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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK


Rail chiefs accused of complacency

The summit aims to avoid a repeat of the Paddington disaster

As senior government and rail industry leaders gather for a summit on safety on Britain's trains, a former safety manager at Railtrack is accusing the industry of being complacent about the dangers of fire.

The former head of Railtrack's fire safety team, Graham Stepan, says he left his job because of his concerns over fire risk.
London Train Crash

Mr Stepan says awareness of the importance of fire safety rose after the King's Cross tragedy but slipped back.

The BBC's Simon Montague reports: "The government wants a confidential whistle blowing system"
"It seems that complacency has become permeating through the whole of the organisation, and I include train operating companies in that.

He went on: "The complacent attitude can only be shaken up by some sort of tragedy like Paddington, where people have died in fire, for there to be a greater understanding and a greater awareness of fire safety."

'Conflict between profits and safety'

Mr Stepan said Railtrack should be stripped of its responsibility for overseeing safety.

Just such a move will be discussed at Monday's summit.

[ image: John Prescott: Considering government investment in safety measures]
John Prescott: Considering government investment in safety measures
Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who called the meeting, said "There has always been a problem about a conflict (between) commercial interest and safety".

Railtrack has denied it was complacent, saying it spent more on fire safety than the nationalised British Rail.

Another change to be discussed by the summit is the nationwide introduction of a confidential "whistleblowing" system, already in operation in Scotland.

BBC's Andrew Hosken interviews Graham Stepan
The system, called Confidential Incident Reporting and Analysis, allows rail staff to report safety fears through an independent source.

Mr Prescott said the hotline would be introduced whether or not the train operating companies wanted it.

"That is an essential tool to restoring confidence in the industry and getting the actual facts of what is going on" he said.

'Open mind'

Mr Prescott is reported to have accepted public funds will be needed to supply the cash necessary to make the rail network fail-safe.

A Railtrack spokesman said the company was going into the summit with an "open mind", but considered a redefinition of its relationship with government was now vital. P>
[ image: 30 died and hundreds were injured at Paddington]
30 died and hundreds were injured at Paddington
Train drivers fear rail companies may campaign for the cost of a new safety system to be kept down.

Michael Rix, leader of drivers' union Aslef, said he would be telling the summit the expensive Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system - which would automatically stop trains which passed red lights - should be introduced across the rail system.

Among others due to meet Mr Prescott are rail regulator Tom Winsor, shadow strategic rail authority chairman Sir Alastair Morton and the managing directors of passenger and freight train companies.

Representatives from the Health and Safety Executive and leaders of all the rail unions have also been invited.

The meeting comes as the inquiry into the Southall train crash in 1997, which killed seven people and injured 150, re-opens.

Solicitors acting for the injured and bereaved say they are concerned the inquiry will be downgraded in the light of the Paddington crash.

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