Paddington Train Disaster: Hidden Report

Clapham inquiry lessons unheeded
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The Independent Online

THE OFFICIAL inquiry into the 1988 Clapham rail disaster was conducted by Sir Anthony Hidden QC over an exhausting 56 days. When his 230-page report was published he listed 91 recommendations into every aspect of the crash, and his thoroughness was seen as reflecting the effect that the accident had on the whole travelling public.

THE OFFICIAL inquiry into the 1988 Clapham rail disaster was conducted by Sir Anthony Hidden QC over an exhausting 56 days. When his 230-page report was published he listed 91 recommendations into every aspect of the crash, and his thoroughness was seen as reflecting the effect that the accident had on the whole travelling public.

But 11 years on, key recommendations from that report have still not been implemented, despite official assurances that they would be. In the meantime, as rail accidents have continued, there have been constant reminders in subsequent reports that if only Sir Anthony had been properly listened to then lives would have been saved.

Recommendation No 46 was Automatic Train Protection (ATP), the system that links a train's brakes automatically with signals and which would halt a train if it went through a signal set against it.

British Rail, as it then was, had given a commitment to introduce ATP. Sir Anthony said that once the design had been chosen, "ATP shall be fully implemented within five years". A situation where the Government and rail companies are still deciding which system to use is not what he envisaged.

Shortcomings in implementing this recommendation were first highlighted after a crash in the Severn Tunnel in December 1991, when a Portsmouth to Cardiff Sprinter train smashed into the back of an InterCity Paddington to Cardiff service. The Sprinter driver and five passengers were seriously hurt and a further 180 passengers received minor injuries.

In the 1996 Watford train crash, when an evening commuter train collided with an empty train coming the other way, one person died and 73 were injured. The official report by the Health and Safety Executive concluded simply that had ATP been fitted, "the collision would have been avoided".

But it was not the only advice to be effectively ignored. Demands to limit overcrowding and withdraw old fashioned "slam-shut" carriages for safer modern designs have also come to little. There are still around 1,200 of these Mark 1 coaches still in service, mostly on South-east commuter lines. \

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