paddington train crash: Squabble over price of averting another crash

Click to follow
The Independent Online

THE GOVERNMENT promised a £1bn safety system in the aftermath of the disaster as the total of confirmed dead rose to 30 yesterday, with 127 missing. Announcing details of a public inquiry, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, promised the biggest safety shake-up seen by the industry. But criticism mounted about the 10-year delay in implementing safety procedures first recommended in response to the Clapham Junction crash.

THE GOVERNMENT promised a £1bn safety system in the aftermath of the disaster as the total of confirmed dead rose to 30 yesterday, with 127 missing. Announcing details of a public inquiry, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, promised the biggest safety shake-up seen by the industry. But criticism mounted about the 10-year delay in implementing safety procedures first recommended in response to the Clapham Junction crash.

Mr Prescott said a network- wide safety system would be installed, regardless of cost. He would look to Railtrack, which makes profits of £1.2m a day, and the passenger train companies to pay their share.

The Paddington inquiry will be led by the Scottish judge Lord Cullen, who conducted the inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster, in which 167 died, and the inquiry into the Dunblane school massacre.

But Railtrack disagreed yesterday with Mr Prescott over the cost of introducing the safety system that would have prevented the Paddington disaster.

The company, which is responsible for the rail infrastructure, said automatic train protection would cost £2bn, twice the Deputy Prime Minister's estimate. Mr Prescott had said £1bn was Ã’not a lot of moneyÓ when it came to rail safety. Financing the scheme was Ã’not a problemÓ and he would be looking to Railtrack to pay its share.

Railtrack also said it would take 10 years to install across the network, compared with the less sophisticated train protection warning system, which is scheduled to be introduced by the end of 2003 and would cost £190m, according to the company. Ã’We are working to see if we can bring this completion date forward,Ó a Railtrack spokeswoman said.

Railtrack denied that TPWS might have failed to prevent the disaster, but conceded it would not have averted the Southall crash two years ago, in which seven people lost their lives and 150 were injured.

As the company argued with Mr Prescott over the cost of safety, London Underground decided to postpone the announcement that Railtrack has been awarded control of key lines. It is to take over the Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City, Circle, District and East London Òsub-surfaceÓ routes.

Railtrack has been criticised by union leaders over the siting of signal 109, which was passed at danger by the Thames Trains service leaving the west London station, before it hit the express train.

Railtrack has also come under fire for resisting introduction of ATP, which would probably have prevented the Paddington crash and the disaster two years ago at Southall.

Railtrack's support of TPWS and resistance to the failsafe ATP system was said to be an ÒuntenableÓ attitude by the pressure group Save Our Railways. The group pointed out that the Conservatives promised a Òmoney-no-objectÓ approach to safety after the 1988 Clapham disaster, which claimed 35 lives.

ÒThis time, promises must be kept,Ó said the campaign director, Jonathan Bray. The hi-tech ATP system prevents trains going through signals at danger and is on trial on the Chiltern line and on routes of Great Western, one of whose trains was involved in the Paddington tragedy. It controls the speed of the train and cannot be overridden by the driver.

This summer Mr Prescott announced the installation of TPWS, which brings the train to a halt if it goes through a red signal, but Alan Marshall, publisher of Rail News, and other experts say it may not stop high-speed trains in time to avert a collision.

Mr Prescott said he would order the installation of ATP if the inquiry chaired by Lord Cullen so decided.

Comments