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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Lives 'at risk' on railways
The derailed carriage in the Potters Bar train crash
Workers fear "another Potters Bar"
Train passengers' lives are being put at risk on a daily basis because of poor track maintenance, a rail engineer has told the BBC.

The claim comes a day after a report into the May Potters Bar crash, which killed seven and injured more than 70, questioned maintenance standards on the track.

The engineer, who has 20 years' experience but did not want to be named, told Radio 4's Today programme the state of the track made another crash on a similar scale to Potters Bar "quite likely".

"There's areas that are neglected, left in a state of disrepair, that are going to end up with... more disasters, with lives lost."


You just can't buy in experience

Rail engineer

He criticised a lack of resources to do necessary repairs and the use of inexperienced agency staff to carry them out.

"We're so lacking in experience and resource that we're having to buy it in through the use of sub sub-contractors," he said.

"You just can't buy in experience. Experience has to be nurtured. Until somebody is broad-shouldered enough to sit up and address that issue, then I'm afraid passengers' lives will be at risk, there's no doubt about that."

He said workers were being sent out to carry out jobs they did not understand, and feared lessons would not be learned until there was yet another disaster.

'Blurred lines'

Thursday's Health and Safety Executive report - its second interim paper on the Potters Bar crash - confirmed that the set of points the train rode over just before the accident had a set of nuts missing and "failed catastrophically".

But it also showed that one in five nuts on points around the Potters Bar area had not been fully tightened.

It said Railtrack and its contractors should urgently review the design, maintenance and checking of points.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling called for a single point of responsibility for safety, instead of the current "blurred lines" between Railtrack, its contractors and subcontractors.

He said Network Rail - the body taking over from Railtrack - would make sure contractors carried out work properly.

Jarvis, the maintenance contractor responsible for that stretch of track, said there was no evidence of maintenance failure.

It insisted the points could have suffered "technical interference" or sabotage.

Launch new window : The points failure
Click above to see how the train derailed

Railtrack said it was already looking at improving the way maintenance was carried out.

Railtrack chief executive John Armitt told Today the organisation took safety very seriously.

"The quality of the track, the number of defects in the track, have actually reduced year on year since the contracting process was put in place," he said.

"In fact it is the case that in the period since privatisation the number of people who have actually died in accidents on the railway has also reduced compared with the period before that.

'Interfering'

"We carry out a full regime of testing by our contractors. Our contractors have to go through all sorts of loops to be qualified contractors.

"We have recently said that we are going to become more interfering in the process, we are going to take back some of the key responsibilities for interpreting the inspections, deciding what should be done and when it should be done."

Writer Nina Bawden, whose husband Austen Kark, 75, died in the crash, said the crash was not a one-off, and there should be a public inquiry to ensure rail travel was safe.

"It is now clear that... the danger of a derailment from loose lock nuts on points is one which exists around the country."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Angus Stickler
"Poorly trained staff are a danger to themselves and the travelling public"
Anonymous rail engineer
"There are neglected areas that are going to end up with an incidence of more disasters"
John Armitt, Railtrack Chief Executive
"Inspections are carried out regularly"

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