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EDITIONS
Monday, 13 May, 2002, 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Another blow for rail confidence
track ahead of Potters Bar
Investigators will check maintenance records

In recent months there had been an air of confidence in the rail industry.

The government was spending more on trains, performance was improving, the railways had confident new leaders.

That has all changed.

Now an investigation is under way into another crash, one that has claimed more lives than the tragedy at Hatfield.

Again the effort to offer better services has been put on hold while executives try to work out how to offer safer ones.

This accident appears different to Hatfield. Missing parts have not been found on any other sections of the network.

Flowers at the scene of the Hatfield crash in which four people lost their lives
The Hatfield crash affected the whole rail network
Railtrack has checked 800 locations with similar points during the weekend.

There probably will not be widespread closures of railway lines, or even temporary speed limits.

No-one wants a repeat of the months of disruption following Hatfield.

This time around, Railtrack does not have the final say over safety measures - it will have to work very closely with the newly reorganised Strategic Rail Authority.

The Health and Safety Executive investigators are likely to keep an open mind, however.

Maintenance

The points from the approach to Potters Bar will be removed and taken to the HSE's laboratories.

There, the rails will be tested to see how long the nuts securing the rails have been missing - experts can tell from the patterns of rust.

If poor maintenance is found to be the cause of the accident, there will be huge repercussions for the industry.

Any maintenance failures would lead to a re-examination of the way Railtrack contracts out work to other engineering firms - who themselves subcontract individual jobs.

The Joint Inquiry into Rail Safety last year recommended Railtrack set new standards for its contracts, but so far that recommendation has not been implemented - it won't be until September.

One concern is that there are still untrained rail workers being employed, despite the fact they need to have a special permit to take up rail jobs.

Lessons

There is a shortage of track workers, and many of the companies that employ them have short term contracts to do the work - giving them less incentive to run expensive training schemes.

The Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, and other senior figures have talked of this as a "one-off" failure.

He says he means that the exact circumstances at Potters Bar are unlikely to be repeated elsewhere.

But Mr Byers insists lessons will be learnt.

If a maintenance failure is found to have been the cause, a key lessons may well be that the complicated system of contracts that govern the rail network, simply doesn't work.


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