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Newsnight debate
Railtrack Chief Gerald Corbett and Virgin Trains Chief Chris Green
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The BBC's David Shukman
"Leaders of the rail industry said safety would be the absolute priority"
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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Railtrack chief urges safety first
Hatfield crash site
Search is expected to be completed on Thursday
Railtrack's chief executive says safety must be the top priority for rail companies in the wake of Tuesday's Hatfield train crash, which left four dead and 35 hurt.

Gerald Corbett called an emergency summit meeting of train operators and maintenance contractors on Thursday to discuss the way ahead for Britain's rail network.

He said the safety of passengers must now take precedent over all other concerns, including running trains to time and keeping down costs.


To deliver on the huge safety programme, some radical things have got to be done

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett
"To deliver on the huge safety programme, some radical things have got to be done. We're still dealing with 150 years of under investment," warned Mr Corbett.

As the meeting was getting under way, news came of another train derailment - this time outside Stafford station in the Midlands.

A Virgin train travelling from Birmingham New Street to Manchester Piccadilly came off the track while travelling at low speed and there were no casualties.

Railtrack has now disclosed 81 spots on Britain's railways where the track featured "similar characteristics" to the one suspected of causing the Hatfield rail disaster. It has imposed speed restrictions on those stretches which will effect train punctuality.


The railways were privatised in order to maximise the revenue for the Treasury - not to cope with growth or deliver safety

Railtrack's chief executive, Gerald Corbett
But following the meeting at Railtrack headquarters in central London Mr Corbett said the three main priorities for Railtrack and the train operators had to be "safety, maintenance and investment".

He admitted the industry had failed on a number of fronts and had to do better.

But he added: "It is not true to say that the industry does not care passionately about safety - it does," he said.

Earlier Railtrack's board announced they would not accept Mr Corbett's resignation.

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett
Gerald Corbett: "Personally distraught"
He had offered to step down "as a matter of principle" on Wednesday, saying he was "distraught that another tragedy has occurred on our railways".

Railtrack said the emergency board meeting on Wednesday unanimously decided to refuse the resignation offer, saying he was best qualified to deal with the implications of the crash.

Mr Corbett said: "I was overwhelmed by the support I got from the industry, the survivors from Ladbroke Grove and everybody."

Railtrack has offered its "deepest sympathies to the bereaved and injured".

Police have named the people killed in the Hatfield crash as Steve Arthur, 46, from Pease Pottage, West Sussex, Peter Monkhouse, 50, of Headingley, Leeds, Leslie Gray, 43, of Tuxford, Nottingham, and Robert James Alcorn, 37, of Auckland, New Zealand.

Increasing pressure

The government has promised to redouble its efforts to make railway safety a top priority in response to increasing pressure to act following the crash.

The Transport Minister, Lord Macdonald, has told the House of Lords that the Health and Safety Executive will issue a preliminary report on the derailment on Friday.

Flowers laid by Railtrack staff
Railtrack have offered their 'deepest sympathies' to victims' families

Railtrack says a broken rail was the most likely cause of the crash and that the condition of the rail was "wholly unacceptable".

It had known since January the track involved in the crash was "not good" and had been due to be replaced.

Railtrack regional director Nick Pollard said: "We thought the steps taken at the time [at Hatfield] were adequate and obviously they weren't."

The chief executive of train operator Great North Eastern Railway, Christopher Garnett, has apologised to passengers for delays caused by safety work.

He said: "A massive inspection is going on of the state of the track around the country and that does not mean passengers will get a pretty interrupted service.

"Hatfield has told us we must not take risks."

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Rail inquiry report due on Friday
19 Oct 00 | UK
Pilots among Hatfield dead
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