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Thursday, December 10, 1998 Published at 15:28 GMT


Railtrack criticised as train deaths rise

The 1988 Clapham disaster: Crushed carriages claimed 35 lives

The Health and Safety Executive has said that Railtrack has not done enough to improve the condition of the UK's railways.

BBC Transport Correspondent Simon Montague: The scrapping of all Mark 1 trains is going to be an expensive business
In its annual report the HSE said that the number of rail deaths had doubled in the last year, although the number of serious train accidents fell to the lowest level in 40 years.

They criticised Railtrack, which runs the UK rail network, saying there were still too many derailments caused by poorly maintained tracks.

[ image: More people than ever are using Britain's railways]
More people than ever are using Britain's railways
The Chief Inspector of Railways, Vic Coleman, challenged Railtrack to "demonstrate their commitment to improving both track condition and their control of contractors".

He criticised them for "several failings" in railway structure maintenance, including bridges.

The HSE also announced the results of a crash test involving old slam-door - or Mark 1 - train carriages, and released a video showing new safety technology in action.

On Wednesday the Commons Transport Committee said the Mark I carriages - some of which date back to the 1960s - posed a danger to passengers.

There are still about 2,000 of these doors in service. Most are used by commuters into London, many of whom pass through Clapham, scene of a rail crash 10 years ago that claimed 35 lives.

The accident highlighted the weakness of the Mark 1 design which led to carriages riding up on top of each other.

Railway inspectors want to make Mark 1 carriages safer.

"The problem is that they are essentially a pretty weak body onto a fairly rigid underframe and in the event of a collision, one underframe can ride over another and cause the body of the carriages to collapse. Of course that has quite dire consequences for the people in the carriages," said Mr Coleman.

The HSE has developed a new method using "cup and cone" safety device to counter the worst effects of a collision, which they demonstrated in the video.

Two carriages were crashed into each other at 30mph to demonstrate the success of the device in preventing the piggy-back effect.

Richard Hope, Consultant Editor of the Railway Gazette, says many in the industry doubt "cup and cone" is an improvement
Railway inspectors will call for new laws next week so that all Mark 1 trains are scrapped or rebuilt within four years.

The report also draws attention to failures with the automatic warning system (AWS) on some trains.

AWS was mentioned as a possible contributor to the Southall train crash in September 1997, which killed seven people.

The HSE said just after Southall, the Railway Inspectorate had informed train companies of regulations regarding the possible failure of the AWS.

Chief Inspector of Railways, Vic Coleman, says the industry has been dragging its feet over research into modifications
This was later followed up by a survey of train drivers which showed there were "still wide variations between train operating companies in the procedures for actions to be taken after an AWS failure".

The Health and Safety Commission chairman, Frank Davies, pointed out that the HSE report did also have some good news for rail travellers.

Transport Correspondent Christopher Wain reports on plans to improve the safety of ageing railway carriages
"In spite of some concerns," said Mr Davies, "it must be remembered that railways are the safest form of land transport and I am pleased to see that the number of passengers travelling by rail has increased again this year."

The HSE report, covering 1997 to 1998, published the following findings:

  • The number of collisions and derailments had fallen from 105 the previous year to 89 - the lowest figure since records began in 1959.

  • The number of people killed on the railways, excluding trespassers and suicides, rose from 25 in 1996-97 to 48.

  • Deaths of people using level crossings jumped from three to 14 and the number of trespasser deaths and suicides rose from 252 to 265.

  • Vandalism accounted for 59% of all train accidents, up from 51%.

  • Assaults on rail staff rose from 267 to 335, with attacks on London Underground staff going up from 63 to 131.

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