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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK


UK

Drivers 'victims of blame game'

Trains stand idle at Paddington station following the crash

Train drivers and their trade union representatives are trying to deflect accusations aimed at one of the drivers in the Paddington crash.

Both men are thought to have died, but there are allegations that the Thames Trains driver went through Signal 109 while it was on red.

On Wednesday it was revealed that the driver, who has not been named, had only been driving for two months. Before that he had undergone 11 months of training.

London Train Crash
Only last week the driver of a train involved in the 1997 Southall rail crash, in which seven people died, apologised for failing to spot a red and two yellow signals moments before the accident.

With the blame game increasingly focusing on the drivers, some have reacted.


Nicky Campbell reads out the driver's e-mail and Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody supports its sentiments
One anonymous driver e-mailed BBC Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell and complained of being forced to work long hours and over-extended stretches of days.

He said the practice induced a dangerous level of fatigue.

Drivers say mistakes are inevitable because of the hours they are being forced to work.

The driver wrote: "People keep blaming the drivers, but we are only human. People get tired and can't do their jobs."

He said the privatised rail companies had agreed a shorter basic working week for drivers.

"But with all the companies that I have worked for, drivers are pressurised to work their days off. Many drivers are working 13 days out of 14," he told Mr Campbell.

'Monotonous job'

Night shifts often last 11 hours and drivers are often on their own, with no company or anything to keep them awake or alert.

"Every driver would admit that they do lose concentration through tiredness.

"Some shifts are up to 11 hours long. The job is so monotonous."

But the driver at fault in the Paddington crash would appear to have only just come on duty - his train was setting off at 8.11am.


Former signalman Kevin, from Edinburgh, tells Nicky Campbell: "I've seen signals change just by people touching the wires"
Mick Rix, general secretary of he train drivers' union, Aslef, said: "We must get away from the blame culture.

"The purpose of everyone in the industry must now be to establish as quickly as possible what went wrong and why it went wrong. These lessons are vital to prevent similar tragedies in the future."

'Signal prone to be missed'

"The most important thing is a speedy official inquiry which reaches conclusions over safeguards."

He said: "Signal 109 was prone to be overrun because of the site of it."


[ image: Mick Rix:
Mick Rix: "Drivers are working dangerously long hours"
An internal inquiry following a collision at Royal Oak, near Paddington, in 1995 called for the signal site to be examined.

Aslef says the signal is not visible at some points to train drivers coming out of Paddington station.

Flashing yellow lights which warned drivers of the signal had also been removed, he said.

Mr Rix said the junction had been overrun eight times since 1993, six times by Thames Trains.

Aslef is also seeking assurances there will be no more reductions in driver training programmes.





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