Rail crash inquiry calls for new trains

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A train driver who failed to brake properly caused a train crash in which two people died and 542 were injured, according to an official report published yesterday.

Experts who examined the train found there was nothing wrong with the brakes, a Health and Safety Executive report says.

The old age of rolling stock was also a factor in the number of injuries in the accident at Cannon Street railway station in January last year when a rush-hour train from Sevenoaks, Kent, crashed into buffers.

The report recommends that British Rail should replace existing carriages with newer, safer units 'as soon as possible'. It also calls for a review of driver training on controlling trains coming into platforms at terminal stations; for it to be made an offence for railway workers with safety responsibilities to be impaired by the consumption of alcohol or drugs; for trains to be fitted with on-train data recorders similar to aircraft black boxes; and for measures to be investigated for distributing passengers more evenly.

BR said many recommendations had already been acted on while others were being studied.

Alan Cooksey, the deputy chief inspecting officer of railways, author of the report, said he could not find any defects in the train's braking or traction system, 'either permanent or intermittent' preventing them from operating effectively. 'I must conclude that Mr Graham failed to make the proper brake application and that by his omission he was responsible for the accident,' he said.

The driver, Maurice Graham, was later found to have traces of cannabis in his blood, but Mr Cooksey said he was unable to reach any firm conclusions 'as to whether his use of cannabis was the cause of his omission'.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has already decided against any action.

John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman, demanded more resources for the railways. 'We've got old rolling stock and there are far too many people standing. Instead of 16 people standing we've got 160 standing at the front of the train,' he said.

He accused the Government of failing to act fast enough over rail safety in the aftermath of the Cannon Street and Clapham accidents. 'The reality is that an accident could happen yet again at Cannon Street. Nothing has changed to prevent the same accidents occurring.'

Jimmy Knapp, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, also challenged the Government to provide resources to speed up the introduction of modern stock on Network SouthEast services on safety grounds.

Lawyers acting for those injured in the crash welcomed the report. 'The inspector has clearly concluded that the age of the rolling stock and its design and that of the buffer stops, while not causing the accident, did increase the severity and number of injuries,' Gareth Edwards, chairman of the steering group of the victims' lawyers, said.