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Rail safety - is cost a factor?

Money cannot be a factor when deciding about peoples' lives AND the well-being of Britain as a nation.
Daren, UK

It's not possible for money to be "no object". Somebody will have to pay - either the commuters who are already squealing about "exorbitant" fares, or other taxpayers who receive no benefit from the money.
Andy Rooney, England

Just two of the comments Talking Point received. Read more below.

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

No-one wants to put a price on a human life, but in terms of improving safety in the wake of the Paddington rail tragedy, someone is going to have to decide how much to spend.

Protecting a human life from a train crash can cost anything from £3m up to £17m - depending on which safety system is used.

The UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has promised that "cost will not be a consideration" in improving safety systems in trains.

He has said £1billion will be made available, but where will the money come from?

Many people are sceptical of Mr Prescott's pledge and point back to the 1988 Clapham disaster, claiming that safety measures identified after that tragedy were not put into practice because they were expensive.

Every day in the health services painful decisions have to be made about how much treatment doctors can afford to allocate to one patient - is this situation any different?

Should rail travel be made safer irrespective of cost? Tell us what you think.

Background ¦ Your reaction

Your Reaction:

Read the first comments we received

As an ex BR employee I can vouch for the fact that when the railways were run by BR - and the butt of endless jokes about efficiency and stale sandwiches - they were run by highly expert staff who thought of themselves as "railwaymen", and whose overriding concern was safe operation. With privatisation, that mentality was swept away.
I know of one manager who, immediately after privatisation, was told by his new bosses that his staff were over qualified, and that he should make them redundant and recruit from a different area in order to find lower calibre applicants who could be paid less. Not that I'm implying we now have incompetent staff actually operating the trains - my acquaintance, like many other former BR staff strongly resisted the pressure that was put upon him - but it gives you an insight into the mentality of those now in charge.
Paul, UK

There is talk of the "economic cost" of safety and how much a lost life costs and how much has to be spent to save it. However those who make the choices do not pay the price of failure - the dead and the bereaved do. My Father died in the Harrow & Wealdstone crash 47 years ago last Friday (another train passing a red signal) and I know who paid the cost of that crash (the word is not accident). It was certainly not those who made the decisions.
This brings us to the question of how the decision makers value their own lives - I would guess more than any calculated value. Incidentally it seem ironical that a signal at Harrow & Wealdstone is on the list of those repeatedly passed at red (eight times apparently). Perhaps if they wait long enough history will repeat itself - what a headline.
Geoff Cole, UK

Would you entrust your safety to a company whose escalators don't work, whose roof leaks, whose clocks have stopped, who are so undermanned that only two ticket desks are open at peak times. A company who, while people lay dead and dying, were continuing with the installation of an automatic ticket barrier system to enable them to collect their profits even more efficiently. The installation of that row of barriers, like so many tombstones just feet away from the flowers and cards, is a truly touching demonstration of Great Western and Thames Trains' relentless devotion to the relentless pursuit of profit.
Caroline Toomey, Reading, UK

If the government is considering taking away control of railway safety from Railtrack because of the incompatibility of safety and profit, should the plans to privatise Air Traffic Control be reconsidered ?
Mark Walkling, UK

Cost is inevitably a factor as resources are finite. For instance, the Government could perhaps have saved more lives, at a lower cost per life by making Relenza available on the NHS, but declined to do so.
John Mitchell, UK

If a car driver jumps a red light and kills himself and others it is the driver's fault. If a train driver, for whatever reason, jumps not just one red light but warning lights, his union wants to go on strike and his company and other corporations are blamed. What happened to personal responsibility? It was the same with Diana's wants to blame a drunken drugged driver. What I'd like to see following Paddington is a cool look at why drivers ignore or confuse blinding sunlight etc. before prattling on about automatic personal-responsibility-shifting systems that future drivers will use, yes, but also abuse. ATPs aren't the issue, individual personal responsibility is.
Geoff Lawrence, England

Isolate the fault and fix it. If train drivers are reading their papers and eating their sandwiches whilst at the same time being responsible for hundreds of passengers aboard their train, then there is only one answer, sack all the drivers and have driver-less trains. ASLEF should be commended for organising a one-day strike - with no drivers risking passengers lives, it will be a safe day on the railway.
Andy Thain, England

Would it not be a much more fitting end to the 20th century to spend tax payers money on safety critical systems (such as TPWS/ATP) or making our society a safer place to live, rather than on pointless and, generally, unwanted projects such as the Dome or London Eye?
Tom Hartland, UK

I read today that Railtrack are being stripped of responsibility for safety on the network and Railtrack have agreed (surprise surprise). And what consideration are Railtrack to pay the UK Government for having these enormous liabilities deleted from the Railtrack Balance Sheet?

If the government wishes to encourage the nation to use their cars less, then this is the wrong way to go about it. What cost lives? Well we would rather pay the high cost of running our cars and be safer, rather than paying a high cost to some irresponsible company to try and kill us.
Every time there's a disaster happening in the London area, I have to suffer the pain of waiting for the news of my brother and husband, not to mention close friends. The huge profits the rail fat cats are enjoying is blood money from the innocent nation, they should give it back to make our railways safer.
C Bell, UK

Railtrak are responsible for the safety of our railways. It was a responsibility they inherited when they won the franchise. If any inquiry finds that safety standards were unacceptable, then Railtrak should immediately lose that franchise, and be excluded from putting forward any tender for it's renewal. Why should we not expect a commercial company to take the safety of its customers into consideration. Commercialism is no excuse.
Alex S, UK

Every day 10 people die on the roads in Britain. 3500 per year. THIS is serious and clearly money is a factor to improved safety otherwise many actions would be implemented to eliminate these eg. speed policing, better driving standards, retakes of tests, banning of least safe cars without airbags, side impact protection etc etc. The Government would provide everyone with Jaguars demonstrably the safest cars on the road in GB after Rolls Royces. Cost IS a factor.
Brian Singleton, Derbyshire, England

Once again, the government has failed miserably to satisfy a public outcry, and once again it is us, the consumer, who will have to foot the bill for any problems that have occurred. Mr Prescott may believe that money is no object - that's because WE will have to foot the bill, not him. And it's more than likely that this will not be the last disaster on our rail tracks. I think I'll stick with my car thanks.
Jason, UK

Why are drivers able to switch off the automatic braking system when they pass yellow and red lights? In this case, it has been said that the driver of the Thames Train would have had to turn the system off three times on hearing the warning signal. Why?
Louise, UK

On 10th August John Prescott laid the TPWS system before Parliament saying that they would save lives and would have prevented almost every major crash in recent years where signals were passed at danger. The draft Rail Safety Regulations were submitted to the DofE before last Christmas but it took Mr Prescott six months to lay them before Parliament. If he is admonishing Railtrack about delay then surely he should be as well. If he says that TPWS would have prevented almost every accident then why is he now so keen on ATP instead? Surely the implementation of TPWS quickly would be best. Any inconsistency detected?
Bob Parsons, UK

It's a bit rich for Hague to call Blair a hypocrite. The Tories perpetrated the biggest fraud by selling British Rail cheaply to their cronies' hell bent making a quick buck and put profits before safety. Cecil Parkinson said that no expense will be spared to put safety first. He lied!!
Anil, UK

Cost should always will be a factor. That said if any of the so called fat-cats of the industry receive above inflation pay rises or bonuses of any kind this year I personally will be outraged as I'm sure would the majority of people. There are obviously flaws in the safety systems that are in place at the present time and the time to sort this out is now not in the next five years.
Dominic Hill, England

Right from the start of the investigations into this tragedy, I keep getting this feeling that there is more to this accident than an absent-minded driver. Having studied the tack layout diagrams there is something that is really bugging me. If the Thames train went through a red signal, taking into the path of the IC, then surely the points must have been set to enable this. If this is the case then surely there would have been no escape for the Thames train even if it had stopped. On the same subject, on examination of the track layout, if the Thames train was crossing over to the down mainline, why did it not use the crossing immediately before the points on which the impact took place. I'm not a rail engineer and hopefully the truth will prevail and we'll find out what really happened but there I can't help but think that the vilifying of the driver is just a little premature and there is much more to this than we already know.
James Peters, Gt Britain

Cost will always be a factor for the blood-sucking greedy organisations of this wonderful new world of cut throat capitalism. But everyone seems to have forgotten something here. The driver of the smaller train passed a red light without slowing down! All these expensive systems would be far less necessary if the train drivers that do these things just learned to do their job right. There is no excuse.
Jason, England

When is the Head of Railtrack going to resign? Knee-jerk reaction, right or wrong, it doesn't matter, just resign. At the end of the day he will have only lost his job not his life and I feel it will bring some comfort to a lot of people.
David Foster, England

Everything costs money. Most material things can be replaced. People cannot be. Trains are different. It's usually a case of multiple death when an accident occurs, however in this particular case, there is a clear breach of the duty of care owed by Railtrack towards the travelling public. It repeatedly, according to reports, failed to act on Signal 109.The company and individuals should be held to account both in the civil, and criminal courts for their apparent 'neglect'. As for the future, legislation, putting the civil elements of responsibility toward others, into written law, would make many companies think twice about saving a few quid, if to do so could see them imprisoned. The law needs to be tougher, and John Prescott, and Blairs cronies, should do for once what the people are asking them to do. Act.
Dave Morgan, UK

It's about time the Government forced Railtrack and the train operators to do what privatisation was originally set up for, that is invest in the railways , not line their own pockets with profits from the exploited rail users.
Peter Concannon, England

As the wife of a train driver I understand the pressures that are put upon drivers to ensure the safe & efficient running of the service. I take pride in my husbands work as any loyal railwayman's wife would. However, since driver restructuring came into force at the beginning of privatisation his work pattern increased dramatically meaning long hours of driving and long shift patterns. This was, I believe, due to the T.O.Cs reducing the manpower so that profits were increased to make the company more productive. But what I think the bosses seem to forget is that people are only human and eventually working long hours with ONE day off every 14th day this is asking for trouble.
Louise C, UK

With very cheap mechanical actuator beside the rail, all engines passing this (connected to the red light) could have their engines shut off mechanically. Without any computer control, would make passing red lights impossible. But then, no big company could get a 'billion project' if computers are not included...
Timo, Finland

When it has been established who is to blame and compensation payments are paid to relatives of survivors, are we going to have rail companies refusing payment to families of those people in coach H whose remains are ash? Lets face it these companies are profiteers and no proof will mean no payments unless we make sure that doesn't happen!
Mary Leggat, England

No. It is ridiculous to be talking about costs when it comes to preserving the safety of the rail... Especially when one considers that nobody will ever use the rail if they get the feeling it is unsafe and not properly serviced and checked. I just find it disgusting that so many people have to die so that the authorities consider what they should have done in the first place long ago. Always the same AFTER the disaster everybody wakes up...BEFORE could prove to be a better tactic, and even save plenty of money in lost customers and crashed material.
Vivien Cooksley, Austria

If rail travel is being positively managed, then it is implied that there will be a system of feedback and feed forward to manage. It is a matter of where we draw the line on failure in the level of management being applied. Clearly the Courts will sometime decide how culpable the "system" was in that failure: and that is surely where the cost will be applied. We need to see the fines at a level that make the point, it is cheaper to provide adequate safety rather than the economics in a trade-off of lives.
Stewart, USA

It is appalling that safety measures which could have prevented this tragedy, were not taken, apparently because profit was seen as more important than human lives. Eli Siegel, the great American founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism was right when he said that the whole basis of profit economics is contempt, the "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Contempt for people has a company more interested in shareholders' profits than people's lives. "As soon as you have contempt," he said, "as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fullness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person." And he asked this beautiful, ethical question which needs to be studied everywhere for good will to be the basis of economics, and for people to be safe: "What does a person deserve by being a person?"
Christopher Balchin, USA (born in England)

It appears that all the experts are advising that the ATP system would not have stopped the High-speed train. A fact that is not being brought to light is that if signal 109 was set to red then the track alignment beyond this point should not have been set to divert the local service into the path of the HST i.e. it would have ended up on the down relief line. This may be what is being termed a system failure. In the days of mechanically interlocked signalling and point work this error could not have happened. Have we become too advanced with our systems and reliant on electronics? It may not be a question of cost!
Ed, England

Continental European countries can create and maintain excellent public transport services. If the UK is unable to do the same, it should call in a team from the continent to run public transport for us.
Pir Pincham, UK

My husband and I sold our car 2 years ago to see if we could get by using train, bike and bus. We thought until this accident that things were getting better on the public transport front, but we were obviously wrong. We also don't want to put our 2 young children in such danger, and we will definitely not be sitting near the front of the train in future. Fares are very high compared with other countries, and yet their safety record is better than ours is. Where does all this money go? I think at least 10% if not more of our ticket price should go into maintaining signals and installing warning systems - too bad if Railtrack will lose profits. Look at how much they have already lost, now their shares have plummeted. We only have one life - please, spend that money on safety.
Fiona, UK

I have lived in Spain for 18 years. Train tickets there cost under half of what they do here, yet trains are modern, on time and safe...and state run. How to British train operators justify the extortionate prices we pay, when trains are invariably old, dirty, late and unsafe? Bus and train deregulation was meant to improve things, but so far they have been an utter disaster.
Edward, UK

I have so many questions that were not answered by the report. I am married to a Railtrack engineer and most of my understanding of the situation comes from him. Firstly no driver ever SPADS on purpose (runs a red signal). Many may suffer, as we all do, from general idleness at their jobs and this is backed up by the amount of times train drivers don't blow their whistles when passing contractors on the track. But in the main at busy junctions, and during abnormal conditions ie station buffer stops, shunting etc - all are vigilant. No driver will put himself and his passengers in danger on purpose. Despite many claims that drivers are under pressure to do this from train companies.
Jo, London

Whilst I agree with the comments about the necessity of ATP regardless of cost, there are other questions to be considered. Firstly why was the Thames train which is less than 5 years old so badly damaged, and why did the 125 which is almost 25 catch fire so quickly. It seems that both trains were travelling well below top speed. I believe that the cost of rectifying these problems will be much higher than the £1.0 billion for ATP.
Jonathan, UK

Until ATP is installed in high-speed trains, I suggest a second person is carried in all cabs. (These could be recruited from recently retired drivers or new drivers under training.)
Lewin, England

Any company that undertakes to transport members of the public has a duty to ensure their passengers are afforded the best possible safety standards. The passengers trust the company to ensure they are transported in the safest of circumstances. For too long now the sense of responsibility of privatised companies has been to their shareholders and not to those who pay for the respective products, be they material or otherwise.
Geraint, Belgium

No-one has questioned how the Bedwyn train got onto the fast up line in front of the train from Cheltenham. There has been much talk of the driver going through a red signal, but even if he had, he should just have continued along the down slow line. At the worst he would then have hit a train which was either stationary or going in the same direction. For the points to have been set to divert the Bedwyn train across the fast line there must have been a red light for the Cheltenham train (which no-one has suggested was the case) and a green light for the Bedwyn train. Yet all sources claim the opposite. Whether the sources are accurate must of course be questioned.
Martin Murray, UK

It's illegal to transport animals in the overcrowded conditions that we are transported to and from work but we have to pay for the privilege! I don't know where all the millions are going but it certainly isn't on the railway. It is the poor conditions and safety standards that put us in our cars in the first place, 2 Jags wonders why?
Kenny, England

Cost in any design must be one of the factors. But in the case of high speed and large volume of passenger traffic the importance of cost becomes relatively trivial. As the son of a New York City subway signalman, I cannot understand the lack of automatic break tripping devices on the signal that was passed by the train in the recent accident. These systems have been in use in NYC for over 50 years! How many more must die before you bring your systems up to 50-year-old standards!
Frederick Jorden, USA

I agree with the driver who says no-one runs past a signal on purpose. They have always happened and, as long as human judgement is involved, always will. Modern track and signalling design, driven by minimal maintenance and installation costs, mean the consequences of such errors are much worse than when safety came first.
Jon C, UK

Cost is a factor. However, It is high time that the rail network reviews its safety infrastructure and spends where there are opportunities for improved safety. We should NEVER see this type of accident again. Human error will be the likely outcome of any investigation into this crash. This is an excuse not a solution.
Brian knight, United Kingdom

This accident was very tragic, and I feel sorry for all the victims and their families. However £1bn is just too much money to spend to improve what is already a very safe form of travel. If you want to save human life, that money could be more effective being put into the NHS, or improving road safety, or even improving (or subsidising) the railways so more people use it instead of driving, reducing the number of deaths on the road.
Rob S, UK

Rail safety - is cost a factor?

Final Votes:


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Yes: <% =percentyes %>% No: <% =percentno %>%

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