Railtrack chief offers to quit

Firm admits crash line was in poor repair
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The Independent Online

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, offered to resign yesterday as the company admitted that the condition of the track in Hertfordshire where a train crashed on Tuesday, killing four people, "was not good".

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, offered to resign yesterday as the company admitted that the condition of the track in Hertfordshire where a train crashed on Tuesday, killing four people, "was not good".

But, as Railtrack held an emergency board meeting last night, there were growing calls from politicians and rail crash survivors for Mr Corbett to remain in his £400,000-a-year job. He said he was willing to go as a matter of principle.

In a statement issued yesterday evening his company admitted: "Railtrack is continuing to investigate the possibility of a broken rail being a factor in [Tuesday's] tragedy at Hatfield. While the investigation is still at an early stage, it would appear that whatever the cause of the accident, the condition of the track was not good."

Investigators at the scene of the accident were concentrating on the likelihood that a broken rail caused part of the London to Leeds express to leave the track, killing four people and injuring 35. Railtrack said part of the line was due to be replaced next month.

The company has been under fire from both the rail regulator, Tom Winsor, and the Railway Inspectorate for its inability to reduce the number of broken rails on the network.

In an emotional statement Mr Corbett said: "I, personally, am distraught that another tragedy has occurred on our railways. The families of the bereaved are foremost in my mind. As a matter of course, as chief executive of Railtrack, I have, of course, tendered my resignation to the board."

His offer was welcomed by union leaders, and by David Davis, chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said: "If it turns out that the tragedy at Hatfield has been caused by a broken rail, the whole board of Railtrack should resign." There are fears within the rail industry, however, that Mr Corbett's resignation would do little to improve safety, and senior executives were believed to be trying to persuade him to stay on last night. A statement may be made in time for the start of share dealing on the Stock Exchange this morning.

There was also support for Mr Corbett from the Paddington Survivors Group, set up after last year's crash in which 31 people died. Pam Warren, founder of the group, who still wears a mask to protect scar tissue on her burnt face, said: "We urge Railtrack not to accept Gerald Corbett's resignation. I have spoken to Gerald Corbett and his wife. He is genuinely upset and affected by what has happened. The way forward now is constructive dialogue. We are beginning to have a working relationship with Railtrack."

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, a Transport minister, said: "The important thing now for the company is to ensure, either by Gerald Corbett staying on during a transitional period or by a very decisive replacement for him, that they do keepexecutive control over a company that is vital to the running of our railroads. I certainly would not want to see anything that put at risk the authority and executive lines of command inside Railtrack and I am sure that will be the corporate imperative for the board of Railtrack."

There was also support for Mr Corbett from the Association of Train Operating Companies, the Rail Passengers' Council and from Christopher Garnett, chief executive of Great North Eastern Railway, the operating company whose train was involved in Tuesday's high-speed crash. It was thought that Railtrack's admission about the condition of the track at Hatfield could lead to criminal charges against senior directors.

Paul Nicholas, Assistant Chief Constable of British Transport Police, said prosecutions could be brought if negligence was proved.

Three of the four people who died were named yesterday as Steve Arthur, 46, from Pease Pottage, West Sussex; Peter Monkhouse, 50, from Leeds; and Leslie Gray, 43, from Nottingham. Relatives of two of the men visited the crash scene to lay flowers. A police spokesman said: "We let them spend as much time as they wanted there and answered whatever questions they had."

Seven people hurt in the crash remained in hospital yesterday. For Gary Fellowes, 41, from east London, who broke his leg, it was his second brush with death in under two years. He escaped with slight injuries in the nail bomb attack on a pub in Soho, central London, in April 1999. He said yesterday: "I'm the luckiest man in the world."

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