Railtrack to charge operators for new tracks and signalling

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The Independent Online

The wreckage from the Hatfield rail crash was moved for the first time yesterday as investigators looked for fresh clues about the cause of the disaster, which left four dead and the reputation of the railways in ruins. Cranes began the task of lifting the front locomotive and the two carriages behind, which will be taken by lorry to Crewe for close examination. The three overturned carriages, the most badly damaged, will be moved today.

The wreckage from the Hatfield rail crash was moved for the first time yesterday as investigators looked for fresh clues about the cause of the disaster, which left four dead and the reputation of the railways in ruins. Cranes began the task of lifting the front locomotive and the two carriages behind, which will be taken by lorry to Crewe for close examination. The three overturned carriages, the most badly damaged, will be moved today.

Safety experts now believe the high-speed derailment of a GNER London-to-Leeds train on Tuesday was caused by a broken rail on a fast bend south of Hatfield station, leaving Railtrack, the company responsible for maintaining the track subject to overwhelming criticism.

Tomorrow, Railtrack will be given the go-ahead to raise billions of pounds in extra revenue from the railway industry in order to invest in new track and signalling. Permission to raise the extra money will come from Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, who will announce that Railtrack can increase its "access" charges to the train operating companies - the fee for using the railway infrastructure.

The boost in charges could raise the value of shares in Railtrack and produce a controversial windfall for company bosses with share options .

Industry experts believe an extra £5bn could be raised from the higher charges on train operators such as Virgin, which are expected to demand higher subsidies from the Government, or pass the charges on in higher fares.

Passengers are still facing delays after Railtrack identified 81 trouble spots across the network which had "similar characteristics" to the track believed to have led to the Hatfield disaster. The company has imposed precautionary speed restrictions, which are as low as 20mph in some places. Services on the main east coast line may not return to normal for up to two weeks after the accident.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, last night rejected demands by the RMT rail union for the railways to be re-nationalised to prevent similar accidents. About 200 union activists staged a demonstration near Euston station, in north London. Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT, said: "This protest was called before Hatfield because we don't believe there should be a privatisation of the London Underground. We don't think that the travelling public wants the privatisation of London Underground after the events that have taken place this last year.

"After Hatfield and Paddington, people have lost total confidence in the railway network. We want to renationalise the railway network.

"We believe that Railtrack are running it purely on the basis of profit."

Louise Christian, solicitor for the bereaved families of the Southall and Paddington rail crashes, who was also there, said: "It seems as if Railtrack has concealed from the public the information that there are 80 stretches of track deemed to be dangerous."

But Mr Prescott told the Independent on Sunday that renationalisation was likely to make safety worse, by leading operating companies to disinvest while they were waiting to be taken back into public ownership.

"We would have a worse situation. Everyone looks for a clear black-and-white solution. There were more deaths and accidents under British Rail," he said. Mr Prescott also dismissed a call from Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor, for him to shelve his plans for the semi-privatisation of the London Underground.

He said the King's Cross fire had been caused partly by a lack of investment, and that private finance would bring more investment to the Tube system for safety.

The GNER London-to-Leeds express was travelling around a fast bend half-a-mile south of Hatfield station in Hertfordshire when it came off the tracks at lunchtime on Tuesday. Four men died and 34 people were injured in the crash. The dead have been named as pilots Steve Arthur, 46, of Pease Pottage, West Sussex, and Robert Alcorn, 37, a New Zealander who lived in Bayswater, west London; advertising executive Peter Monkhouse, 50, of Headingley, Leeds, and solicitor Leslie Gray, 43, of Tuxford, Nottinghamshire.

An interim report by the Health and Safety Executive has blamed a broken rail, and said metal fatigue could be a key factor.

The site is due to be handed back to rail operators once searches by Transport Police are completed. Officers say they are satisfied no "external cause" like vandalism was responsible for the derailment.

In June the chief inspector of railways, Vic Coleman, wrote to Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett, expressing concern about track quality and broken rails.

The HSE has warned it would consider closing sections of track if it thought passengers were in danger and stressed it had the power to bring prosecutions if it found there had been breaches of regulations or negligence.

Mr Corbett has already mounted a robust criticism of the way the network was privatised, describing it as "ripped apart" by the previous Conservative government. Yesterday Sir Bob Reid, who was chairman of British Rail at the time of privatisation, joined the attack, saying that the sell-off was rushed to meet political objectives.

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