£300m train safety system must be scrapped, Paddington inquiry told

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The Independent Online

The £330m train safety system being installed on Britain's railways will have to be scrapped, the Southall and Paddington inquiry has been told.

The £330m train safety system being installed on Britain's railways will have to be scrapped, the Southall and Paddington inquiry has been told.

The equipment is not compatible with systems developed on the Continent and is therefore unlawful on high-speed routes, lawyers advised rail unions in a legal submission.

The relatively cheap train protection and warning system (TPWS) - which has the full backing of the Government - has come under sustained fire from the relatives of those who died in the crashes, trade unions and a number of respected rail experts.

The legal advice obtained by unions means that the industry should abandon TPWS and instead install the continental- standard automatic train protection (ATP) system, which stops trains before red lights.

Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, told The Independent that both crashes would have been prevented if the more advanced ATP system had been operational. "The longer the industry drags its feet on installing ATP, the greater the risk of further tragedy," he said.

A European directive passed in 1996 means that if any part of the Trans-European high- speed network in Britain is upgraded, new infrastructure must match systems on the Continent. The three lines radiating out from London to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Bristol are all part of the European network.

Under the submission to the inquiry written by David Vaughan QC and senior colleagues, a dozen companies operating on the high-speed routes would have to equip their trains with European- standard automatic train protection, not TPWS.

Under present plans the east coast mainline between London and Edinburgh is being fitted with the cheaper system with no plans to install ATP until 2006. Other companies using the line have no timetable for the introduction of the more advanced equipment.

The west coast main line between London and Glasgow is being equipped with the correct version of ATP, but operators of slower trains will be using the cheaper system.

First Great Western, which runs express services between Paddington and the West Country and Wales, uses a system that is not compatible with the European version. Operators of slower trains on the route, such as Thames Trains, have issued no dates for the installation of ATP. The Channel tunnel rail link, the other section of the European network in Britain is being equipped with a compatible safety system.

Lord Cullen, co-chairman of the rail inquiry, has given the infrastructure company Railtrack until next Monday to reply to the submission from Mr Vaughan.

* Railtrack blamed the wettest spring for nearly 20 years for a 10 per cent increase in the number of late trains. The infrastructure company yesterday said heavy rain caused more delays in the period April to September. A rise in suicides on the tracks was also blamed.

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