Train company put 'profit before safety' - inquiry

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The Independent Online

Thames Trains refused to spend the "modest" net sum of £5.26 million on a train protection system which could have prevented the Paddington rail crash, an inquiry into the accident was told today.

Yet Thames later paid out a dividend to shareholders of £4.23 million, the inquiry heard.

A year later the company paid a further dividend of £3.25 million.

By restricting profits, Thames could have comfortably paid in two years the whole 20-year cost to equip their trains with automatic train protection (ATP) from Paddington Station in London to Didcot in Oxfordshire and still given away more than £2 million in dividends.

The financial figures were given today by John Hendy QC, in an opening statement on behalf of 148 of those involved in the Paddington crash, including 21 bereaved.

A Thames train collided with a London-bound Great Western train in the accident on October 5 last year. The Thames train went 700 yards past a red signal at Ladbroke Grove, two miles outside Paddington.

ATP, a costly but highly sophisticated system, can prevent trains passing danger signals.

Mr Hendy said the decision by Thames not to fit ATP between Paddington and Oxfordshire was taken in 1998 - after the 1997 Southall rail accident.

Mr Hendy said that it seemed "incomprehensible" to his clients that Thames directors refused to spend the money on ATP.

He added that in November 1999 further dividends of £500,000 had been paid out to Thames directors and a further £230,000 had been paid in April 2000.

He added that these payments were in addition to their combined salaries of £339,000.

Mr Hendy described the accident not as "an act of God" but "a man-made event".

He said his clients were outraged at this week's decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions that there will be no prosecutions over Paddington.

Mr Hendy said: "Our clients do not mince their words - they consider that the announcement of this decision at the outset of the inquiry is an insult to the inquiry and an insult to them."

He said his clients could forgive those who made inadvertent errors of judgment in the crash but they would be "not able to forgive anyone who attempts to conceal or minimise their failures".

Mr Hendy went on: "It must be said that our clients will not easily forgive those who, to coin a phrase, put profit before safety; those who prefer to run a risk, or rather to let others run a risk, rather than put safety measures in hand which would incur costs and reduce profit."