Paddington train disaster: Railtrack to be stripped of control over safety

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The Independent Online

RAILTRACK is to be stripped of its safety regulatory powers in emergency Government legislation now being prepared.

RAILTRACK is to be stripped of its safety regulatory powers in emergency Government legislation now being prepared.

Following talks with Tony Blair yesterday, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, made it clear that ministers will take all necessary steps to remove safety from the control of the rail company.

Such a move would require new laws and ministers are preparing to toughen up the proposed Transport Bill, which will be given priority when the new parliamentary session starts on 19 October.

Mr Prescott has also ordered a hit squad of inspectors, appointed by the Health and Safety Commission, to begin a snap investigation of Railtrack's role in the rail network's safety.

Rescue workers have recovered 30 bodies from the wreckage of Tuesday's crash at Ladbroke Grove, just outside Paddington. Yesterday, police said 40 passengers are known to have died, and that the final toll could reach 70.

Investigators were last night examining the "black box" recording unit recovered from the scene of the disaster, which they believe could contain vital information about the cause of the crash. Police revealed yesterday that the unit, from the front of the Thames Trains Turbo, was found on Friday evening, wedged into ballast close to the wrecked carriage.

News of the discovery came as police and pathologists entered carriage H - the burnt-out first class carriage of the express train, which may have been full of passengers at the time of the collision.

The recovery of the recording unit is considered very important by crash investigators. While an interim report into the causes of Tuesday's crash found that it happened because the Turbo train jumped two yellow warning lights and a red stop light, the black box should help investigators find out why.

The device will detail everything that happened after the service left Paddington station five minutes earlier.

"This is a major breakthrough," said Superintendent Tony Thompson of the British Transport Police. "The device has suffered some degree of damage but we hope it will still be able to help us." Officers believe they will know within a week whether the box still holds any information.

There was also concern yesterday about the revelation that some of the carriages on the First Great Western train were "cannibalised" rolling stock that had been involved in the Southall disaster two years ago.

Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Union, said: "There is a danger that the equipment isn't as tough or as strong as it would have been earlier. We had an example of that in the Cannon Street accident eight or nine years ago when most of the injuries occurred in the middle of the train, which involved a piece of rolling stock which had been cannibalised."

But a spokesman for First Great Western said those carriages that had been salvaged had been only slightly damaged and that they had been re- introduced to service only after full safety assessments.

"They were fully passed as safe by inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive," said the spokesman.