Single-track rail junctions 'built ignoring risks'

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THE Health and Safety Executive was yesterday criticised for having allowed British Rail to create new single-track junctions that caused two fatal crashes at Glasgow in two-and-a-half years.

The HSE yesterday published its report into the second crash, at Newton, near Glasgow, on 21 July 1990, in which four people were killed and 22 injured, and accepted that the crash would not have been caused had the track not been realigned. The accident was similar to one at Bellgrove station, Glasgow, in March 1989 in which two people died and 52 people were injured.

John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman, said the lessons of the Bellgrove accident seemed to have been ignored: 'There was a similar accident after the Bellgrove crash at Hyde in Manchester, also on a track which had been made single. The new lay-out at Newton should never have been approved.'

He said that following the Bellgrove inquiry, such new lay-outs had to be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport, then Malcolm Rifkind: 'Mr Rifkind should resign from the Government, and heads should also roll at the HSE.'

The Newton design was approved by the HSE after the other two crashes, and was installed in June 1991, just days before the crash and before the HSE was able to inspect it.

The crash last month at London Bridge also occurred on a part of the track where the up-and-down lines go over the same rails. Work to improve the junction has been delayed by cuts in BR investment as a result of falls in revenue and reduced government support.

Scotrail had a policy of introducing such junctions on several parts of its network because they are cheaper to operate and also allow InterCity trains to go faster on some lines because they have to cross over fewer points.

Last night Scotrail said it was reinstating double tracks on a series of similar junctions: 'Work should start in the new year to put back the double junctions, once we get approval from the HSE,' a spokeswoman said.

The Newton crash was probably caused by one of the trains passing a signal at red, the HSE report said. But it said it was not just 'a simple case of human error'. The report questioned the reliance British Rail placed on drivers seeing signals in high-risk situations.

The report adds that if riskassessment techniques had been used by British Rail when the track was being remodelled a month before the accident, it was likely that the accident risk could have been foreseen. David Eves, deputy director-general of the HSE, said that railway operators should now develop, in consultation with the HSE, risk-assessment techniques for proposed schemes involving single tracks.

In the crash, a local train from Newton to Glasgow pulled out of Newton station, then collided head-on at 60mph with a train from Balloch to Motherwell. 'Serious questions' arose as to the reliability and manner of installation of the signalling system.

The report said that after the Newton accident, British Rail carried out a risk assessment of similar single-track junctions. This immediately identified 10 locations, including Newton, where extra protection measures were judged necessary.