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The BBC's Simon Montague reports
"Rail privatisation was a factor in this accident"
 real 28k

John Prescott
"Confusion from fragmented industry"
 real 28k

Louise Christian, solicitor
"There is a conflict of interest"
 real 28k

George Muir, Assoc of Train Operators
"Safety is the first priority"
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 18:48 GMT
Driver blamed for Southall crash

Seven people died in the crash and 139 were injured

The Southall rail crash, in which seven people died, was primarily caused by driver error compounded by faulty safety equipment, the official accident report has revealed.

The report, published on Thursday, fiercely criticised the train company involved, Great Western Trains, and made 93 recommendations including demands for better driver training.

It was welcomed by families of the victims, who urged Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to reconsider his recent decision to leave some safety controls in the hands of Railtrack.

There was no reason why [the driver] should have missed the signals.
Professor John Uff, report author
Solicitor Louise Christian, representing the families involved in both the Southall and Ladbroke Grove rail crashes said: "We do welcome the report, we think it is a very thorough well-written and thoughtful report.

"We believe this report drives a coach and horses through the idea that safety should remain with Railtrack."

The report revealed that another Great Western driver operating the train had repeatedly complained of a faulty in-cab automatic warning system (AWS).

Another safety system, Automatic Train Protection (ATP), was installed on the train but was not switched on because the driver Larry Harrison, was not trained to use it.

Train driver Larry Harrison Train driver Larry Harrison
The report said that even if the other driver's warnings had been heeded, lax safety and maintenance procedures would have permitted the train to run.

Seven people died and 139 were injured when the Great Western express from Swansea to London collided with an empty freight train crossing the tracks at Southall, west London, in September 1997.

The report also condemned Railtrack and Great Western for their management of a pilot project of Automatic Train Protection (ATP).

It detailed how Mr Harrison had been inattentive for a crucial 25 seconds, passing through two warning signals.

I made a mistake, a human error, which had terrible consequences.
Driver Larry Harrison
Had the faulty system been working properly Mr Harrison would have been warned of the danger.

The inquiry had heard how Mr Harrison was unable to account for his actions and speculated that he "might simply have dozed off".

Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, said those affected by the crash had "waited too long for this report they must not wait for action on its findings".

He said those cited in the report, and other train companies, would be given three weeks in which to detail how they would respond to recommendations.

Key recommendations
Great Western lines to use ATP
AWS to be regarded as vital
Trials of airline-style safety briefings
New safety authority should be set up
Railway Inspectorate to investigate serious accidents
Railtrack to make annual signal checks
Improvements to driver training
"They, and those who work on the railway, will be looking for every sort of action to make sure this does not happen again," he added.

Summarising the report, its author Professor John Uff highlighted the role of the driver and safety equipment in causing the crash.

He said: "There was no reason why he [Larry Harrison] should have missed the signals. However, inattention by the driver should have been prevented by two separate safety systems installed on the train."

The report, which runs to 226 pages, concludes that the primary cause of the accident was Mr Harrison's failure to respond to signals

'Human error'

Speaking after the report's publication, Mr Harrison, 53, said: "I would like to say once again to the bereaved families and passengers who were injured in the Southall train crash how sorry I am for what happened.

"If I knew then what I know now, I would never have taken the train out. I wish I could turn the clock back."

Mr Prescott defended his actions, and said: "I announced measures on Tuesday which build on steps I have already taken and address the sort of problems highlighted by Professor Uff.

"The Health and Safety Executive will be directly responsible for deciding whether train companies can operate safely. Every operator will be audited at least once a year.

"Operating standards will be set by a new company freed from any commercial pressures."

Dr Mike Mitchell, rail director of FirstGroup, which controls Great Western - the firm cited in the report - said his company had already made changes in the light of the accident, including the increased use of the Automatic Train Protection system.

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See also:
24 Feb 00 |  UK
Focus on Southall crash findings
24 Feb 00 |  UK
Main points of Southall report
24 Feb 00 |  UK
Crash report 'weak on safety'
27 Jul 99 |  UK
Southall: The crash that killed seven
24 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Prescott pledges safe railways
22 Feb 00 |  UK
Railtrack keeps safety role
21 Feb 00 |  UK
'Never again' say train crash families
11 Oct 99 |  London train crash
Analysis: Is profit to blame?

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