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The BBC's Tom Heap reports
"The signallers had been working 12 hour shifts for seven consecutive days"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Alarm delay in Paddington crash
Paddington crash
Thirty-one people died in the Paddington rail crash
The duty signaller at the time of the Paddington rail crash wept as he told an inquiry how he did nothing for up to 25 seconds after watching one train pass a red light.

David Allen watched his computer screen in horror as the Thames Trains service travelled on a collision course with the First Great Western express.

But he admitted there was a "short period of time" before he took any action, as he expected the Thames Turbo driver to stop.
David Allen
Signaller David Allen arriving at the inquiry

He then changed a signal to red in a desperate attempt to halt the express, while colleague James Hillman sent the other train an emergency stop alert.

I was expecting the driver to come on the phone and say he had passed a signal at danger

Signaller David Allen
An independent report into the crash presented to the inquiry said Mr Allen's reaction time was not "unreasonable".

Mr Stephen Powles QC, counsel for Railtrack, said that the opinion of the Health and Safety Laboratory report was shared by Mr Allen's employers.

Mr Powles said Railtrack thought Mr Allen has done his "best in difficult circumstances".

Thirty-one people died when the London-bound express collided with the Thames Turbo from Paddington on October 5 last year.

Mr Allen was the signal support and electrical control room operator at Railtrack's area control room in Slough, Berkshire, at the time.

He said he had been glancing at working sheets when an alarm sounded, indicating Thames train 1K20 had passed signal 109 near Ladbroke Grove at danger.

Delayed reaction

"There was a short period of time when I was expecting the driver to come on the phone and say he had passed a signal at danger.

"It was only when it progressed over a junction that I knew that not only did we have a SPAD (Signal Passed At Danger), but that we had a train running away, and dealt with that accordingly.

"The emergency stop alarm was sent and I just carried on doing what I could to try to prevent the collision."

Paddington aftermath
Rescuers overcame many obstacles to get to the victims

Counsel to the inquiry Robert Owen QC said crash data showed the Great Western train signal changed between 20 and 25 seconds after the Thames train passed SN109.

Mr Allen - a signaller for 11 years - said it was impossible for him to remember exactly.

He admitted that his initial claims that he changed the signal "immediately" and called the Thames train driver himself were mistaken, saying he had been in "a deep, shocked state".

Long hours

Mr Allen said he had been working seven days of 12-hour shifts, the maximum amount of overtime, so other staff could attend the Southall accident inquiry.

Describing his job as "quite intensive", he knew there had been eight SPADs at SN109, although he had not handled any himself.

He denied a suggestion by the families' counsel John Hendy QC that he only took emergency measures after the crash.

Mr Hendy said seven seconds elapsed between the Thames train passing the signal and entering the same stretch of track as the express.

Mr Allen said he was unable to stop the train after that point because it had "gone to the point of no return".

He added that in 99.9% of SPADs the driver would "always come up fine within a very short time".

But rail safety regulations require signallers to ensure trains stop immediately by any available means in such cases, the inquiry heard.

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