Staff at rail crash 'unprepared to cope with crisis'

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The Independent Online

The safety training of staff employed by privatised train companies was attacked as inadequate yesterday as the horrors and heroism of the Paddington rail disaster were relived.

Recruits are far less able to cope with emergencies than those who worked under British Rail, the crash inquiry was told. Courses for key staff in how to deal with disasters were more frequent and more intensive under the state-controlled BR, said an off-duty senior guard who helped to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy last October.

Bereaved relatives and injured survivors have called for a boycott of the whole national network on 6 June to draw attention to rail safety.

A leaflet produced by the group called on travellers to demonstrate their anger over the fact that nothing "constructive" had been done to improve safety since the disaster.

The leaflet said: "Do something simple - don't get on a train - get a lift with a friend, go to work on a bike, walk, get on a bus, go in a car or go on holiday."

The boycott is being led by Claire Jones, 28, of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, who suffered whiplash injuries and post-traumatic stress. She was travelling in the Thames train that passed a red light on its way out of Paddington and smashed into an oncoming Great Western express, killing 31 people.

At the hearing in Westminster Central Hall, a passenger on the Great Western train gave a graphic account of how he saved a badly burnt and horrifically injured fellow traveller.

Philip Scotcher, 24, had escaped from the wrecked Great Western train when he came across Michael Adams "sitting right in the middle of a pool of fire". Mr Scotcher said he helped to drag Mr Adams to safety and then stayed with him, comforting him until medical experts arrived.

Mr Scotcher, from Tetbury in Gloucestershire, said Mr Adams - a man of 18 to 20 stones and about 6ft 7in tall - was so badly burnt Mr Scotcher was unable to tell the colour of his skin.

In trying to drag him to his feet, Mr Scotcher had put his hand on an "horrific" back injury to Mr Adams.

A Great Western station superviso,r Ursula Querino, of Didcot, Oxfordshire, wept as she described how she cared for another badly burnt woman

Earlier, Michael Thomas, a senior conductor for Virgin who was travelling on the ill-fated Great Western express, told the inquiry that ill-prepared railway employees could "run round like headless chickens" if confronted with a crash similar to that at Paddington.

"I had much more training under British Rail then I've had since privatisation," Mr Thomas said. "It doesn't matter so much to me because I have had a lot of experience to build on. But new people coming into the industry - I am not sure they have the training they need."

He said that under BR there were regular seminars and training courses in emergency procedures, but he had not been to such a session for three or four years.

"It's not as good as the real thing, but it did help," he told the third day of the inquiry. He had not been asked to help train other Virgin staff based on his experiences, he said.

Mr Thomas, who was off for five weeks after the crash with concussion and whiplash injuries, told how he found it extremely difficult to free an emergency ladder that would allow passengers to escape from the carriage to the track.

He also said he had lost his temper with the Great Western senior conductor on duty that day. Mr Thomas said he could not find him at crucial stages of the rescue operation and was forced to put special clips on the track, which automatically turned signals to red in the area.

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said that although each operator had their own emergency procedures he would be "very surprised" of they were in any way inferior to those that were in place under BR.

A spokesman for Virgin insisted that Mr Thomas had undergone extensive and regular safety training, which included five personal assessments in which he was accompanied by a senior member of staff. "We praise his calmness in carrying out textbook procedures and putting the training into practice," said a spokeswoman.

The hearing continues.