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Friday, 25 February, 2000, 12:43 GMT
Can Railtrack protect passengers?
The UK Government has been accused of abandoning plans to strip Railtrack of its responsibility for rail safety.
Railtrack, which owns the infrastructure for the UK's rail industry, was heavily criticised after last October's train crash near Paddington station in west London.
Thirty-one people died and dozens were injured in the accident when a commuter service passed a red signal and collided with an express train.
Days after the crash, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott indicated he would remove safety from Railtrack's remit.
Instead Railtrack will be required to set up a subsidiary company to handle rail safety.
Crash victims and safety campaigners have described the decision as a U-turn in government policy.
Can Railtrack ensure safety on the rail network? What do you think?
Railtrack are a blueprint for how NOT to run the railways. All they care about is their investors.
Sadly the government, and in particular 2 Jags, are far too stupid to realise this and I am quite sure that we will be forced to suffer from overpriced, under developed, unsafe railways for the foreseeable future. So much for the Labour pledge to get car users off the roads, what alternatives are they offering, an unsafe railway, a bus network that is a joke and Tubes that have more cancellations and delays than successfully running services!
I would absolutely trust them! It is irrational hysteria to claim that any provider of public transportation, whether nationalised or private, has any interest in providing anything other than the safest systems and equipment. That does not mean that government has no responsibility in the matter, but who said that government could run it better anyway!?
However tragic, accidents happen; my own father was killed in a car accident many years ago, but I never blamed the car manufacturer or the local government's road planners. This is life, people, and no matter how much due diligence, rules and regulations, or systems we impose, accidents will continue to happen. The best we can do is learn from the experience, and do our utmost to avoid future occurrences.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
This just proves that the government's entire transport policy is in shambles. Johnny two Jags Prescott has not got the will or the backbone to create a new railway safety and infrastructure body with teeth to regulate improvement of the rolling stock and lines, and stop the gross flouting of public safety by the different operators.
Well we could always go back to our cars ...Oh no we're being taxed out of existence. We could always use teleworking to save commutingżOh no there's no ISDN infrastructure. This government's policies are vapourware!!!!
Mark Lisle, Germany - British citizen
Without wanting to sound disrespectful to the relatives of those killed in rail accidents, does the matter of who regulates rail safety real matter when you consider that it is still the safest way to travel by a long way?
It is the open criticism of the rail industry when an accident occurs but complete lack of interest when more people die on the roads everyday that really annoys me. But the issue of rail safety should be given to an independent body such as the old Royal commission before it was engulfed into the HSE (why do the HSE who are meant to regulate safety at work look over the railway but not the air, road or sea industries?)
An independent body from both Railtrack and the inexperienced (in rail terms) HSE should be created, with links to the SRA (strategic rail authority)and the rail regulator.
Its fine to have self-regulation, but who will take the rap should an accident like Ladbroke Grove or Southall happen again. I hope that it never will.
Chris Powell, Swansea
How many of you guys almost fell out of bed when you heard this news on the radio this morning? Words fails me! I wouldn't trust Railtrack to run to one-ticket raffle! Do we never learn?
Referring to both the Paddington and Glenbrook accidents: firstly, I haven't seen detailed reports on either accident yet. Secondly, even if it were the drivers at fault, there should be fool-proof systems in place to stop or even derail errant trains, to prevent them from the ultimate horror, which is crashing into another train. There used to be such systems, but in the light of speed and congestion considerations these systems seem to have been dispensed with, and not replaced.
Tony Stockdale, New Zealand
A lot of hysterical nonsense has appeared in some of the earlier postings. Railtrack is managed by professional railwayman, most of whom, would you believe, use to work for the railways when they was in state ownership. I travel by train almost two hundred miles daily and I have confidence in the system. No privately owned company interested in making a profit would wilfully expose its assets to destruction, its customers to death, injury or serious business interruption and expose itself to mass liability claims. To suggest otherwise is preposterous. Readers should be reminded that such dreadful accidents Harrow, Hither Green and Moorgate occurred under state control.
Chris Klein, UK
Why don't they just tell trains drivers they will be sacked if they go through a red light?
Tony Curtis, UK
I am amazed at the spineless actions of this government. As soon as the dreadful Paddington Crash happened the Government had suspended privatising the Air Traffic Control system even though the unions were arguing safety was an issue. The same is said almost of Safety being controlled by Railtrack. Now both Air Traffic Control and Railways safety are to be partly privatised. Is this government too afraid to take control of safety completely in case something goes wrong - they would be to blame. Railtrack make an easy target for political gain. What a disgrace!
The government cannot be blamed for the Ladbroke Grove crash in any way. The responsibility rests wholly at the door of Railtrack and the train operating companies. It is right that Railtrack should be responsible for it's own safety. Then if it fails again the government can hit them hard.
Olivia Dour, UK
I am afraid that Life is not safe, and whatever system you put in place if a human being is involved there will eventually be mistakes made. Of course we should all try to prevent tragedy but there are not funds to go round the whole way. If you've got £2.5 billion spare why not spend it on hospitals or overseas, - you'll save a lot more lives than giving it to the Railways. And if Railtrack has to find the money from fares and forces more people onto the roads is this not a greater crime? Lets all try and stop this blame culture we have got into.
The first problem is that Railtrack has to serve two masters: profit and safety. The second problem is that you cannot easily divorce safety from the business of maintaining the track and signalling (which is what Railtrack does). The government seems to have realised this now. (And remember that the big error made when privatising the railways was fragmenting responsibility between so many organisations.)
Dave Hinton, London, England
Ok - so how do airlines manage? Please let's get risk in perspective - trains are still relatively safe - nothing is risk free!
Railtrack is a privatised company which exists to make profits. As such, things such as safety, which should be of paramount importance, are pushed to one side as much as possible so that costs don't rise to the point where they start to eat into profits. This is the reason that 31 people died in the Paddington crash. People are more important than profits. Labour should abandon its market driven philosophy and realise that some things are not meant to make a profit - public transport being one of them. They should immediately re-nationalise the railways and most certainly not privatise the Underground - because if an accident happens in the Underground it could be 100s of people dead, not just 31.
Grainne Phillips, Ireland
The Government, Railtrack, the previous Government, the profit motive - hang on a minute, none of the above are responsible for running a RED signal. This is like blaming a construction company for a motorway pile-up caused by BAD driving. It is a question of adopting a safety culture - where you operate safe practices given the limitations of your infrastructure. This is surely down to the TOCs to implement.
The problem with Railtrack is that its a giant monopoly. Safety records, long delays and poor customer services really do not play a big factor in their organisation. This is because the train is the most convenient way to travel after the car, in some cases its essential. Therefore now that rail travel is privatised, it would be better for us if it was run by a number of different smaller companies, so that us the consumers can decide for ourselves which company is the safest, cheapest, and most efficient service! The future of Rail Travel should be with competitive business!
So Tony and his Labour chums have yet again turned out to be a bunch of lying hypocrites, producing tasty soundbites at times of maximum publicity and then not acting afterwards. How much longer will it take people to realise that Labour is all mouth and no trousers? Time after time after time we see ministers announcing and re-announcing "major new initiatives" that will produce "radical change" and almost nothing ever happens.
What is happening with Railtrack is exactly the same in Australia. The Glenbrook incident where seven died, is the responsibility of the privatised Rail Access Corporation (RAC). Before the Inquiry even started there was a 'no-blame' attitude to RAC, who were totally left out of much of the discussion but they (as with Railtrack) have the contract for signals. There is never justice when profit-mad executives (and politicians) are in charge.
Pa Hayes, Sydney
I doubt there is anyone who could argue cogently that Railtrack can adequately protect their passengers, as the bitterest experience shows, time and time again.
It is a disgrace. New Labour is simply putting profit before passenger safety. John Prescott now has no credibility on this issue; he should be sacked.
Malcolm McCandless, Scotland
I commute during the week on a daily basis from the Sussex Coast to London. Prescott's U-turn has further dented my faith in the Government's commitment to ensure a safe public transport system in this country. Railtrack and the other rail companies clearly put loyalty to shareholders, profits and bonuses to the fat cats before safety and 'service' to passengers.
Once again, Mr. Prescott has shown that he cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the general public. "Honour", "independence", and "trustworthiness" are words that do not sit kindly alongside "Prescott".
Here we have a case of "who watches the watchers? You can't have a company that is trying to make as big a profit as possible presiding over how much it is spending on safety. A very definite conflict of interest, and the government should follow through with their plans to force Railtrack to create a subsidiary company to monitor safety.
The question should not really be "can" they ensure safety, but "have" they ensured safety. They have not and should therefore have that authority taken away from them. I am tired of moaning about lost profits and the like. Tough! This has happened too often now and the public is entitled for far reaching changes to be made.
Leaving Railtrack in charge of rail safety is like leaving Herod in charge of the nursery.
Vernon Hunte, England
I cannot believe that Railtrack, who argued that the signal involved in the Paddington disaster was perfectly safe to use, even after the event, can be allowed to continue to police our railways. Railtrack makes obscene profits from hiring out the track and should be subject to the highest possible regulation from an outside agency. As a commuter who travels into London everyday I have absolutely no confidence in them whatsoever.
Of course Railtrack are conflicted in being responsible for safety and corporate profits. The real shame though is on the government who made such aggressive announcements to gain public support after the crash, but who, now the fuss has subsided, are cosying up to their business chums once again.
Rob, London, UK
The rail crash itself proves that Railtrack cannot be responsible for safety.
Andrew Dowle, UK
Before the finger of blame points at Railtrack there is a far wider picture to consider- the fact that public sector mismanagement and waste threatens far more lives than the hysterics have us believe Railtracks misdeed do. If Railtrack does not do enough to ensure safety on the railways, does the government do enough to ensure the safety of police officers, firemen, soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, social workers - need I go on. Therefore let's devote energy to those really at risk and not fall prey to a whingeing, blame-obsessed minority.
Yet more lies and empty promises from the government have been highlighted. It is obvious that Railtrack are unable to look after the safety of passengers, a fact only too well demonstrated.
I think that U-turn is not quite the correct way of putting it. All government policies are like Mobius strips - from one point on the surface you can reach any other point on the surface without changing sides...
Dr. R. A. Coxall, Scotland
To answer the question directly, no, Railtrack should not be responsible for rail safety. At the same time though, let us not forget that our rail system is very safe. Yes, 31 people died at Paddington, and it is a tragedy. But, since Paddington, well over 1000 people have been killed on our roads. Ironically, I fear that people wrongly percieve railways to be dangerous, and so take a much greater risk to themselves and others by choosing the car.
Andy Chisholm, UK
We apparently know how many red signals are ignored on our railways - it has been widely reported. We therefore know which trains are involved. And we must therefore know who was driving those trains. Instead of whinging about the cost of technology, which can be turned off, as was the case in the Paddington incident in case anyone had forgotten, why do we not simply prosecute those people who are putting scores of passengers lives at risk? That just might stop them from doing it. Just what penalty is suffered by a train driver for running a red light? As far as I know - nothing, unless it causes an accident, at which point he pays the penalty with his life and those of others whilst politicians and commentators take the opportunity to score political and ideological points off each other.
Jolyon Smith, UNITED KINGDOM
You can't put a price on life, and the sooner this government sees sense and applies an effective independent Safety Executive, purely for railways, the sooner people will feel that safety really is being put before profits. The pity of it all is that railways are MUCH safer than roads already, but there is always more room for improvement, and public confidence needs rebuilding. People should be encouraged to use the railway more.
Phil W, UK
Of course we can't trust Railtrack today any more than we could last October when John Prescott said he was minded to relieve them of this role, and the proposed structure cannot give anyone, especially those who have suffered one way or another, in incidents such as Paddington any comfort. It's ridiculous. I don't think anyone should be surprised by yet another U-turn by this government, and especially by John Prescott, who seems to be proving himself to be more incompetent and unfit to be within government by the week. It's surely time Blair had the courage to sack him.
Andrew Norris, UK
Railtrack has the capability and experience to protect passengers, but there is clearly a conflict of interest because of its responsibility to shareholders. An independent third party responsible for overseeing and directing safety measures would, I believe, do a better job. It will however need to have teeth to close tracks or penalise Railtrack/train operators or ground rolling stock if the safety measures are not implemented adequately.
Duncan , UK
Regarding going through red lights. Until such time as there is a failsafe system, why can't (all) trains be fitted with a driver cabin signal comprising a sound pitch which is annoying to the driver(and which cannot be switched off)and which is triggered by a radio signal located on the track signal. The sound pitch is then triggered if a train does drive through the signal if it is red. Surely not a large cost and well within present technology?
Andrew August, UK
Accident, wrists slapped, more money promised, accident, wrists slapped, more money...
Once again Railtrack is under criticism for rail safety accused of a conflict of interest. But if that is the case then throughout railway history, surely, the old private companies and even BR must stand accused of the same. Remember the existing AWS system wasn't installed nationwide until after the 1952 Harrow crash in which 112 people died. The real safety problem lies with the Railway Inspectorate and the HSE. A recent magazine article written by a retired Railway inspector slammed both the RI and HSE. He claimed that since the HSE took over the RI there has been an influx of people from the HSE with NO railway experience or qualifications. Indeed, it was claimed that, until recently, applicants for jobs in the RI did not require experience/qualifications in the industry. How can you have railway inspectors who can recite the Heath & safety at work act backwards but have no experience/qualifications in the industry ? How can they be expected to do a job they know very little about ? Safety in a factory is completely different from safety on a railway. The way forward is to divorce the RI from the HSE and set it up as an independent body in much the same way as air and marine safety currently is. Current inspectors with no railway background should be removed and replaced with qualified staff. Then, hopefully, rail safety will be in the hands of people who know what they're doing.
As someone who lives 100m from the home of one of the drivers who died at Ladbrooke Grove and uses those trains on a weekly basis I am horrified at this action by the government. This is an absolute U-turn and flies in the face of common sense and, significantly, consumer protection. Britain has some of the most expensive ticket fares in Europe and this section of track has had 4 accidents in a decade. Nearly 100 people have died at Paddington, Maidenhead, Southall and Reading and still Railtrack are policing themselves. Travellers of this section of track can have no faith in the safety of the service which they are receiving; quite aside from quality of service issues. This is a significant step backwards in the pursuit of an integrated transport policy. At least in their own cars west Londoners can be sure of responsibility being taken for their safety.
Ros Lumley, England
So Tony and his Labour chums have yet again turned out to be a bunch of lying hypocrites, producing tasty sound-bites at times of maximum publicity and then not acting afterwards. How much longer will it take people to realise that Labour is all mouth and no trousers? Time after time after time we see ministers announcing and re-announcing "major new initiatives" that will produce "radical change" and almost nothing ever happens.
Of course it can't. If a Railtrack safety inspector comes along to his bosses and says this track is dangerous and will cost 50 million to repair, his bosses will tell him to keep quiet or lose his job. If people then die, Railtrack will be able to blame the worker saying he hid evidence of this. The safety inspector has to have never worked for Railtrack and be paid for by the government so he would be totally independent of Railtrack executives. We have seen that Railtrack doesn't care about safety, even in the aftermath of the Paddington crash Railtrack executives were saying that safety measures weren't "cost effective". A company with shareholders can NEVER have safety as its number 1 priority. Having shareholders automatically means that they are the number 1 priority and the shareholders will never say "no, we`ll skip the dividends this year so you can invest it into a safer infrastructure"
Vishal Vashisht, UK
Well, what a surprise! ... not. After Piper Alpha the key recommendation was that safety issues be taken away from those with the commercial interest in operation of the business. This was to avoid a conflict of interest between safety and the pursuit of profit. We now find that this government is throwing that lesson away. Isn't the truth that there is not the manpower available within the HSE to properly oversee safety on the railways? And isn't it also the truth that rather than take the initiative to plug this gap the government is taking shortcuts with safety by giving the management of safety back to the railways? The fact is that if safety is to be within the ambit of a 'subsidiary independent of Railtrack management' any person going into this subsidiary will be committing career suicide and there will develop a corresponding safety culture within Railtrack - cheap and ineffective.
Damon G, UK
Yes, Railtrack can protect lives, But not as well as they protect their profits ! These are my views and not the views of my employer.
It is fool-hardy, and un-wise to have one company monitoring all of the nation's safety.
Peter Crawford-Bolton, British,in US
Railtrack are probably the most knowledgeable organisation in the UK when it comes to the practicalities of rail safety - therefore it would seem sensible for them to retain responsibility for the subject. Remember that it wasn't a Railtrack driver who drove his train through a red signal!
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK
After hearing a Railtrack employee state on the radio this morning that there is still AT LEAST one driver per day ignoring red lights, then I think the answer is a resounding NO!
Jean-Marc Watson, UK
I think it's a disgrace.
Billy nomates, UK
UK rail safety is actually quite good considering the amount of passengers carried per day. However, just one death is too many. I don't believe that recent criticism of Railtrack is entirely fair, although I'm not convinced that a private profit-making company would make this a priority above looking after their shareholders.
It does not matter who has responsibility for safety on the railways. The fact is that accidents are always going to happen. Whilst we can do much to try and prevent them and the record is improving, no matter who is responsible, they will continue to happen. Having an independent safety authority would not have prevented Ladbroke Grove and many others. The majority of accidents in the UK are caused by human error and usually by drivers passing signals at danger. Everyone in the Rail industry does their best to reduce these but the only way to put a stop to them is full implementation of ATP. This is very costly and would still not give 100% protection. The government has committed the rail industry to TPWS which is cheaper and would have prevented Paddington and probably Southall. This is a sensible halfway house. There is no point spending billions to prevent a handful of Rail deaths. Despite the obvious upset this will cause to victims families, it would be far better spent reducing other much bigger killers in this country. The roads kill more people in a week than died at Paddington. Let's put this terrible tragedy into perspective.
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