Railtrack hired workers in pubs and clubs

Safety on the line: MPs demand Railtrack takes control and ends 'culture of sub-contracting' line repairs
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MPS are to deliver a damning verdict on Railtrack's management failures after they were told that trackside maintenance workers have been recruited in pubs and clubs.

MPS are to deliver a damning verdict on Railtrack's management failures after they were told that trackside maintenance workers have been recruited in pubs and clubs.

A report from the Commons Select Committee on transport will be scathing about Railtrack's handling of the events leading up to last month's Hatfield crash which killed four people and injured more than 30.

Due out before Christmas, the report will demand a stop to unprofessional recruitment practices and recommend that Railtrack put an end to the culture of sub-contracting which appears to have left it unable to co-ordinate vital repair work - such as that required at Hatfield. In future, it says, the maintenance schedule should be directly controlled by Railtrack itself.

At present Railtrack does not actually employ the gangs of engineers who keep the system running, nor does it train them.

The committee was shocked by evidence from Jimmy Knapp, general secretary of the RMT union that contractors and sub-contractors are continuing to rely on casual labour, some of it recruited in pubs and clubs. Railtrack told the MPs that it was concerned by the allegation and that it would mount an investigation.

The issue has been highlighted by the death last month of 22-year-old Michael Mungovan, an Irish student at Brunel University who was killed instantly when he stepped into the path of a train.

Michael, an all-Ireland high-jump champion, was one of a growing number of students drawn on to the railways in search of extra cash. Last night in an interview with the Independent on Sunday Mr Mungovan's parents, who live in County Clare in Ireland, expressed anger at his death, and blamed Britain's railway industry for exposing him to unnecessary risk.

Michael was working with Balfour Beatty at Vauxhall in south London on a contract for Railtrack when he was struck down from behind. He was formally employed by McGinley Recruitment - an illustration of the long chain of command now operating on the railways. A colleague signalled the danger as the train approached but, tragically, he moved in the wrong direction and was killed.

His parents, Daniel and Geraldine, plan to seek compensation for the death of their son. They did not discover he had been killed until a day later, after spending hours trying to contact him on his mobile phone, and had no idea that their son had been working on the railways. Mr Mungovan has been told by Michael's friends that he had received only nine hours' training, but Balfour Beatty insists that he had a full track safety certificate - which involved at least 22 hours of tuition - and that he would not have been allowed on the track without one.

"The money he was getting was danger money. As far as I am concerned my son was murdered," said Mrs Mungovan. "It was the same as handing him a gun. I'm full with rage in my belly but no one else is losing sleep over it," said Mr Mungovan. "He was everything to us. He never brought an ounce of grief to our door. Why was he working near trains which were running past at 60mph, and why was there no proper supervision? I've worked in the building industry and if a plank was hanging over then someone would be charged. But here you have trains going through at up to 70 mph, and yet no one is doing anything wrong."

The Health and Safety Executive is conducting an inquiry. Rail unions say the lives of other students and casual workers are in danger because they do not receive adequate training.

A spokesman for Railtrack said the company did not know how much training had been given to Mr Mungovan, but insisted that all trackside workers require a valid certificate.

McGinley Recruitment said it did not wish to comment until after the results of the HSE inquiry. The criticism from the all-party Select Committee will be a further blow to the embattled chief executive of Railtrack, Gerald Corbett.

Mr Corbett is under increasing pressure despite the vote of confidence he received when he offered to resign after the Hatfield crash. It is understood that he has lost the confidence of ministers.

Railtrack's relationship with its contractors is key not only to the Select Committee's inquiry, but to the formal investigation into the broken rail at Hatfield. Even though both Balfour Beatty, the contractor responsible for the track, and Railtrack had been aware of weaknesses in the area, no action had been taken.

Presenting evidence to the committee last week Mr Corbett said that the broken rail at Hatfield was the result of "massive local failure" and that a contractor could be to blame. A criminal prosecution could follow.

Mr Corbett was also taken to task for the decision taken by Railtrack executives in Scotland to close the west coast main line at only two hours' notice. Mr Corbett himself was not informed for several hours.