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Tuesday, September 21, 1999 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK


Privatisation blamed for rail disaster

"Public service has been replaced by profit"

Victims of the Southall train crash fear the disaster was the result of privatisation putting profit before safety, the public inquiry has heard.

John Hendy, QC, representing victims of the disaster, was speaking on the second day of the inquiry into the crash on 19 September 1997.

The BBC's Tom Heap: "The only good which can emerge from such a tragedy is a system which prevents it happening again"
"The culture of the railway industry has been transformed since privatisation," he said.

"The watchword of public service has been replaced by profit."

Seven people died and 147 were injured when a Great Western Swansea to Paddington service collided with a freight train in west London.

The inquiry had heard that two separate protection systems, AWS which alerts the driver if the train goes through a red light, and ATP which stops the train going through a red light, had not been working.

[ image: Government-backed safety systems may not prevent a similar crash]
Government-backed safety systems may not prevent a similar crash
On Tuesday, Mr Hendy said the cost of introducing ATP had deterred Great Western from installing it and maintaining it.

Mr Hendy added that the Southall crash showed nothing had been learned from the public inquiry into the Clapham disaster of December 1988, which recommended full implementation of the ATP safety system.

Proposed safety system 'inadequate'

The inquiry then heard from the lawyer for driver Larry Harrison, Anthony Scrivener QC, who agreed that the structural flaws which had been created by privatisation should be looked at.

Mr Scrivener also raised fears about the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS), which the government is promoting as an alternative to ATP.

TPWS was cheaper than ATP but would not stop a train which went through a red light at more than 70mph, he said.

"There is, and can be, no proper alternative to ATP on high speed train lines and the cost of that limited exercise must be considered. We should not once again compromise on safety," he said.

[ image: Families and victims believe privatisation is to blame]
Families and victims believe privatisation is to blame
Mr Scrivener also rejected as "ridiculous" allegations made on the opening day that Mr Harrison had been seen driving with his feet on the dashboard of his cab.

The train would stop if the driver took his foot off the driver safety device pedal, nicknamed the "dead man's handle".

And he said tests had proved it impossible that the driver could have placed his bag on the pedal to keep it depressed.

Great Western blames driver

Great Western Trains later told the inquiry it "accepted unreservedly" its share of the blame.

However, counsel for the company, Jonathan Caplan QC, said driver error was the immediate cause of the crash.

"A well-trained Great Western driver with a good safety record on a route familiar to him failed to obey the instructions of two warning signals and reacted late to the final signal, which was red," he said.

And for Railtrack, Roger Henderson QC said: "Bad driving was the primary and the only primary cause of the accident.

"It was the failure to keep a proper look out and the passing of a signal at danger that was the primary cause of the accident."

He said the secondary cause of the crash was the fact that the AWS warning system was not working aboard the train that crashed.

The inquiry, which is expected to last about 10 weeks, was adjourned until Wednesday.

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