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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
After Hatfield, a year of rail woe
Hatfield crash scene
The crash rattled industry and passenger confidence
On the anniversary of the Hatfield crash, the fatal accident which threw the nation's rail network into chaos, we catalogue the year of delays, disruption and the collapse of Railtrack.

At 12.10pm one year ago on Wednesday, a high-speed train skidded off the rails with results which shook the nation.

Four people died and more than 30 were injured when the GNER train from London to Leeds derailed near Hatfield, just 17 miles into its journey.

The Hatfield victims
Steve Arthur, 46, of West Sussex
Peter Monkhouse, 50, of Leeds
Leslie Gray, 43, of Nottingham
Robert James Alcorn, 37, of NZ
The train had hit a broken rail on a section of track identified as defective seven months before the crash.

The accident came just days after rail bosses marked the anniversary of the Paddington crash, which claimed 31 lives the previous October.

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett offered to resign the day after the Hatfield crash, but the board rejected it to allow him to put a national recovery plan in place. (He repeated the offer a month later - which was accepted.)

Why are we waiting?

Train companies saw passenger numbers drop by up to 50% in the wake of the crash.

Train station
Why are we waiting?
Not only were passengers spooked, train journeys seemed to all but grind to a halt as speed restrictions and emergency repairs hamstrung the rail network.

Passengers told of services cancelled without warning, of train journeys which took up to three times as long to complete, of delay after delay after delay as safety checks on 300 miles of track were carried out.

Readers jammed BBC News Online's in-box with tales of travel woe.

Fare hikes
Virgin Trains, GNER and Midland Main Line announced price rises in April to make up for lost income
Warwick Sickling allowed 15 hours to make it from London to Edinburgh for a wedding, yet was still 10 minutes late for the ceremony. Neil Evans had to wait three hours for a train to take him on his 12-minute commute to Peterborough. Student Paul Madley said disruption to his daily train trip to university was so acute he had been forced to give up both an evening class and a part-time job.

Another tragedy

Then in February, as confidence and passengers were starting to return to the rails, came the news of another crash, another ten lives lost.

Selby crash scene
Six passengers and four staff died in the Selby crash
A Land Rover had slid down an embankment near Selby in north Yorkshire into the path of an express train, which derailed on impact and collided with a freight train travelling in the opposite direction.

Although this crash was not laid at Railtrack's door - unlike Hatfield and Paddington - it served once again to focus attention on safety on the railways.

Years of underinvestment by successive governments had taken their toll on the crumbling rail network.

Train operating companies such as Virgin complained that they faced insolvancy without ticket price hikes.

And Railtrack stood accused of putting shareholders before safety. When it tried to put that right, the costs spiralled out of control and the share price dived.

In July, its chairman John Robinson apologised to a packed room of disgruntled shareholders for the company's "appalling year", and promised to do better.

He could not have been more wrong.

End of the line

The company reported a worse-than-expected loss of £534m - its first since privatisation in 1996 - after spending £733m on the rail renewal programme and compensation claims which followed the Hatfield crash.

It had already received £1.5bn from public funds, almost half the amount needed to maintain the rail network, which it had not been due to receive until 2006.

When the company looked for yet more cash from the public purse earlier this month, the government's patience finally ran out. Last Sunday, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers asked the High Court to put Railtrack into administration.

But as passengers who have braved the trains in the past year well know, it is unlikely to be a straight run from here on in.


Your comments so far:

I have not travelled home on a train that has been on time once during the summer timetable period.
Carolyn Wileman, England

There have been horrendous delays on the Liverpool St to Norwich line in the past two weeks. The state of the rolling stock as well as the track and signal failures are to blame, plus the occasional speed restriction.
Patricia Robinson, England

Here in Germany, where I pay 48% of my income in taxes, the trains are clean, regular, largely punctual and above all reliable. Simple choice for the UK: pay more tax, get better services or continue to watch these services decay as governments try to do it on the cheap.
Toby Martin, Munich

In spite of delays and cancellations, the train still beats commuting in the car hands down. No more sitting in traffic jams and adding to congestion on the roads. On the train you have just enough time to read the paper, have a nap, or just relax.
Ben Sharrock, England

Rail doesn¿t make money and it never will. It is a public service which must by necessity go to unprofitable areas at non-peak times with clean, sensibly-seated rolling stock and courteous staff. I think it is time action was taken against the sloppy service provided by the operators.
Michael Street, England

On my route from Kent to London, much of the rolling stock is more than 40 years old and has travelled millions of miles. Not just Railtrack but also the train operating companies need to get their act together as well as receive sensible investment. Broken down trains are still broken down, even on gleaming new track.
Tim Bradshaw, England

I have put up with a very unreliable train service to get to work. I have also tried to get involved with my local MP to influence the policy of the operator in the hope of smoothing over the problems. I got nowhere as everybody in the rail industry blames the problem on somebody else. Lately I have returned to using the car and it is bliss.
Neil, Wales

My line is returning to pre-Hatfield service levels. However, the pre-Hatfield service could not have been called good - during an average week, two of my 10 journeys would be significantly delayed. It's now around 3/10, as opposed to 9/10 following Hatfield.
Neil Brough, UK

The London to Coventry journey is timetabled at one hour and 15 minutes, but the return trip has usually taken nearer four hours and has included seats booked in carriages that don't exist, rude staff and a 100m dash to not be one of the many left standing all the way.
C Flynn, England

Last Christmas I took the drastic step of cycling from Peterborough to Manchester, a journey of more than nine hours each way. This was probably still quicker than relying on Central Trains.
John Airey, UK

Are the trains back on track, or are journeys still plagued by delays? Send us your views using the form below.

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See also:

16 Oct 01 | Business
The far-reaching effects of Hatfield
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