Prescott to bosses: make rail safer or be sacked

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The Independent Online

By Jo Dillon, Political Correspondent

By Jo Dillon, Political Correspondent

24 October 1999

John Presscott will issue an ultimatum to rail bosses tomorrow: sign up to new safety rules now or risk losing your licences. In an uncompromising message to rail operators, the Deputy Prime Minister will insist they give their immediate backing to a four-point safety action plan.

Unless the company chiefs agree to co-operate, tomorrow's special summit, organised in the wake of the Paddington rail disaster, could become extremely stormy.

Mr Prescott is understood to have been angered by the "blame culture" that emerged after the crash, which killed at least 30 people. He is keen to ensure that all parties - companies and unions - work together from now on to improve rail safety and boost public confidence.

"He is not in the mood to listen to excuses," a source close to the Deputy Prime Minister said. "This is not a talking shop. At the end of the day we want to come out with a list of actions that people are signed up to." The Government is anticipating that the rail industry will bring its own ideas to the table but has also put together its own action plan, which it wants the industry to adopt.

Mr Prescott will urge:

* A return to the pre-privatisation driver training scheme under which every train driver in Britain had to go through the same basic training;

* Immediate re-training for any driver who takes a train through a red light;

* A national whistle-blowers hotline to enable rail employees to express concerns about safety without fear of losing their jobs;

* Immediate investigations into signals passed at danger incidents (spads). The recommendations of the "spadbuster" team would be put into practice quickly.

The source said: "Mr Prescott thinks the industry and Government have a big job to do to rebuild public confidence in the railways and that is not going to be helped if we continue with a blame culture.

"He wants to go from this 'why we can't' attitude to a 'can do' attitude and from a blame culture to a culture of co-operation."

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