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London train crash Friday, 8 October, 1999, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Compensation procedure simplified
Paddington crash
Compensation claims could run into millions of pounds
People involved in the west London crash or their families should receive compensation without having to pin liability on one of the three companies involved.

London Train Crash
The rail industry accepted responsibility for the collision shortly after it happened on 5 October and Great Western, Thames Trains and Railtrack issued a statement to that effect.

The situation is further simplified by the fact that Great Western and Thames have the same insurance company, St Paul.

Industry-wide agreement

The rail industry has an arrangement called the Claims Allocation and Handling Agreement to which all companies must belong if they wish to run train services. This was a condition imposed by the rail regulator after privatisation.

Under the agreement, compensation should be dealt with by the companies for their own customers. If some or all responsibility is later allocated to another party, the insurance companies balance the payments behind the scenes.

This system was not fully in place at the time of the Watford crash in 1996 and Shaun Twomey, of Collins Solicitors, said his firm had to start proceedings before liability was admitted.

He said, however, that claims in the Southall crash a year later had been dealt with much more responsibly and sensitively.

paddington crash
Fire officers search a carriage in the latest tragedy
Mark Harvey, a solicitor on the Law Society steering group representing victims of Southall and now the west London train crashes, said he did not anticipate many difficulties dealing with compensation claims.

Mr Harvey, who works for the Smith Llewelyn Partnership, told BBC News Online that it was wrong for victims or their families to be worried by the fact that different companies were involved.

Claims 'will be processed quickly'

He said they should file claims with the company with which they were travelling - these would then be passed on to St Paul for settlement.

David Grimley, a spokesman for St Paul, said that the company would take care of immediate problems such as funeral arrangements and counselling costs.

When claims for compensation were received, he said St Paul would deal with them as quickly as possible. The company dealt with claims from the Southall crash and Mr Grimley said some were settled within four weeks of receiving them. Interim payments could also be made.

Other claims were still outstanding, he said, but this was because people were still too upset to put together the necessary details, such as earnings figures.

Individual responsibility still an issue

On a related topic, Mr Harvey said that while the issue of blame was not important from the point of compensation, it was vital to decide who was at fault to ensure that the correct lessons were learned for the future.

He said Railtrack should accept responsibility for industry-wide defects and explain why it spent only 0.5% of its income on research and development, yet handed out 31% in dividends.

Mr Harvey also described the cost-benefit ratio which was used to reject Automatic Train Protection on cost grounds as outdated and immoral.

He said ATP was the only answer and noted that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had said that cost would no longer be a factor in ensuring the future safety of the rail network.

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