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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Rail safety system under fire
Businessman on train
Business leaders say late trains cost productivity
Plans to introduce a new rail safety system have been criticised by the government's own transport advisers who claim it could cost more lives than it saves.

Computers will be used to control train speeds under the European Rail Traffic Management System reducing the chance of human error.

We don't think it makes sense to spend 3.5bn to save less than one life on the rail because the shift to road could mean up to 20 additional fatalities a year

Prof David Begg
Commission for Integrated Transport

But the Commission for Integrated Transport is concerned about the most basic version of a safety system which Lord Cullen recommended be fitted across the country following the Paddington rail crash.

The commission estimates that 15% fewer trains will be able to run because signalling will have to be changed.

This in turn will force passengers to switch to cars, causing more than 20 extra deaths a year.

The objections come ahead of the Strategic Rail Authority publishing its set of proposals later this week for when and where this system should be introduced.

The commission is advising the government to install level two of ERTMS, a more advanced version of the European safety system.

Commission chairman Professor David Begg said: "Our concern is that the level one system of European safety will reduce the number of trains on the network by 15%.

"It is not the most sophisticated type of European safety.

More expensive

"It doesn't involve radio signalling and you limit the number of trains you can get on any stretch of line, whereas the level two type of rail safety, which we are recommending, that could actually increase train capacity.

"It takes a bit longer and it can be more expensive.

It's not just the number of lives lost that is the cost of such a disaster, it's the disruption to the network which follows

Margaret Kavanagh

"We don't think it makes sense to spend 3.5bn to save less than one life on the rail because the shift to road could mean up to 20 additional fatalities a year.

"We would rather wait to the additional capacity came in with improved safety," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Maureen Kavanagh, whose son was killed in the Southall crash, backed the call for level two ERTMS because that would create 10% more capacity by more efficient timetabling.

"It's not just the number of lives lost that is the cost of such a disaster, it's the disruption to the network which follows, also the loss of confidence, morale and reputation," she told Today.

Tory transport spokesman Eric Pickles argued that level two of ERTMS did not exist anywhere else in Europe.

Cost to business

"It is being developed. We are quite uncertain as to how effective it is going to be on paper. It looks a much better system than level one," he told Today.

"I wasn't clear from Professor Begg exactly why level one reduces capacity. This is completely new to me. The thing I have been working on was the assumption that it would have no effect on capacity."

Meanwhile business leaders have launched a fresh attack on the state of Britain's railways claiming delays and cancellations are damaging industry.

The cost to the average firm of lost productivity caused by rail failures was put at 21,000 by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

"Businesses have experienced at first hand the impact of decades of delay and decay on the UK rail network," said Rob Ashley, the chambers' spokesman.

"Unreliable services, poor timetabling and inadequate infrastructure are a continual drain on resources and will power."

Four out of five firms believe rail services have deteriorated under this government, according to a BBC survey.

Delays cost meetings to be cancelled and working time to be lost and one in 20 companies even said they had missed out on business opportunities.

Government advice

A public inquiry last year proposed fitting the basic system to the northern end of the London to Glasgow line, along with lines in eastern and southern England, and Wales.

This is likely to lead to a reduction of one in eight trains currently running in these areas, hence the commission's concerns about an increase in road traffic.

The SRA is due to publish its proposals on rail safety systems on Thursday.

The BBC's transport correspondent Tom Symonds said the timing of the criticism by the government's advisory body, just before the SRA announcement "could be seen by some as the government trying to affect the outcome of this proposal".

The BBC's Simon Montague
"Paddington was Britain's worst rail disaster for a decade"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Rail safety system costs 'soar'
04 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Rail safety deadline 'abandoned'
11 Dec 01 | England
No 'absolute' rail safety warns PM
29 Mar 01 | UK
Q and A: Rail safety report
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