Railtrack warned of crashes if safety system was rejected

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The Independent Online

Railtrack was warned to expect fatal crashes such as the Paddington and Southall disasters if it rejected an expensive train safety system; and the company then sought legal advice on how to avoid manslaughter charges, The Independent has learnt.

Railtrack was warned to expect fatal crashes such as the Paddington and Southall disasters if it rejected an expensive train safety system; and the company then sought legal advice on how to avoid manslaughter charges, The Independent has learnt.

Moves to prevent culpability were made both before and after privatisation as part of a strategy to avoid introducing the automatic train protection system (ATP), which Railtrack felt was not cost effective. They involved obtaining Health and Safety Executive approval not to implement ATP.

The revelation comes just a few days before the first anniversary of the Paddington disaster, in which 31 people died. It has since become apparent that ATP, rejected by Railtrack as too expensive, could have prevented the crash.

A confidential document from the industry's most senior lawyers told top managers that deaths were "statistically likely" in accidents that would be prevented by ATP. One of the main recommendations of the paper, written by Railtrack's present company secretary, was that the HSE should be involved in the decision not to proceed with ATP to minimise the chance of criminal prosecution.

Following that advice the newly formed Railtrack then went on to win the agreement of the HSE's rail inspectors to run the network without the system.

Both the Paddington and Southall disasters, in which a total of 38 people died, would have been prevented by ATP, which stops trains at red lights. No manager has been punished for presiding over safety systems that many experts believe are woefully inadequate.

Peter Rayner, a former senior manager at British Rail and adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, said: "It is understandable that they took legal advice, but I regard it as immoral to take legal advice in order to avoid spending money on the best safety system."

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