'We'll pay for safety system' says Railtrack boss

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The Independent Online

As rail services to and from Paddington station today began the slow return to normality, Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett promised to foot the bill for a new train protection system.

As rail services to and from Paddington station today began the slow return to normality, Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett promised to foot the bill for a new train protection system.

Mr Corbett, whose company has come under fire over rail safety in the wake of the Paddington disaster, made his announcement as services at the London station resumed following the October 5 crash.

He said the changes to Railtrack's infrastructure as a result of introducing the Train Protection Warning system, or some form of automatic train protection, would be paid for by his company.

The work would be part of Railtrack's £27 billion investment plan for the next decade.

Controversy has been raging since the crash over who should foot the bill for upgrading safety systems on the railways.

Unions have called for the ATP system - estimated to cost at least £1 billion - to be funded from Railtrack's profits, which reached £500 million last year.

At around 8.11am this morning, the 6.03 Great Western express to Cheltenham Spa and the 8.05 Thames service to Bedwyn passed each other somewhere in the mass of parallel railway tracks in west London.

It was almost exactly 16 days after the two services collided, killing 30 people, and for survivors of the tragedy travelling today what used to be a routine commuter trip was now fraught with appalling memories.

Petroleum engineer Simon Moy, who helped pull injured passengers from the mangled wreckage, said he had to force himself on to the Thames train to Wiltshire.

The 32-year-old from Kensal Rise, west London, battled with his emotions as he sat just a few feet from the seat he occupied on October 5.

Visibly ill at ease, he said: "I just wanted to make sure that I could get on it again.

"I sometimes get nightmares. There is no rhyme nor reason to my still being here. Sometimes I sat in the middle of the train, sometimes I'm in the first carriage. I'm just very, very fortunate."

On the Great Western Train, only one passenger sat in the first class carriage nearest the front - the now infamous coach H - as it pulled out of Gloucester.

The commuter, from Cheltenham, who suffered cracked ribs in the disaster, said he was sitting in exactly the same seat as on that fateful morning.

The man, who did not wish to be named, said: "I am anxious about going back on the route into Paddington. It's going to be a very strange feeling.

"I've seen the faces of people who were on that train on the TV and I just want to see them back on the train."

The man ultimately responsible for making sure a similar tragedy never happens again spent the morning seeing the Paddington rail layout for himself.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott spoke to Thames Trains general manager Terry Worrall at Paddington before boarding a commuter service as far as Slough in Berkshire.

For the first part of the journey he travelled in the cab with the driver, seeing the series of signals trains are governed by as they leave Paddington.

One signal he did not pass was number 109, the one at the centre of the crash, which is now out of operation.

Later in the journey Mr Prescott spoke to passengers on the train, telling them "greater discipline" had to be brought to the issue of signals passed at danger.

He said: "A lot of people have responsibility for safety and I want there to be no conflict or confusion. I've been in the cab today and people must realise that drivers are under a lot of pressure."

At Slough, Mr Prescott alighted together with Mr Worrall and Railtrack chairman, Sir Philip Beck.

Mr Prescott then toured a state-of-the-art signal centre which controlled the two trains involved in the Paddington crash.

It was from this centre that a horrified signalman saw on his computer screen the Great Western and Thames trains converging on each other.

The controller desperately switched the signal facing the Great Western train to red. But with the express train travelling at speed, this last-ditch action was too late to prevent the collision.