Railtrack refuses to pay for new safety systems

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Passengers could be landed with the bill for new train safety devices after a government "rail summit" yesterday failed to resolve the issue.

Passengers could be landed with the bill for new train safety devices after a government "rail summit" yesterday failed to resolve the issue.

The top-level meeting agreed fresh deadlines for the introduction of measures to avoid a repeat of disasters such as Paddington, but Railtrack refused to commit itself to paying for them. Although Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, said his company would provide £200m in the short term, he left open the option of passing the burden on to train operators, which could charge higher fares to compensate.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, declared that the new safety measures would be delivered, but acknowledged that the arguments over who pays "will go on".

Under the deal struck yesterday, Railtrack will introduce the train protection warning system (TPWS) to 12,000 sites by the year 2002, a year earlier than planned. The device can be overridden by drivers passing cautionary yellow lights, but stops the train automatically at red signals. Train operators will fit 33 per cent of trains with the system by the end of 2001, 75 per cent by the end of 2002 and all trains by 2003.

Significantly, however, the summit failed to set any dates for the installation of the more expensive but fail-safe automatic train protection (ATP) system, which slows the train at yellow signals, stops it at red and cannot be overridden by the driver. While ATP would have averted both the Paddington crash and the Southall disaster in 1997, TPWS would not have prevented the earlier accident. In a general statement yesterday, the industry merely agreed to introduce ATP on high-speed trains and move towards the relatively high standard of continental train safety.

Mr Prescott said it was necessary to improve safety in the short term by installing TPWS, but he did not want to anticipate the outcome of an inquiry by Sir David Davies, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, into the relative merits of different safety systems.

The summit also agreed to introduce a new national standard for "core" driver training to be agreed no later than next March. A confidential whistle-blowing system will also be in operation by the end of 2000. This would be for employees of Railtrack, train operators, infrastructure and rolling-stock leasing companies.

Mr Prescott said the industry had already introduced a common standard for reporting instances where trains passed red signals and had acted on Health and Safety Executive recommendations for avoiding them. Companies had also drafted a new national safety plan to ensure best practice across the network.

Plans for a £1bn redevelopment of London's Waterloo station are being drawn up by South West Trains as part of its bid to extend its operating franchise for up to 20 years. It is also looking at introducing double-decker trains.