'Maintenance map' raises BR safety worries

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THE railways will become less safe after privatisation and many branch lines are being earmarked for closure, a new all-party pressure group warned yesterday.

Save our Railways, launched yesterday by pressure groups and MPs from the three major parties, has obtained a list of 28 lines on which Regional Railways, BR's highest loss-making sector, will carry out no maintenance except in emergencies.

The lines include many important connections such as Cambridge to Newmarket, Lincoln to Peterborough, Carlisle to Barrow- in-Furness, and Inverness to Wick and Thurso.

The information was obtained from an internal BR map which divides lines into blue, red, green and yellow. Blue ones are deemed profitable or politically sensitive, red ones are in metropolitan areas with passenger transport authorities, green ones have minimum maintenance, and yellow ones will have no capital investment and only emergency maintenance.

BR is also planning to cut some cross-country InterCity services which run on the same lines as the East Coast main line earmarked as one of the first franchises.

A spokeswoman for Regional Railways accepted the maps were genuine but denied there were any plans for closure. She said: 'We could lose up to 20 per cent of our grant next year and we have to tailor our maintenance to where there is most demand. It's a refining of policy.'

Failure to invest meant that trains on the West Coast main line from Euston to Birmingham and Glasgow were having an average of three minutes added to their schedule because of speed restrictions south of Rugby caused by the line's poor condition.

On safety, a former BR senior operations manager, Peter Rayner, said that the number of rail accidents was likely to rise by as much as a quarter over the next five years because of the division of the railway caused by privatisation. He said: 'A fragmented railway is a less safe railway.'

Although the Government had accepted all 38 recommendations of a Health and Safety Executive report on rail privatisation, Mr Rayner doubted that money was available to pay the pounds 1bn they will cost to implement.

Lew Adams, assistant general secretary of the train drivers' union, Aslef, said the railways were already less safe: 'There has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of trains going through a red light at danger.' Most were when trains pulled out of stations.

He said that instead of installing an automatic train protection system, BR managers had suggested drivers put red condoms over their brake handle to remind them to look at the system.

The branch lines on which only emergency maintenance work will be carried out are:

Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh; Inverness to Wick and Thurso; Penzance to St Ives; Truro to Falmouth docks; Liskeard to Looe; Exeter to Exmouth; Whitland to Pembroke Dock; Barton- upon-Humber to Grimsby; Grimsby to Cleethorpes; Whitby to Middlesbrough; Bishop Auckland to North Road; Pwllheli to Machynlleth; Blaenau Ffestiniog to Llandudno Junction; Llandudno Town to Llandudno Junction; Wrexham Central to Bidston; Cambridge to Newmarket; Lincoln to Peterborough; Bolton to Skegness; Ipswich to Lowestoft; Ipswich to Felixstowe; Norwich to Sheringham; Derby to Matlock; Derby to Sinfin; Hazelgrove to Buxton; Ormskirk to Preston; Windermere to Oxenholme; Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness; Carnforth to Long Preston.