Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 17:06 GMT
Do you feel safe on the railways?

"Not again" seems to sum up the mood in the UK after the Hatfield train crash. Four people were killed and dozens injured in the accident. It happened only a year after the Paddington rail disaster.

This time a broken rail now seems the most probable cause.

Railtrack has responded by imposing speed restrictions on some sections of track but should they be going further to protect public safety and restore confidence in the rail network? Do you feel safe travelling by train? HAVE YOUR SAY

I never agreed with the privatisation of the railways

Brian Binney, UK
I never agreed with the privatisation of the railways, my main concern was that the boards of these companies would concentrate on shareholder value before other considerations. All my concerns have been realised. Profits are up, dividends are up, safety is down. the regulator is toothless and passenger comfort and safety has been disregarded. There has to be a safety culture, reinforced by real financial penalties and jail if necessary. The profit motive is not delivering good service for the rail traveller.
Brian Binney, UK

I live in England for the majority of each year and feel perfectly safe on the trains there. However, at home, in Northern Ireland, I don't use them. It is public knowledge that the railways need GBP150 million to bring them up to the British standard but this money doesn't appear to be coming!
Stephen, Northern Ireland

The Government are eerily silent at this last tragedy as I expect they are checking the statements they made last year and seeing if they should do anything. Indeed they should do something - put someone in charge of transport who is interested in running that department and sack Prescott. Nobody can have confidence in his witterings to the Press.
Steve Folan, UK

I can definitely say that the British rail system is more punctual, reliable and safe than its German counterpart

David Hazel, UK
I generally feel safe travelling by rail, which is more than I can say for driving around on our overcrowded and hazard-prone roads. I spent 18 months commuting between Southampton and London, and had no cause to doubt the safety of the rail system. We are always so critical of our rail system, whether it is in terms of punctuality, reliability or safety. We should remember that safety is often the opposite of speed and punctuality, since it means rail companies have to be prepared to delay trains rather than take risks. I have been working in Germany since the end of June, and have made multiple trips on their ICE trains between Weimar and Frankfurt. I can definitely say that the British rail system is more punctual, reliable and safe than its German counterpart (which was also privatised a few years ago).
David Hazel, UK

I am a train driver in the North West of England and as such can see the failings literally in front of me

Mark, United Kingdom
I am a train driver in the North West of England and as such can see the failings literally in front of me. The track I am running on today is by far and away worse than what it was fifteen years ago. My engine lurches more frequently and bounces like you would not believe. I feel I do my job very well, we have to...Railtrack bosses use 'Tippex' when they make a mistake Train Drivers don't have that luxury. I feel sick to the stomach when I think of those poor people killed and injured I feel guilty every time I pass passengers on platforms. I also think Pam Warren is by far and away the most courageous lady I have ever seen. To take the lead in everyone's desire to make our railways safer so soon after the crash makes her a very, very brave lady indeed.
Mark, United Kingdom

It now appears that Railtrack knew the track was unsafe, and Balfour Beattie knew work needed doing. However, the rail regulator 'heard no evil, saw no evil and did no evil'. Is there a rail regulator? what does he do? I see no signs of it! The prices are sky high, the service is unreliable, and safety is ignored. Surely the regulator should be sacked. And what about John Prescott? Not only he ultimately the man in charge, he is sponsored by the rail workers union, and the workers have been moaning to him for years about safety.
Andrew Grillet, England

From what I can see compared with the 1980s enormous sums of money are being spent on the system after years of neglect

Allan Pollock, Singapore
I do not believe the railways are unsafe. Nor do I feel that privatisation is a prime cause of the recent problems, although it may have resulted in communication problems between the different companies. From what I can see compared with the 1980s enormous sums of money are being spent on the system after years of neglect. The network IS improving and I feel saddened at the media attacks on the senior management. The performance of our railways seems to be more scrutinised than any other form of transport (do we report bus punctuality?) If we want a good railway then investment is required - and if that is private finance so be it.
Allan Pollock, Singapore

I am a regular traveller by train and I still feel safer sitting in a train than I do driving along a motorway. Yes action does need to be taken but there is no point in saying that the government should re-nationalise the railway. The last government was useless at it so why should this government be any better.
Marty Walters, United Kingdom

Up till recently I spent 18 months daily commuting from my local Connex station and used to notice a rail on the fast up line oscillating up and down till eventually its fixing lug fell off and lay on the track bed for months. In the list published in the Mail the other day I noticed this very same location in the top 10 danger spot list. I really must go and check if that track has been repaired yet or if the Brighton to London trains are being slowed down.
Bernie Edwards, South Croydon, UK

It's just such a shame that it takes the deaths and injuries of many people for action to finally be taken

Shel, UK
I am a happy traveller, and regularly travel all over the country. Seeing as I don't drive my only option is the train, and despite the numerous train crashes over the past three years, I still feel safe travelling by train - perhaps that is because I actually haven't been involved although I have seen what the results have been.
The fact that the track is 'not good' is not a good excuse, but it's just such a shame that it takes the deaths and injuries of many people for action to finally be taken and priorities made on the railways. Lower speed limits may help temporarily but Railtrack cannot rely on that every time the track is found to be 'not good'.
Shel, UK

How about an old idea. Put all the rail companies together called British Rail.
Len Perry, UK

How many people have to die? How many injuries dose it takes before the realisation of the inadequacies of our rail network dawns? Why is it that so many people are placed in such a precarious position every day? Why is it that ministers and rail chiefs have done nothing so far? For my part I'm terrified by the state of our trains.
We travel for 30 or 40 minutes every day, sometimes even more, in what can only be called the most dangerous of situations. Why are safety procedures not installed? Why is there no ATPS? Why is it that the powers that be cannot improve matters for their customers? After all we pay enough for the privilege of travelling on those high-speed coffins. It's about time something was done!
Chris, UK

I feel a lot safer on a train than I do walking to work each morning

Aegir, UK
I feel a lot safer on a train than I do walking to work each morning. All the car-driving nutters trying to find parking spaces don't seem to realise they should still be careful with their driving. Trains are undoubtedly safer than cars, and walking would only be safe if the cars all crashed somewhere with no people. Have some proportion people.
Aegir, UK

I realise that plane crashes and car accidents kills far more people every year than rail crashes does. It's certainly true, that as humans we have to accept risks in every aspects of life. But it still stands to reason that rail accidents are the most easily avoidable accidents of any form of public transportation.
No transport accidents are acts of God, most often they are acts of poor management and failure to put safety before profit. Let's not compare pears to apples in saying driving a car is more dangerous than riding a train. Compare train services to train services and road safety to safety.
Karen Nielsen, Denmark

After Paddington, Prescott said that if it happened again then he would resign. Well Mr Prescott, we're waiting.
Doug Reid, UK

As an ex-GNER employee, I know precisely what their problem is

Robert Wedekind, UK
As an ex-GNER employee, I know precisely what their problem is. A high proportion ticket revenue is ploughed into catering/customer services, leaving safety as their second priority. Conductors, responsible for the safety of the train, are preoccupied with performance charts for catering trolleys and buffet sales.
Robert Wedekind, UK

Yes, I feel perfectly safe travelling by train, even after this. Obviously, I feel sorry for the families of the four dead but let's not forget the 25 or so who will have died on British Roads since this accident. These deaths have been silent, unreported, no public enquiries etc. Nothing is 100% without risk and we have to maintain a sense of proportion.
Luke, UK

The number of people killed on the railways in the last ten years is less that the typical death toll from just ONE plane crash. In this - a full-speed train crash - it is a tribute to modern rolling stock design that only four people died. No, it shouldn't happen. Yes, we should investigate and see if anything needs to be done, but please - keep it in proportion.
Rod French, England

The current situation only serves to highlight the total transport meltdown we have at the moment

Tamsin, UK
I travel to London every day from Brighton and found today that I could not get to work because of train cancellations and delays due to speed restrictions and emergency repair works. I am very glad that passenger safety is finally at the top of the priority list! It's a pain to have to re-arrange my day (luckily I can work from home) but I'd much rather that than to be sat on a train which is travelling at unsafe speeds on dodgy track.
Of course roads are still more dangerous, but really the current situation only serves to highlight the total transport meltdown we have at the moment: I want to use the train because it's better for the environment than a car, and in theory it's safer. But the rail system needs help! We should make this crash the turning point when we finally sort it out with the kind of funding it really needs.
Tamsin, UK

I would like to see the Chief Executives from Rail Track travel from Reading to Paddington, during the week at peak time. They would soon change their opinion of the UK's railways. There has never been a time when I have had to do this journey that the train is not fully packed and people are standing in the aisles. If anything were to happen to that train, there would be numerous injuries due to the overcrowding.
Nickie, Reading, UK

No, I don't feel safe on the railway. However, it is time we publicised death on the roads more. How about a map shown each day on the news, pinpointing areas where death has occurred on the road.
Ruth Bradley, Northamptonshire

The speed limits are a knee jerk reaction

Doug Hosking, England
The speed limits are a knee jerk reaction, like shutting the door after the horse has bolted. The simple fact is that the Board of Directors at Railtrack have failed to provide a duty of care to their customers, which has resulted in four deaths and numerous injuries. As a daily commuter I am appalled at Railtrack's attitude. The whole board should be sacked and be banned from holding directorships for at least five years. The rail regulator should be forcing all concerned to invest in all aspects of safety on the railways to give the general public confidence in using the system.
Doug Hosking, England

Yes, I do feel safe on the railways, crash-wise. The most unsafe I've felt is on a train from Sheffield to Leeds with a load of drunk Wolves fans on the way to a game. Personal security is an issue, but I feel far more at risk of Death or Injury in a car.
Andrew Reid, London, UK

So, the board refused Mr Corbett to resign. In fact, all of the board are also responsible for the operation of Railtrack. How about the entire board tendering their resignations?
Adam Steineck, UK

It's easy to have an opinion about train safety if you use trains, but I don't. It is easy to blame the bosses of Railtrack, but then it's not really their fault and what exactly would that achieve anyway? I guess all we really want is to see some real investment and commitment to provide us all with a safe, value for money, quality transport system that we would all happily use and be internationally proud of.
Andy Cameron, United Kingdom

When you put your trust in a system you expect to live through the experience

Andy McKillop, UK
Our network is not safe, we should all feel great shame for what we have done to our once world class network. Yes, it's safer than driving but when you put your trust in a system you expect to live through the experience. Railtrack should be held accountable for the tragic loss of lives this week as should Thames Trains for the tragic loss of lives last year. With accountability comes responsibility. With non-accountability comes the accountants and share holders. Let's get it right and put lives and safety above boards and shareholders.
Andy McKillop, UK

There have been three serious crashes on the railways in less than three years, isn't it time that we stopped talking and started to act!
Anthony Hopkins, England

Don't blame Railtrack or the train operators or the contractors; blame privatisation. It has split our railway network into 120 separate companies; all with obligations to their shareholders, none of whom are ready to accept blame or put safety before their dividends. So is this what is laughably known as "Integrated Public Transport"?
They have abjectly failed to capitalise on one of the largest increases in rail passenger numbers and made passengers scared and annoyed. We deserve a first class rail system not least to ease the strain on the roads. What we have is a poor excuse for a railway fuelled by blame and by money.
Matt J, UK

No, I don't feel safe but what's the alternative?

Valerie, UK
A broken rail is nothing new on that particular stretch of track. On March 30 this year I and a train full (i.e. standing room only) of commuters were stranded for almost two hours when our train driver noticed a broken rail ahead of him just north of Alexander Palace Station on the southbound track. We waited for "a running repair" - a fishplate had to be welded to the broken rail before we could proceed. Is it still there? No, I don't feel safe but what's the alternative?
Valerie, UK

How many of us given a viable alternative would continue to use our local train service? I live less than 15 miles from the centre of London but driving is just not possible, it would take two buses and two hours, and no underground within six miles. I have no choice if I want to work but it doesn't make it any easier wondering if the train will turn up, never mind if on time, and will get to the other end safely twice a day!
Stuart, UK

A week and a half ago, I got on a train to go from Manchester to Oxford. The train was declared 'unsafe to travel on' at Birmingham and immediately taken out of service. The questions on everybody's mind was how long it had actually been unsafe. Since Manchester?
Trains may statistically be safer than cars, but at least if your car is unsafe you have a choice about whether or not to use it. Train companies take that decision away from you. So many are people dependant upon one person's decision, yet how often are we seeing them not make that decision in time?
Rebecca, UK

One day this kind of accident is going to happen in the middle of rush hour and the deaths and injuries are going to be huge

Rob B Ray, England
One day this kind of accident is going to happen in the middle of rush hour and the deaths and injuries are going to be huge. The way we are packed into train carriages in the peak of rush hour is in itself an accident waiting to happen. It's hard enough to get out of a train that has stopped at a platform when it is full to the brim, let alone if it has crashed.
Rob B Ray, England

I'm very glad Gerald Corbett is to stay on. Those really responsible are the cynical cost-cutters employed by the Major government to fatten Railtrack up ready for selling off, who have left Mr Corbett with an impossible backlog of work. Of course, they are now retired, sunning themselves on huge bonuses (paid from Railtrack's own funds), and almost certainly beyond prosecution.
Julian Hayward, UK

Annual investment in our rail infrastructure is nearly three times what it was in the decade before privatisation. Certainly Railtrack can improve. But those who claim that re-nationalisation will be a panacea for the railways frankly live in cloud-cuckoo land. There were accidents and deaths on the railways in BR's days too.

At approx five minutes out of Waterloo, the train lurches dramatically at exactly the same point

David Little, UK
No, I don't feel safe travelling by train and have little to no confidence in Railtrack who, it appears, lack total commitment to the traveller. It seems they are beholden to the shareholder. Every day I travel from Waterloo to Haslemere. And when I travel in the rear coach on the 4.50 fast-train, at approx five minutes out of Waterloo, the train lurches dramatically at exactly the same point. On one occasion a women was actually propelled from her seat. Fellow passengers have mentioned this to the ticket inspector, but I doubt anything has been properly reported. This is an accident waiting to happen. I imagine Railtrack know about this, but have done nothing about it as yet.
David Little, UK

I travel about 150 miles by train every day. I pass twice daily over the Clapham disaster site. Despite this I do not feel at all concerned about continuing to travel by train. The real scandal is that almost 10 people a day on average on the roads in the UK and this usually merits no more than an inside page item in a local newspaper. Nevertheless, the Byzantine complexity of the UK rail industry does appear to be a impediment to efficiency and accountability. The government should have the courage to change this.
Chris Klein, UK

Yes, I do feel safe travelling by train. I have spent considerable amounts of time working as a consultant to Railtrack and (for all their faults), they are working to the limit of their resources to maintain the rail infrastructure.
There are thousands of miles of track in this country and it is impossible to have it all in 100% working order 100% of the time. The danger with rail travel is the speeds (straight line and converging) and the amount of passengers. Given these two parameters, the effects of a crash are always going to be terrible.
Bruce Walton, England

My dad travels that stretch of line every day with his friend and they stared at each other in shock the first time they went over that bit of line. It became so bad that after a few weeks it became second nature to hold on to their coffees before they even got to that part. I used the train for a few weeks after the fuel crisis and avoided the front car and faced the way I was travelling from. I never felt comfortable. The train situation is appalling as 50% of trains were late and 20% broke down. That was my experience. I now travel by car!
Philip Levy, UK

Rail travel is probably still safer than road travel

David Haworth, Germany

Rail travel is probably still safer than road travel, despite the number of high-profile accidents. An interesting thing about this incident, at least as seen from the BBC news coverage, is that the police apparently ruled out terrorism because they found no evidence of a bomb. Couldn't a concrete block on the line also be an act of terrorism? What about a deliberately damaged rail?
David Haworth, Germany

What was corporate manslaughter invented for? It is maintenance policies that cause severe track degradation. Maintenance policies and budgets are the domain of management. When is this country going to place the blame on those who are really responsible for incidents such as these?
Mark Barrett, UK

Each morning I get on the train in the front carriage. At least once a week, though, I do get a quick twinge of 'what happens if we plough into another train' and I start considering moving towards the middle of the train.
Paul C, England

Money is more important than anything else, including the safety of the passengers

Janet, UK

In 1998, I attended a job interview at Railtrack for a position that involved managing the track and infrastructure maintenance companies. At the interview I was asked to name the people who Railtrack were responsible to. I said the passengers & the government. They said the shareholders. It just about sums them up - money is more important than anything else, including the safety of the passengers. I was actually offered the job but my conscience got the better of me and I turned it down.
Janet, UK

It beggars belief the fuss made about the safety of railways. Try walking along a country road with no pavement if you want risk. Every year THOUSANDS die on the roads. Rail is MUCH MUCH safer. It is awful that a rail should break and action should be taken of course, but for Gods sake media, get it in proportion !
Gwyn Jones, Europe

Having a private company responsible for an entire rail network is like making them responsible for upkeep of the roads. Its a major responsibility that doesn't seem to fit well with the need to make profits and satisfy shareholders.
Amanda, UK

There is no way this guy should be allowed to resign. If the crash is a result of track failure then he and ALL of his board are responsible and are guilty of corporate manslaughter. Why is it that you and I are responsible and accountable for our actions but when you are in government or head of a public service industry you are not responsible for anything you just keep taking the big bucks?
Pete Smulovic, UK

I always prefer driving to travelling by rail. Whilst these accidents continue to happen, Labour has no chance of convincing long distance travellers like me to abandon my car in favour of public transport.
Sean, UK

Why is it that other Western European countries have an exemplary rail safety record compared to the UK?

Vicky Millar, France

Why is it that other Western European countries, like France where I live, have an exemplary rail safety record compared to the UK? It dosen't help that people like Gwynneth Dunwoodie reiterate that travelling by rail is one of the safest modes of transport when there is a lot of work to be done to keep up with our peers and save lives.
Vicky Millar, France

Over 3,000 rail breaks in the last 4 years. That's about 2 per day! We should ask for donations for this poor company so that they can bring up standards to at least 50% of continental standards.
Holger, UK

If someone has travelled by trains in India, where still distances are measured in time, with such a 'good' track record in accidents, can feel safe on trains in any part of the world.
Ashish, USA

Successive governments over the last 25-30 years have refused to invest adequately in the rail infrastructure. It will take any organisation, public or private, many years to repair the damage this has caused. Despite this, rail travel in the UK is still far safer then, for instance, road travel that most people undertake without any thought of safety (as evidenced by the average standard of driving). If we want this issue (along with many others) to be properly addressed and resolved we must all re-think our attitudes, stop blaming others for our misfortunes and start actively participating in the solutions rather than the hunt for a scapegoat.
Paul Luper, UK

Suddenly, the driver slammed on the brakes and immediately people began to panic

Kevin, UK
The state of today's railways, particularly round big cities, is appalling. I'm not just talking about lack of security and dirty/late trains, I'm talking about the way railways push as many people as possible into the smallest possible space.
I was in an older 'slam door' train about eight months ago, going into central London. The train was packed - there was no standing space left anywhere. Suddenly, the driver slammed on the brakes and immediately people began to panic. It wasn't until the train began to move off again that people began to calm down. If it had been a derailment or collision, I dread to think how many would have died, simply because we were packed in too tightly. Railtrack and the train operators are doing NOTHING to keep us safe. They bear the burden of the railway deaths - I hope their consciences are giving them hell.
Kevin, UK

Four people also died on UK roads yesterday, and will today, and will tomorrow. Unpleasant as this crash was, we should try and maintain some perspective.
Brian Jones, UK

The Train service in the UK has deteriorated dramatically since the introduction of Privatised rail companies. If these companies where offering any other kind of service they would have gone out of business a long time ago.
The Government NEEDS to issue laws and introduce safety features, where each train needs to be serviced and checked daily, as do the Tracks. Without new laws these companies will get away with it this time and IT WILL happen again.
Victoria Wood, London, UK

It is still far safer to travel on the train than it is to walk to and from the station at each end of the journey. It is probable that more pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles yesterday than were killed in the train crash.
And yet the government is doing absolutely nothing to halt the ongoing manslaughter on our roads carried out by drivers of motor vehicles. The same priorities should exist for safety on the road network as on the railways.
Mike, UK

The UK rail system looks unsafe and antiquated by comparison with Japan

Daniel, UK
A UK mission recently visited Japan (including representatives from Virgin Trains, Railtrack, Thames Trains and the Health and Safety Executive) to look at rail safety. The UK rail system looks unsafe and antiquated by comparison with Japan.
Japan is more densely populated than the UK, with a more difficult terrain and more extreme weather conditions, but manages to run many more train services, with far fewer accidents, much more reliably. In Japan, trains do not break down or judder, and Japan has such good rail tracks that the UK mission had to explain to bewildered Japanese counterparts what a broken rail was.
Technology as good as the train protection and warning system being installed in the UK was built in Japan 20 years ago, since when it has been improved several times. The high-speed automatic train protection technology only now being planned for the UK is still below Japanese specifications.
The UK has a lot of catching up and investment to do.
Daniel, UK

When the news came in yesterday I thought that everyone was being a little quick to assume that Railtrack was to blame. But now that they have issued the speed limits and the resignation of the CE, it seems obvious whose is to blame.
Years of under investment by both government and private profit making companies, while price continue to rise. The service is a disgrace and the safety is only an issue when it's too late. The railways should be taken back from the private companies and run as a national industry once again, then if we aren't happy with the service we can do something about it on polling day.
Paul Nelson, Holland

There is risk in every aspect of life, and we need to accept that

Christopher Laird, Japan
Sadly, with 1,000's of tons of metal travelling at over 100mph, any kind of accident will be disastrous. The fact that such a large number of people are mixed in with that metal makes the disaster a tragedy. In Japan, I have access to the most amazing rail network in terms of reliability and safety, but even here several people were killed after a derailment incident.
There is risk in every aspect of life, and we need to accept that. American style litigation (Domini Connor, UK) would not help in the slightest. It would drain resources even more by pulling technicians away from their daily job into a courtroom to fight the corporate case.
All the time, money and effort spent there should be used to make the railways as safe as possible. The government should help by investing some more of the tax money drawn from the transport system to actually SPEND it on the transport system.
Christopher Laird, Japan

It is about time something was done about the railways in the UK. People must stand up and fight this disregard of safety, scandalous pricing, unpunctual and overcrowded rail network.
If an airline had a safety record like British Rail (or whatever they call themselves nowadays) had then they would have been shut down. And on top of this they still make a massive profit year on year. Something is definitely going wrong there.
Kenneth, England

It is now been reported that terrorism has now been ruled out, but Channel 4 recently screened a series "Derail", detailing how to cause a crash by just cutting or raising a rail. It seems very suspicious to me that this should happen so soon afterwards.
John Smith, UK

I feel far more vulnerable in a car, in which I am much more likely to be killed

Simon, UK
Do I feel safe on the railways? Yes, perfectly safe. I feel far more vulnerable in a car, in which I am much more likely to be killed. Yet deaths in cars attract little attention. Four people died in yesterday's accident. I expect that many people have died today already on the roads.
Simon, UK

Along with ever decreasing staff levels and trains that should have been decommissioned whilst I was still a teenager, I avoid rail travel at all costs. Typical post Thatcher/Reagan case of profits above all else.
Greg Bengtson, UK

We all know Railtrack will get away with this as well. We need American style liability laws. If this happened in the USA, Railtrack would suffer huge financial penalties. This is a great incentive to making things safer. Even if they are found liable they'll bung the relatives a few, (actually very few) quid and go on as before.
Domini Connor, UK

We are now seeing the results of the madness of the previous conservative administration when they gave responsibility for the safety of the trains and track to profit making companies, whose sole concern is their shareholders rather than their customers.
The train companies value a human life at x million, and use this number when making decisions about how much is spent on safety. Perhaps those responsible should be fined for the deaths at the total value of those killed? (The value of which was chosen by the companies themselves)
Patrick Seurre, UK

Privatisation and lack of investment equals accidents. This time it's the raillways in a few years time it will be air traffic control. Will the country never learn?
Dave, UK

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail Address:



Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Links to other Talking Point stories