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EDITIONS
Monday, 11 October, 1999, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Families back rail 'super-inquiry'
The government is to set out its plans for train safety
Lawyers acting for the families of victims of the Southall rail disaster have told its public inquiry that it should be merged with the coming investigation into the Paddington rail crash.

London Train Crash
Announcing they were writing to the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, the lawyers said that a single super-inquiry into two of the worst rail disasters in British history would provide the investigation with the power it needs to force through major changes in safety.

The Southall public inquiry under Professor John Uff QC reopened with a minute's silence for the Paddington dead. Prof Uff said that he believed he would be able to finish his work before the end of the year without a formal merger of the two investigations.

But listing their proposals, the lawyers called for joint hearings and findings and a single list of recommendations from both disasters where applicable, arguing that it would remove the possibility of the two inquiries contradicting each other.

One of the lawyers, Karen Derbyshire is also helping to launch a joint action group involving some of the bereaved families.

She told BBC Radio Five Live that they wanted to get survivors and bereaved relatives from the Paddington crash talking to those from Southall as soon as possible, to help them to come to terms with the disaster.

The call for the joint inquiry came as the government prepared to announce a raft of new rail safety regulations in the wake of the Paddington disaster.

Prof Uff adjourned the reconvened inquiry until "overlapping issues" connecting the two tragedies could be resolved.

Transport Minister Lord Macdonald is expected to tell the House of Lords of the government's decision to relieve Railtrack of its responsibilities for overseeing passenger safety.

Meanwhile, the grim task of clearing the wreckage from the site of the Paddington disaster continued on Monday morning with teams beginning to remove more carriages from the scene.

Police named two more of the dead on Monday morning and said they now expected the final number of fatalities to be closer to 30 than 40 - far fewer than had been feared.

The track is expected to be cleared and re-opened by the end of the week.

Knapp calls for changes

Speaking ahead of the statement, secretary general of the RMT union Jimmy Knapp said it was vital that a safety system be implemented across the rail network.

Jimmy Knapp: A safety system should cover every train
"One thing that must come out the tragedy last Tuesday is that we need to put in place systems that make collision of this type physically impossible," he said.

"And that should cover every train, whatever speed and whatever part of the network."

The government is holding an inquiry into which safety system is suitable to be installed nationwide.

It has already said the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, described as failsafe but extremely expensive, will be fitted to all high-speed lines.

ATP was recommended after the Clapham rail crash which killed 35 people in 1988.

Mr Knapp said he was outraged that the ATP had not been introduced nationwide after the Clapham disaster.

He said: "We wasted 10 years where governments and train companies have prevaricated.

"In the early 1990s that type of expenditure would have got in the way of privatisation."

'Failures since disaster'

The Mirror newspaper is also reporting that 11 signalling and track failures have been recorded on Britain's railways since the Paddington rail disaster.

Most of the carriages have now been removed
The paper says it has obtained documents showing widespread passing of red signals since the crash.

One was said to be four hours after the disaster, when a green signal suddenly switched to red and back to green at Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Among the incidents the newspaper reports is that on Thursday a signal at London King's Cross flashed repeatedly through red, green and yellow.

Railtrack defends record

A Railtrack spokesman said he was unable to confirm whether the incidents took place.

But he said: "There is no complacency and after last week every aspect of safety has to be looked at."

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett has denied his company failed to improve safety at signal 109, which was at the centre of the Paddington crash.

In a letter to The Times, Mr Corbett said the track and signal operating company had taken a number of steps to make signal 109 less confusing.

He said Railtrack had removed flashing yellow lights, upgraded the signalling software and restricted the routing of non-timetabled trains.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Jimmy Knapp: "Track maintenance is not what it should be"
Video
BBC News' Jane Bennett-Powell reports
Video
The BBC's Stephen Evans reports: "There is pressure on the government"
Video
The BBC's Peter Hunt reports: "The clear up has begun"
Video
The BBC's John McIntyre: "The Queen saw for herself some of the heart-rendering tributes"
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