Sussex crash signal was not on HSE danger list

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The Independent Online

A rail summit to thrash out immediate safety improvements following the Paddington rail crash was called last night by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, as the station was given clearance to reopen.

A rail summit to thrash out immediate safety improvements following the Paddington rail crash was called last night by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, as the station was given clearance to reopen.

Mr Prescott will tell the privatised rail companies and the rail unions at the talks on Monday that they must do more to restore public confidence in the railways. One of his priorities is to impose tougher standards for the training of drivers. He will tell the rail companies and union leaders that drivers should be required to undergo retraining after driving a train through a red light and there should be a standardised system, so that all drivers undergo proper training lasting several months.

A senior Whitehall source said: "I don't think it is going to be a nice pleasant conversation between him and the transport industry. When he says he wants to thrash out safety, it is unlikely to be a comfortable ride for the industry."

Mr Prescott told a sombre House of Commons yesterday: "The Ladbroke Grove Junction rail crash touched the heart of the entire nation. It must be a watershed for railway safety."

The Paddington disaster was caused when the driver went through red light, SN109, and Mr Prescott revealed to MPs that rail inspectors had informed him that it was likely that the Lewes rail crash on Monday was also caused by the driver passing a red light.

Within hours of the Lewes accident in which an express crashed into the back of an empty train, causing damage but no injuries, safety experts were warning Railtrack that more stringent measures were needed before Paddington could be reopened. The station has been closed since the disaster on 5 October.

Senior rail inspectors at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are understood to have been dissatisfied with a Railtrack plan submitted last Friday. Senior rail inspectors privately approached Roy Bell and Peter Rayner, who had been acting as advisers to lawyers commissioned by the train drivers' union Aslef, to carry out a study. It was wrongly suggested yesterday that union commissioned the report.

Mr Bell, is one of the most respected signalling experts in the country and Mr Rayner has long experience in railway operations. Having completed the study the two men then officially "presented" the report to the railway inspectorate which showed it to Railtrack.

Their analysis warns that some signals outside the west London station should be covered up, that trains should not be allowed to travel in different directions on the same track and that speeds should be reduced.

Representatives of the HSE and Mr Bell were in talks last night with Railtrack over when the station should reopen and how trains should operate. The HSE said it was now satisfied with Railtrack's proposals for reopening Paddington, and talks were concentrating on when services would resume. Mr Prescott said that if the HSE was satisfied he would no objection to the station reopening today.

In his statement to MPs, Mr Prescott made clear that he believes privatisation of rail services has undermined safety. He confirmed he was minded to transfer the main functions of Railtrack's safety and standards directorate out of Railtrack but left open who will take it over.

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