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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 17:14 GMT
'Catalogue of errors' caused Southall crash

Seven people died and 150 were injured in the 1997 disaster

Senior rail managers have been urged to take responsibility for the "catalogue of errors" which led up to the Southall disaster.

The final day of the inquiry was told it was wrong to focus entirely on the failings of train driver Larry Harrison, because there were "systematic failings" within Great Western Trains.

Seven people died and 150 were injured on 19 September 1997 when a high speed train operated by Great Western went through a red signal in Southall, west London, before colliding with an empty freight train.

The 33-day inquiry, which heard evidence from 243 witnesses, was adjourned last month to allow parties to prepare final submissions.

Inquiry timeline
20 September: Inquiry opens
27 September: Richard George, former managing director of Great Western Trains, gives evidence
28 September: Driver Larry Harrison breaks down while giving evidence
25 November: Inquiry hears evidence from 243rd and final witness
The inquiry heard that the driver of the ill-fated Swansea to Paddington train, Larry Harrison, had been seen with his feet on the train's dashboard.

At an Old Bailey hearing, which preceded the inquiry, Great Western were fined 1.5m but manslaughter charges against Mr Harrison were dropped.

'Systemic failings'

But counsel for the inquiry, Ian Burnett QC, said it was wrong to focus entirely on Mr Harrison.

He said: "Although as we have submitted in writing, Mr Harrison bears a heavy responsibility for the Southall accident, it would be wrong to concentrate on the failings of the driver when there is compelling evidence of serious systemic failings within Great Western."

"Those with overall responsibility for the activities for an organisation are quick to take credit when things go well. In this instance we believe that they should be ready to take responsibility for the catalogue of errors which show that things went badly wrong.
Ian Burnett QC
Mr Burnett said the Automatic Warning System (AWS) equipment in the train was not working and the Automatic Train Protection system (ATP) was not in use.

He said there was "no doubt" if AWS had been in operation in the train the accident would not have happened.

'Procedure is too slow'

Mr Burnett said the fault in the AWS had been noted the night before the crash, but no action had been taken.

"We cannot pass from the question of AWS without noting and regretting that even after more than two years, the railway industry has still not resolved the best way to deal with AWS failure in the rules and group standards. The whole process for doing so is simply too slow," he said.

Mr Burnett said the main line between Bristol and Paddington had been fitted with ATP but at the time of the accident it had not been turned on.

He said the reason for the non-use of ATP was a lack of training for Mr Harrison and another driver James Tunnock, who had taken the train from London to Swansea.

'Taking credit...and responsibility'

He said: "The detailed investigation of GWT which the Southall accident has spawned reveals an organisation which was seriously under-performing to the detriment of the safety of its customers."

Jonathan Caplan QC, for Great Western, said the company had accepted "its proper share" of the responsibility for the disaster.

Driver Larry Harrison broke down during inquiry
But he said the company was no exception to the rest of the rail industry which, in general, had failed to appreciate the importance of the early warning system.

John Hendy QC, acting for some of the families of the deceased, called for ATP to be fitted and operated across the industry.

Anthony Scrivener, QC, for Mr Harrison, said his client had "undoubtedly" made a mistake on the day of the crash but he said it was a human error which Great Western should have made allowances for.

Inquiry chairman Prof John Uff will report back to the Health and Safety Executive by the end of January and his report will be published later next year.

On Tuesday, Lord Cullen will invite interested parties to put forward topics they would like to see investigated by the Ladbroke Grove rail inquiry, which he is chairing.

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See also:
06 Nov 99 |  UK
Rail inquiries 'to sit together'
24 Oct 99 |  UK
Southall survivors 'ignored'
11 Oct 99 |  UK
Families back rail 'super-inquiry'
28 Sep 99 |  UK
I'm sorry, says Southall crash driver

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