Rail firms 'stop staff reporting dangers'

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The Independent Online

Train companies in England have blocked a "whistle-blowing" scheme that would allow workers to alert management to safety problems anonymously. Some operators tried to stop the system spreading from Scotland, the Commons sub-committee on transport was told.

Train companies in England have blocked a "whistle-blowing" scheme that would allow workers to alert management to safety problems anonymously. Some operators tried to stop the system spreading from Scotland, the Commons sub-committee on transport was told.

One of the main concerns of Scottish employees in their anonymous reports to management has been the degree to which trains have been allowed to run without their automatic warning systems. The device was switched off on the Great Western express which crashed into a freight train at Southall two years ago, killing seven people.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) later said it was unable to say which companies were involved because they dealt directly with Railtrack on such issues. Rob Muttrum, safety director of Railtrack, told MPs some operators had supported the scheme, saying it was a "quite complex" to administer.

Last year the MPs backed Railtrack's commitment to ensure the procedure was spread nation-wide, and Gwyneth Dunwoody, chair of the sub-committee, demanded to know why nothing had been done about it. Richard Brown, Atoc's deputy chairman, said he wanted to ensure it was introduced as soon as possible, but added: "We have to persuade everybody."

Later a spokeswoman for the association said a working party would meet soon on the subject and it would be discussed with John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister at the summit on rail safety on Monday, called after the Paddington disaster in which 30 people lost their lives.

Mrs Dunwoody reminded Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, that he told the sub-committee last year that Paddington was "the best protected major terminal anywhere in the world".

Mr Corbett told MPs yesterday that his statement was "deeply regrettable in hindsight". He said the world had changed since the Great Western express collided with a commuter train just outside the west London station on 5 October.

Privatisation fragmented the railways into 90 pieces, he said, all with a different economic view. "This does cause tension, it does provoke adversarial behaviour and it does make it much harder to manage."

Mr Corbett said drivers on average go through a signal at danger "once every 17 years and 99.999 per cent of drivers are fine professionals doing a jolly good job. Every now and again, they do go through a red light. We are, in lots of cases, into the issue of human error".

The Commons committee was in its second day of hearings into the Government's Railways Bill.

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