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John Armitt, chief executive of Ralitrack
John Armitt, chief executive of Ralitrack
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN ARMITT, Chief Executive, Railtrack MAY 12th, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well, as we heard in the news, the clear up at Potters Bar is well underway - it seems the points were to blame for this horrific accident. But why did they fail with such tragic consequences and could anything have been done to prevent it? I'm joined now from the scene of the crash by Railtrack's chief executive John Armitt. Good morning Mr Armitt.

JOHN ARMITT: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: What is the latest situation in terms of whether it was the bolts that were loose and the various possibilities that you're exploring - one paper says as far as the possibility of vandalism?

JOHN ARMITT: Well the fundamental facts, as we've been able to establish so far, is that there were nuts missing from key bolts in the points structure. We believe that the absence of those nuts from the bolts put greater stress on, what is called, the front stretcher bar; the front stretcher bar ultimately fracturing as the train went across it and that is what caused the derailment. The investigation now is to why were the nuts not attached to the bolts, and that is the investigation which is being undertaken by British Transport Police and by the railway inspectorate and with background information being provided by our own people and by Jarvis, our contractor, in terms of all the records that we have relating to these points.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the unions saying that poor maintenance or inadequate rail inspections are a contributory factor - this was Bob Crow, for instance, General Secretary RMT, is that a fair charge or not?

JOHN ARMITT: No, I don't believe that to be a fair charge. The last visual inspection which took place on this section of track was on Thursday, the day before the accident. There had been a more thorough inspection and test carried out at the beginning of May and a further inspection carried out only a few weeks prior to that. So a whole series of inspections, which is what we would expect on key pieces of the infrastructure such as these areas where we've got points coming into a station on a mainline. These are all regularly inspected by our contractors and on occasion they are joint inspections with our own staff. So we would, at the moment we do have no reason to believe that there has been a lack of inspection or a lack of maintenance. The records that we've examined so far do not indicate any serious problems at this location in the recent past.

DAVID FROST: And has the recent change of status of Railtrack - it being confiscated as the Telegraph calls it, or being in administration - does that make your job more difficult?

JOHN ARMITT: No it doesn't. We are in administration. That is essentially a financial issue. In terms of the day to day running of the railway and the operation of the railway all the people in Railtrack get on with their job in the normal way. For a few of us, at the centre, it does mean some more meetings and the preparation of information for the administration process, and that's been going on, but I do not have any reason to believe that the fact that that's been happening has had any impact at all on our ability to carry out our normal day job of maintaining and operating the railway.

DAVID FROST: And the points failure was sabotage or negligence, the company admits it doesn't know which subcontractor was maintaining the track. Who was maintaining this particular bit of track, Mr Armitt? Was it in fact Jarvis or somebody else?

JOHN ARMITT: No indeed it was Jarvis, Jarvis are our contractor for this section of the track and it would be they and their employees who have been carrying out the inspections and the primary maintenance of this work.

DAVID FROST: And so you are confident that Railtrack will come out of this blameless?

JOHN ARMITT: I'm not making any predictions about the outcome of the investigation. These investigations have to be extremely thorough, they will turn - we will - we and those in HMRI and British Transport Police - will leave no stone unturned whatsoever in trying to get to the bottom of what has caused this terrible accident. It is vitally important that we find the absolute truth as to what has happened here and carry forward any lessons whatsoever which can be learnt from this accident.

DAVID FROST: Do you think that a public inquiry would be helpful?

JOHN ARMITT: I see no reason at the moment for a public inquiry. It's not my decision at the end of the day as to whether public inquiries are carried forward. What is important today is that the experts, in all the organisations relevant to this, are given the time and the space to carry out their work thoroughly and properly because that way I'm confident we will get to the underlying cause of this accident.

DAVID FROST: And passengers who are planning to travel by rail today can be relaxed, can be confident about the points over which their trains will be going all over the country?

JOHN ARMITT: In the last 48 hours we've carried out checks across 400 sets of points around the network - we've not found anything on any other set of points similar to what we believe has caused the accident here, so we have as much confidence today as we've had in previous weeks about the condition of our points around the network. This particular situation at Potters Bar at the moment, as far as we can see, is a totally isolated incident, not one which engineers with many, many years of experience in the railway have ever seen a similar incident to this before. So we believe it to be isolated and it's on that basis that we are continuing to do all we can to run a totally normal railway operation - we're not putting on speed restrictions - and we would expect on Monday morning to be offering a normal service across the whole network, expect for the adjustments which are obviously necessary in this particular area.

DAVID FROST: Well we thank you very much for joining us - tell me, one or two of the papers talk about the possibility of someone suing for corporate manslaughter. Obviously you hope that won't happen but that wouldn't be you anyway would it, it would be the government, the ministry?

JOHN ARMITT: No, I could be - it could be anybody who is seen at the end of the day by the police and by those advising the police, by the Crown Prosecution Service, to have had a material responsibility, as individuals or as a corporation, for what has happened. So I don't discount the possibility of that in any situation where there has been such a terrible accident and loss of life. But for the moment our focus has to be on identifying what has happened and doing that in full support and co-operation with the police.

DAVID FROST: John Armitt, thank you very much for joining us this morning, we appreciate it.

JOHN ARMITT: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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