Safety inspectors prosecute Tube for 'exposing workers to danger'

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The Independent Online

London Underground is to be prosecuted over its safety record after an inspector found workmen doing maintenance next to live electric rails.

London Underground is to be prosecuted over its safety record after an inspector found workmen doing maintenance next to live electric rails.

The Health and Safety Executive will make the case against LU and one of its former signals operations managers for allowing dangerous working practices during work on the Central Line.The HSE's railway inspectorate revealed further worries, including poor signal maintenance, trains overrunning stations and dangerous stations.

Yesterday the LU managing director, Derek Smith, insisted safety on the underground was "non-negotiable" and denied the concerns were related to plans to semi-privatise the tube. The HSE said an inspector visited Central Line's Loughton station in Essex unannounced on 20 November and found men working next to a live rail. He stopped the work and began a wider investigation.

LU will face a charge under the Health and Safety Act for failing to protect agency workers and a second charge of breaching a prohibition notice by allowing work on 18 January this year at Loughton sidings, while the rails were live. The former signals operations manager, David Elkington, will face a charge for failing to take reasonable care for his safety and for others working under his direction.

The case is to be heard at Marylebone magistrates' court, London, on 4 September. Last week the railway inspectorate made clear its concerns about LU safety as it moved towards the public-private partnership (PPP) planned for the tube.

Its principal inspector, Stephen Hart, has raised 10 specific points on safety. He said there had been three incidents in recent weeks where trains overran stations, breaches of LU rules, but the station supervisors were not notified.

On three days last month parts of the Metropolitan and Circle were without a full radio system linking trains with control, a worsening litter problem, drivers being needlessly accompanied in their cab which could be distracting, and poor maintenance of signals warning drivers not to go the wrong way into tunnels.

On Monday, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister met Mr Hart to discuss his concerns.

Mr Smith yesterday said safety on the Underground could not be compromised as a result of the PPP.

"What is wrong is to suggest these operational issues are in some way associated with the PPP process," he said. "There are a range of matters on which we have been working closely with the HSE. A detailed programme of action addressing each issue has been put to the safety regulator."

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