Two major rail lines closed

Scotland misery, new West Coast delays and probe into trainee driver
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The Independent Online

Two major rail lines were closed today as safety checks continued in the wake of last week's Hatfield rail crash.

Two major rail lines were closed today as safety checks continued in the wake of last week's Hatfield rail crash.

After a short-notice announcement from Railtrack last night, the line between Carlisle and Glasgow was closed for three days from 8am.

Then it was announced today that the West Coast main line between Milton Keynes and Rugby was being closed for checks. Diversions were expected to add 40 minutes at least to already-extended journey times. Restrictions are currently in place on more than 150 sites nationwide in the wake of fears over track safety.

Further restrictions were imposed on Great Western services through Oxfordshire as new speed limits were imposed.

Meanwhile, an investigation was today launched into claims that a commuter train travelled down one of Britain's busiest lines without its driver.

The line closure in Scotland took effect from 8am and is expected to be lifted at 7am on Saturday.

Railtrack attracted criticism from rail operators when it announced it was shutting the line between Gretna and Law Junction, just south of Glasgow, so engineers could carry out track inspections.

A Railtrack spokeswoman said: "This precautionary measure has been taken to cause the minimum of disruption to passengers and freight services and has been imposed as a blanket measure rather than cause severe disruption to services as a result of temporary speed restrictions over an extended period of several weeks.

"We very much regret the delays this will cause and the disruption to services over the next few days."

She said engineers would carry out inspections and ultra sonic testing of the track in line with the safety tests which followed the Hatfield accident.

Train operators were last night preparing emergency timetables to cope with the closure.

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive has launched an investigation into claims that a Reading-to-London Waterloo train was driven by an unsupervised trainee after its driver was left behind at Richmond.

The trainee driver, who had been working the route for just three weeks, took the controls after his instructor was left stranded in a station toilet in Richmond, the Daily Express reported today.

Yesterday's 5.54am train from Reading stopped at Richmond in south west London at 6.57am and its driver got off to use the lavatory, telling his trainee not to leave without him.

But a minute later the junior heard the door slam, thought the driver was back and set off down the track, it was reported.

The senior driver raised the alarm, called a signalman and hailed a cab to follow the train, and the train was halted by the trainee in Barnes, after a signalman alerted him.

Commuters then had to wait 20 minutes while the driver's taxi brought him to the train, which was eventually terminated at Clapham Junction instead of Waterloo, it was reported.

Train operator South West Trains was today unavailable for comment.

At Glasgow Central Station this morning passengers arriving to travel south were being told they would have to make part of their journey by bus. They were also warned that they could face severe delays.

Alastair McPherson, managing director of sleeper service operators ScotRail, said: "We are very disappointed at the short notice we have been given of the emergency speed restrictions and projected line closures.

"We operate the overnight sleeper services between five points in Scotland and London and we have had two or three hours' notice to make alternative arrangements for our passengers," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Stuart Francis, chairman of the Rail Passengers Council, said: "You simply can't do this at the last moment.

"Safety is paramount, we accept that, and if there is a problem then lines must close. But information is the key - give passengers prior warning and at least there is a chance then of taking them with you as we go through what will be a very rocky period indeed," he told the programme.

The last train for London left Glasgow Central at 6.15am before the 8am closure of the line.

Five buses were lined up outside the station to take passengers on all later services on the line from Glasgow and Carlisle, where they would board trains to continue their journeys south.