Railtrack says it found more loose nuts during checks on 867 points

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The Independent Online

Railtrack conceded yesterday that it had found loosened nuts at points in other areas in checks since last Friday's crash at Potters Bar, which killed seven people.

Bob Smallwood, deputy chief inspector of railways at the HSE, said the survey of 867 points had found a "handful, maybe one or two handfuls" of nuts that needed tightening. But he added: "That's very different from the events at Potters Bar." Dr Smallwood said the HSE would also be checking a sample of the points already looked at by Railtrack as well as examining points not included in the company's survey.

Jarvis, the engineering company responsible for maintaining the Potters Bar line, said two of the nuts thought to have been loose on Friday had been found out of place nine days before and had to be tightened. On 1 May the nuts were "sitting neatly" underneath bolts, indicating they may have been taken off and not replaced. The two others were in the "immediate vicinity", possibly having been shaken loose.

The engineering firm took responsibility for the east coast main line after a rival company, Balfour Beatty, was stripped of the contract in the wake of the crash in October 2000 at Hatfield, 10 miles north of Potters Bar. But one Jarvis director gave a strong indication that sometimes track examinations by the company's employees could be cursory. He said workers often checked points by simply looking at them and "giving them a kick". The offending points were checked the day before the crash and given the all-clear. Since the disaster, shares in Jarvis have slumped from 520p to 387.5p.

The Prime Minister admitted yesterday that the railways were going to take "a lot more time and money" to improve. Tony Blair said he had full confidence in Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, although he refused to comment on Mr Byers' suggestion that he would be in the post at the next general election.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail union, insisted warnings had been given – if not to Railtrack then to contractors – about the state of the track in the Potters Bar area.

He said: "We have seen photographic evidence as well as written evidence that complaints were made by experienced rail workers within the area, not just at Potters Bar, but from [London] King's Cross right the way through to Potters Bar, on the bad state of the track." Mr Crow said he suspected the warning went to a contractor who failed to "pass it through the loop to Railtrack".

Mr Crow said the decision not to hold a public inquiry was "completely unacceptable". He has written to Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, seeking an urgent meeting to press the case for it. "Not only must the inquiry be public, it must also have a broader remit to look at the way work is contracted in the railway industry."

Earlier yesterday Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, said Railtrack had been reviewing the degree to which their senior managers controlled the work by contractors. He believed strong day-to-day control was not necessarily the safest approach, but such policies should be continually reassessed. He said they had been working together since the Potters Bar tragedy, avoiding the "panic, meltdown, infighting and blame" which followed the Hatfield disaster in 2000.

Yesterday, a Nigerian prin-cess, widow of one victim, talked of her "loving husband". Prince Alexander Adetunji Mubo Ogonwusi, 42, of Tulse Hill, south London, who was in the rear carriage, was in line to rule over 50 million subjects worldwide as a king of the Nigerian kingdom of Oduwa and the tribe of Yoruba.

Princess Olusola said: "I can't think of myself having a better husband than Alex. He was loving, always showing his affection openly to me and everybody, to his children. His children were his priority."

* Vandals, thought to be children aged 10 and 11, put metal football goalposts across the path of a Banbury-to-Paddington express 24 hours after the Potters Bar crash, police said. The driver braked but the three-carriage passenger train hit the posts, damaging the engine. No one was injured.

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