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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Rail safety inspectors 'overworked'
Paddington train crash
The inquiry was told that inspectors had too many tasks
Railway inspectors missed safety concerns before the Paddington train crash because they were overworked, an inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Thirty-one people were killed on 5 October, 1999, when a Thames train went through a red light and collided with a London-bound Great Western train at Ladbroke Grove, west London.

Chief Inspector of Railways Vic Coleman said his staff had to juggle many jobs and were unaware of problems with the signal blamed for the accident.

Our inspectors have to juggle a large number of jobs

Vic Coleman
The inquiry heard that drivers found Signal 109 difficult to see at certain times of the day and were confused by the general lay-out of signals in that vicinity.

Mr Coleman said inspectors were overstretched and had to work 30% more than their contracted hours.

"I do not think any of our people were aware of the problems and concerns of the signalling in the area," he said.

"If those things were known or even suspected by our inspectors I'm sure that on the basis of their training they would have taken more steps.

"Our inspectors have to juggle a large number of jobs. We had, perhaps, spread ourselves too thin. There were too many balls in the air.

Benefit of hindsight

"With the benefit of hindsight it is quite clear we should have been concentrating on a number of things."

He told the inquiry that lessons had been learned.

"We relied very heavily on the industry managing its own affairs," he said.

"We need to be doing a much more intrusive job, take less on trust and follow things up more extensively."

Jennifer Bacon, director general of the Health and Safety Executive, which runs the railway inspectorate, told the inquiry she had identified three problems with the service before the Paddington disaster.

Lack of resources

The first was a lack of resources, a situation she said it still found itself in.

Miss Bacon also said that there had been a "lack of vigour" on the inspectorate's part.

A third factor involved too much trust being placed in the privatised rail industry.

"There have been occasional examples that have come to light that look distinctly like `wool pulling' by the industry," she said.

Safety inspectors were "better informed" in the days of British Rail, she added.

Miss Bacon said a recruitment drive was under way to attract more staff to take the strain off the existing 69 inspectors.

The inquiry was adjourned until Monday

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