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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK


I'm sorry - Railtrack boss

Signal 109 will not be in use when Paddington reopens

A Railtrack boss has apologised after causing a storm of protest over a call for an end to rail safety "hysteria".

London Train Crash
The comments by Richard Middleton, the company's commercial director, were described as "insensitive" by other Railtrack managers and came under fire from lawyers acting for victims of the Southall and Paddington rail crashes.

They came as Paddington station prepares to reopen two weeks after the crash that killed at least 30 people.

Mr Middleton said he had no wish to offend the families and friends of the Paddington crash victims.

"I am a railwayman not a broadcaster, and, with hindsight, I accept that the unqualified use of the word 'hysteria' was wrong.

The BBC's Simon Montague: "Paddington - The silent station"
"I am sorry if anyone was upset or offended by this comment. But I must stress that the safety ethic is deeply ingrained in our company culture and any suggestion that it is no longer safe to travel by rail is simply untrue."

The row blew up when Mr Middleton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the "hysteria around rail safety" should calm down.

[ image:  ]
"We have spent a lot of time going through the readjusted layout with our engineers and we have discussed all that with the Health and Safety Executive," he said.

"Rail is a safe mode of transport, and our job now is to restore public confidence."

But solicitor Karen Darbyshire, of Watford law firm Collins, said: "It has now taken the loss of 30 lives for the issue to finally be taken seriously.

"For Railtrack to talk about hysteria after Paddington is going to leave some victims feeling deeply insulted."

Maureen Kavanagh, head of the newly founded Safety on Trains Action Group, said Mr Middleton had ridden roughshod over the feelings of the bereaved.

The campaigner, who lost her son Peter in the 1997 Southall crash, said: "It is an absolutely outrageous thing to say - families are burying their dead this week and yet this man has the gall to stand up and talk about hysteria."

The row over Mr Middleton's comments came as the vice-president of the environmental task group Transport 2000, Lord Faulkner, said public confidence had vanished from the rail industry.

Appearing before MPs on the House of Commons Transport Committee, he said: "Literature from the rail companies is much more to do with the promotion of company share prices than with safety.

[ image: The collision resulted in 30 deaths]
The collision resulted in 30 deaths
"What has shattered public confidence in the railways over the last 10 days is the feeling that the railways are not safe as people thought they were."

Thirty people died and 245 were injured on 5 October when a Thames commuter train passed a red signal near Paddington station and collided with a crowded Great Western express.

Paddington station will open at 2359 BST with services resuming early on Thursday, although peak services will be reduced.

Railtrack's Richard Middleton: "It is time for the hysteria around rail safety to be calmed down"
It comes despite a report from the former director of signal testing for British Rail and Railtrack, who said 19 signals in the Paddington area were dangerously obscured.

The HSE agreed to reopen the station, despite the seven-page report, compiled for train drivers' union Aslef.

It said the 19 signals should be withdrawn from service and another eight should be simplified.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott: "When I get this report I will make a judgement"
But the HSE said it was satisfied by measures taken to improve safety. Signal 109 - the one passed at red by the commuter train - will not be in use and other signals have been adjusted.

There will also be revised speed limits as low as 40mph between Paddington and Ladbroke Grove, the scene of the crash.

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