Railtrack slammed on safety

21 Jun 01
A new rail safety authority to replace the overstretched and understaffed railway inspectorate is likely to emerge from the soul-searching following the Paddington rail disaster.

22 June 2001

Lord Cullen this week castigated rail network operating company Railtrack for its 'lamentable failure' to take steps that might have prevented the crash in October 1999, in which 31 people were killed and 500 injured.

Cullen has still to produce a second report into the 'culture, safety and management of safety on the railways', which could have far-reaching consequences for the structure of the network.

In the 270-page Paddington report, published on June 19 under the auspices of the Health and Safety Executive, he lamented the 'institutional paralysis' of the industry as a whole.

The Crown Prosecution Service is considering levelling charges of corporate manslaughter against Railtrack, and against Thames Trains, owner of the local service which passed a red light precipitating the crash. But Cullen absolved the drivers and signallers from individual blame.

In the meantime, with all parties committed to implementing the 89 recommendations in the Cullen report as quickly as possible, the government is likely to be forced to pump yet more millions of public funding into cash-strapped Railtrack to meet its own tough deadlines.

Earlier in the week, new Transport Secretary Stephen Byers told rail chiefs to stop debating structural change and get on with the job of running the railways.

'I think the important point is to put the passenger first,' he said. 'That does mean organisations like Railtrack concentrating on providing a reliable and safe rail network.'

He did not rule out giving the ailing company additional resources, but said it would have to make 'a very strong case'.

The Association of Train Operating Companies said the Cullen report would be a 'blueprint for delivering a safer railway'. But they, too, were concerned that the speed of change required could be unrealistic.

Byers has already told the Health and Safety Commission that he will want to see a progress report on the application of the Cullen recommendations within six months.


Did you enjoy this article?