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Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK
Paddington progress report

What has happened in the year since the crash at Ladbroke Grove in which 31 people died? The BBC's transport correspondent Simon Montague has answers to some of the key questions:

What improvements have there been to rail safety in the past year?

  • The tracks approaching Paddington now have lower speed limits, and more safety restrictions.
  • On the orders of the Health and Safety Executive, Railtrack's taking measures to reduce the danger risk at all signals with a recent history of being passed at danger. The number of trains passing signals at danger continues to come down, although there were still more than 500 so called SPAD incidents in 1999/2000.
  • Railtrack has brought forward the deadline for installing the Train Protection and Warning System by one year, to the end of 2002.
  • A Confidential Incident Reporting System has been introduced, so the 70,000 people who work in the rail industry can report safety concerns in confidence.
  • Railtrack's creating an independent company called Railway Safety, which will take over the main functions of Railtrack's Safety & Standard Directorate, including setting rail industry safety standards, and auditing the safety cases of the train operators.

    The Paddington Survivors Group, and Safety on Trains Action Group (representing victims of both the Southall and Ladbroke Grove accidents), both want Automatic Train Protection instead of the Train Protection and Warning System currently being installed by the rail industry. How likely is it that ATP will be introduced on a wider scale?

    The rail industry has said it will fit TPWS to the entire network by the end of 2002, and to all trains by the end of 2003. TPWS removes about 70% of the risk of trains going past red signals, but it does not protect trains doing more than 70mph.

    ATP is a more expensive system designed to stop all "red signal" accidents. So far it exists only on Great Western, Chiltern and Heathrow Express services. A European version will be fitted as part of the West Coast Main Line modernisation, and on the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It will also be introduced on the East Coast and Great Western main lines, as and when they are upgraded.

    There are no plans to fit other lines; Railtrack says fitting the entire network could take 30 years. TPWS would probably have prevented the Ladbroke Grove crash, but it would not have stopped the Southall accident. Victims of the two accidents believe the rail industry will be reluctant to fit ATP, if it is allowed to install the cheaper TPWS first.

    No-one has been prosecuted for the crash - are they likely to be?
    The Attorney General promised that any person who gave evidence to the public inquiry would not have it used against them in criminal proceedings. The Health and Safety Executive has yet to decide whether to bring any charges. Railtrack appears to be the only company or person that might face legal action, over the management of incidents of "signals passed at danger" in the Paddington area, prior to the crash.

    Any charges against a railway company would probably be brought under the Health & Safety at Work Act, under which the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine.

    What happened to the trains involved in the crash?
    All three carriages of the Thames Train, along with the front four coaches and locomotive of the First Great Western train, were taken to a rail depot in Crewe for investigation. They are eventually likely to be scrapped.

    The rear four coaches of the Great Western train remain out of passenger service. They'll be used for an emergency evacuation exercise later this month. No decision has been made about their long-term future. Two of these coaches were also involved in the Southall crash, two years earlier. The rear locomotive has been returned to service.

    What happened to the infamous signal SN 109?
    Signal SN 109 remains out of use, though it is still in place. It is an unusual reverse L-shape, that had been passed at danger seven times in five years before the crash. The track beneath SN 109 is no longer used for trains leaving Paddington, only for trains going into the station.

    What investigations and inquiries are underway, and when will they report?
    The Health and Safety Executive has published three interim reports into the crash, which identified the primary cause and raised issues for further investigation. Lord Cullen has completed part one of the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry, which examined the crash itself and the findings of the HSE's investigations.

    Lord Cullen and Professor John Uff are now holding the Southall and Ladbroke Grove Joint Inquiry, looking into the future of train protection systems, and measures to prevent trains passing signals at danger.

    Lord Cullen will open Part 2 of the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry in late October, considering selected accidents since the Clapham crash in 1988, and making recommendations for improving rail safety.

    A combined report for Parts 1 and 2, and a separate report for the Joint Inquiry, are both expected to be published next year.

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