Potters Bar crash: Railtrack accused of misleading maintenance firm

Railtrack may have been to blame for the failure to spot the problem which caused the Potters Bar disaster, the company responsible for maintaining the track claimed yesterday.

Jarvis Rail said its employees were alerted to a problem by the infrastructure group, but were told to inspect the line carrying trains to London rather than the line heading north on which the accident happened. The inspection by Jarvis was done just hours before the last coach of a West Anglia Great Northern (WAGN) service derailed, killing seven people.

A spokesman for Jarvis said that the evening before the tragedy, an off-duty WAGN employee noticed a "rough ride" on the track out of London near Potters Bar. "It was a very specific bump," the spokesman said.

The employee told Railtrack, which ordered Jarvis to investigate a potential problem on the track heading towards London, the "up-line".

But the worker felt the bump when he was a passenger on a train on the "down-line". The wrong line was inspected at about midnight, the Jarvis spokesman said.

The engineering company conceded that the "rough ride" might not have been caused by the points which prompted the derailment, but argued that they would have been inspected if the track workers had been given the correct information.

Jarvis claimed it had submitted tape recordings of conversations which proved that Railtrack had committed a potentially critical mistake. But sources close to the inquiry into the crash said the new evidence did not throw any light on the most important issue. Investigators have still to discover why the points which derailed the WAGN service on 10 May with such catastrophic effect fell apart as the train passed over them.

In particular, British Transport Police and rail inspectors at the Health & Safety Executive are still trying to establish why metal nuts on the points were loose.

A second report by rail inspectors last week pointed to a maintenance problem for which Jarvis might have been responsible. But a spokesman for the engineering company maintained sabotage was still a possibility. He said rail inspectors were not ruling out deliberate interference by vandals.

Louise Christian, a solicitor acting for some of the victims of the disaster and their families, said relatives were "absolutely appalled" by the latest revelations. "No one has admitted liability for this crash and while Railtrack and Jarvis are playing this blame game it is the victims who are suffering. It underlines the need for a public inquiry because this process is not open or transparent," she said.

A Railtrack spokesman said the claims by Jarvis were "speculative". He said: "Tape recordings of conversations and information fed to and from our signalling centre at King's Cross were withdrawn by the British Transport Police immediately following the Potters Bar tragedy as a routine part of their investigation. As a result Railtrack is unable to comment on the allegations."

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