Railtrack and train companies may lose licences

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The Independent Online

RAILTRACK COULD lose its responsibility for safety and even its licence in the wake of the Paddington disaster. Emergency legislation to strip the company of its safety function could be introduced within the next few weeks, the Government said.

RAILTRACK COULD lose its responsibility for safety and even its licence in the wake of the Paddington disaster. Emergency legislation to strip the company of its safety function could be introduced within the next few weeks, the Government said.

And the Rail Regulator, Tom Winsor, warned that he was considering whether there had been licence breaches by Railtrack or by First Great Western and Thames Trains, the two operators involved in the crash.

Any breaches could result in financial penalties, or in the case of a serious infringement of 1994 safety regulations, the company's licence could be revoked immediately.

Even Gerald Corbett, Railtrack's chief executive, admitted yesterday that the industry was fragmented and should be realigned to clarify accountability. However, he argued that the licence should not be revoked because the signalling system was working at the time of the Paddington disaster.

In a parliamentary statement, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the Transport minister, stressed the need to ensure that there was "no conflict between safety standards and commercial interest".

Government sources indicated that the powers might be transferred to the independent Railways Inspectorate as an interim solution until the public inquiry under Lord Cullen has published its findings. They said that legislation could be introduced within weeks.

Lord Macdonald said: "The legacy of this awful accident at Paddington must surely be a more open, more responsive and rigorous culture of safety across our whole rail industry."

He added that lessons in safety could be learned from civil aviation, which proved that the link between public and private was not incompatible. "Ministers are minded to transfer the main functions of the Safety and Standards Directorate out of Railtrack to ensure confidence that there is no conflict between safety standards and commercial interest," he said. "We know, subject to final confirmation, that the Thames train passed through two cautionary yellow signals and then a red signal before travelling a further 700 metres into the path of the Great Western train."

He said the Government supported proposals by the Railway Inspectorate to cut the number of incidents - about 600 a year - where signals were passed at danger.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, had asked for a report by the end of this week on action taken by Railtrack to improve safety on the approach to Paddington station.

Lord Macdonald said ministers had received the Health and Safety Commission's report on Railtrack's role in safety regulation in the industry. "The report does not suggest that major failures might have resulted from Railtrack's safety regulation role. However, it reports concerns inside the industry about aspects of present practice."

In response, Mr Prescott had announced the HSC would send in a specialist team to investigate these concerns and advise on any action required.

Of calls for better safety features, like the automatic train protection system, he said: "We want to identify the safest and most appropriate options."

Lord Brabazon of Tara, for the Tories, pledged his party's support for the two inquiries under Lord Cullen and Sir David Davies into train safety systems. "We have offered the co-operation of all former Conservative transport ministers.

"We want the inquiry to focus on such issues as design, the safety of the carriages involved in the crash, fire resistance, the need for emergency lighting systems and means for escape."

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