Rail company refused to pay for safety system

Thames Trains made a "cold, distasteful valuation of human life" when it refused to pay for a safety system that would have prevented the Paddington disaster, the inquiry into the crash was told yesterday.

The company had calculated that over 20 years it would cost £5.26m to install fail-safe Automatic Train Protection (ATP) - little more than £260,000 a year. But it was decided the device would save just one life over that period and the company chose not to spend the money, the hearing was told. Thirty-one people died as a result of the crash on 5 October last year.

In a devastating 30-minute critique of management's approach to life-and-death issues, John Hendy QC said that while the company decided against ATP, it continued to pay millions more on dividends to shareholders. Healthy financial returns in 1998 and 1999 meant that it could have paid for the system in those two years and still had £2m over for a shareholders' dividend, he said. And in the 12 months to March 1999, the company received £23m in subsidy from taxpayers.

Representing the families of the victims, Mr Hendy said they represented a spectrum of political views, but they all now shared a "scepticism" about the privatisation of the rail industry. They feared that safety was no longer paramount.

Speaking on the second day of the inquiry, he told the chairman, Lord Cullen: "The Ladbroke Grove crash was a tragedy. It was not however, an 'act of God' as a lawyer understands that phrase. It was not an event over which man had no control. Quite the converse. It was a man-made event. I have to say, Sir, that many of our clients take exception to the crash being referred to as an 'accident'. Certainly it was not intended. But it was avoidable. And it was foreseeable."

Terry Worrall, the managing director of Thames Trains, said after Mr Hendy's statement: "We will provide answers during the course of the inquiry. We will answer the questions that have been raised today. We will be frank, open and honest."

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