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Tuesday, October 26, 1999 Published at 01:21 GMT

UK Politics

Railtrack 'hysteria' charge renewed

The leaked letter is entitled Ladbroke Grove: The media onslaught

Railtrack has provoked further controversy after a leaked letter renewed accusations of hysteria over rail safety following the Paddington disaster.

London Train Crash
BBC Two's Newsnight programme revealed that the director of Railtrack's south-western zone wrote to his employees complaining about "wild accusations, vindictive attacks and hysterical commentary".

Last week Railtrack's commercial director Richard Middleton apologised after criticising "hysteria" in the wake of the rail tragedy in which more than 30 people died and 245 were injured. Other managers from the company described his comments as "insensitive".

Railtrack appeared to repeat the sentiment in a letter entitled: "Ladbroke Grove: The media onslaught."

Newsnight said the executive, who was not named, wrote to employees: "In amongst the wild accusations, vindictive attacks and hysterical commentary, we have found ourselves lone voices in the industry trying to put over the facts while not descending into pre-judging all of the causes of Ladbroke Grove."

[ image: John Prescott: Wants real and fast action on safety]
John Prescott: Wants real and fast action on safety
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott refused to condemn the comments, but told the programme it was "certainly not the voice" he had heard from Railtrack when he had met them earlier to discuss safety improvements.

Last week, Mr Prescott distanced himself from Mr Middleton, after the director told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I must stress that it really is time for the hysteria around rail safety to be calmed down.

"Rail is a safe mode of transport and Paddington station is safe."

The leaked letter follows a push by Mr Prescott for "real and fast action" to improve rail safety in the wake of both the Paddington and Southall crashes.

A confidential hotline for rail staff and a review of driver training are among a package of improved safety measures. They were announced following a meeting of rail executives and union leaders on Monday.

Meanwhile an opinion poll has said almost three-quarters of the public believe that Railtrack should be brought back into public ownership.

Seventy-three per cent said the government should renationalise the rail infrastructure company, in a survey for the Guardian newspaper.

Only 18% of people disapproved of the idea. The telephone survey of 902 adults is one of the first measures of how public confidence in rail safety has fallen since the Paddington crash.

In a separate question, respondents said rail travel was more unsafe than cars, buses and air travel.

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