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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Railtrack 'ignored safety proposals'
Paddington rail crash
Thirty-one people died in the Paddington rail crash
Railtrack bosses ignored suggestions to improve safety on the approaches to Paddington Station for almost five years, an inquiry into the rail disaster has heard.

Railtrack's signalling engineer Colin Bray recommended a number of safety improvements as early as 1995, but his suggestions were constantly deferred or delayed, the inquiry was told.

He was finally given six months to implement the measures, which included making some tracks one-way only, in September last year.

But the decision came too late to prevent the disaster one month later, in which 31 people died and 227 were injured when a Thames train passed a red light and collided with a Great Western express.

The inquiry heard that the route in and out of Paddington station was "complicated, confusing and unique".

Visibility problems

Mr Bray's plans to change the track layout were intended to reduce the number of trains passing signals at danger in the area.

Rescue workers were appalled at the carnage they found

The busy area of track around Paddington was a notorious hotspot before the accident, and Railtrack knew trains often passed red signals approaching and leaving the station, the inquiry heard.

In particular, there were many complaints before the crash about visibility problems with signal 109, the light passed by the Thames Train before the head-on collision.

Mr Bray told the inquiry he found the situation "incredible and frankly embarrassing".

He was first prompted to come up with a so-called flank protection scheme in 1995 following a serious accident.

His plan involved preventing two approaching trains from colliding by directing one to a parallel track - but company chiefs chose not to adopt the idea, he said.

Draconian measures

The inquiry heard that his signalling risk assessment got no further than pennies being placed on a map, after plans for computer-generated alternatives failed to work.

Mr Robert Owen QC, council to the inquiry, asked why Mr Bray's ideas were not adopted at the time but were now being seriously considered by Railtrack.

"It looks as if you are moving at your Railtrack pace towards flank protection on this part of the line," he said.

Heavy lifting equipment had to be brought in to clear the track

"So if a risk assessment had been carried out at the time you may have arrived at the same conclusion pre-crash."

Family and friends of victims jeered when Mr Bray said a decision about the signalling proposals would probably not be made before the inquiry ended.

The inquiry heard that Mr Bray wrote to Matthew Spencer, Railtrack's Great Western zone signal engineer, following other serious incidents in February and July 1998.

After analysing cases of signals passed at danger (SPADs) in the Paddington area Mr Bray wrote: "I consider that it is our duty to try to reduce the number of SPADs now and that some radical changes may be necessary.

"I suggest that we take action now of our own choosing before others impose their own, possibly more Draconian, measures."

Railtrack said Mr Bray's proposal to make the two middle lines at Paddington one-way only was unworkable if existing train service patterns were to be maintained.

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