LETTER : Partisan use of Railtrack's safety record

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From Mr John Edmonds

Sir: Given the Labour party's well-chronicled opposition to privatising the railways, its current campaign attacking the safety record of Railtrack is no surprise. While it is not part of my role to make political judgements, I feel I must defend Railtrack and the safety of the railways in general from misleading allegations.

When Railtrack was formed in April last year, there was a clear determination to maintain safety at least at the levels then being achieved. To facilitate this, the safety professionals were transferred en bloc from British Rail to Railtrack, and they have continued to build on the safety systems inherited from British Rail. Their success has been clear in the safety results for 1994/5: major injuries to passengers were 18 per cent lower and the passenger fatality rate remained at less than one in 50 million passenger journeys.

The Labour party has made great play of a minor incident at Hitchin. Perhaps they do not understand that it is a long-standing practice in rail transport for all incidents to be the subject of detailed examination, so that we can test the validity of our systems and make improvements where this is feasible. This practice has served the industry well over the years; and it would be unfortunate if it were endangered by politicians making selective use of leaked material, as happened, for example, at yesterday's Labour Press conference.

Frequent reference has been made to the need to secure agreement between the parties in operating and maintaining the restructured railway. Obviously, there have to be discussions to agree clear roles and responsibilities, but the disciplines then available to maintain safety are enhanced with clear contractual commitments between the parties involved.

Railways provide by far the safest mode of land transport. Railtrack is determined to build on the success of its first year by improving the record still further.

Yours faithfully,

John Edmonds

Chief Executive


London, WC1

16 August