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Monday, 29 January, 2001, 07:14 GMT
Railways 'back on track'
The site of the Hatfield train crash
Four people died in the Hatfield train crash
Train operating companies say they will meet the government's target of getting 85% of services operating normally by the end of January.

They also say they have started to win back passengers who gave up travelling by train following the chaos after the Hatfield crash in October.

According to the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), the number of journeys made on the railways is returning to pre-Hatfield levels.

Cracked rail track
Close-up of cracked rail track
But this is not a universal trend with intercity lines still struggling to attract passengers back, while numbers on London commuter lines are nearly 5% up on this time last year.

To encourage more passengers back on board train companies are planning cheap ticket deals.

These will include half-price tickets on Virgin trains and a 10 return to London with Midlands Mainline.

Railtrack says barring any unforeseen problems the railways will be back to normal by Easter.

Blame

Railtrack launched a huge track repair programme after the Hatfield crash, causing widespread disruption.

This was hampered further by poor weather, with floods and landslides doing even more damage to the battered rail system.

Four people died in the Hatfield crash last October, when a high-speed GNER service bound for Leeds came off the line at about 115mph.

The driver of the train was cleared of any blame by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) last week.

Its report said "failure and fragmentation" of the track caused the accident.

Corporate manslaughter

Railtrack admitted warning its maintenance company, Balfour Beatty, months before the crash that there was a major derailment risk in the Hatfield area.

The company has since lost the contract to continue to operate on that line.

Six senior executives may be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter in connection with the crash. They include staff working for Railtrack and Balfour Beatty.

Corporate manslaughter is notoriously difficult to prove because of the need to identify which executives took crucial decisions.

But HSE officials said the criminal prosecutions are being seriously considered.

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