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The BBC's Tom Symonds
"From now on Railtrack is promising a partnership"
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Newsnight debate
Railtrack Chief Gerald Corbett and Virgin Trains Chief Chris Green
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Friday, 20 October, 2000, 05:47 GMT 06:47 UK
Rail boss urges radical reform
Derailed rush-hour passenger train near Stafford
Speed restrictions have been imposed to avoid more accidents
Railtrack is urging the government to consider "radical" reforms to Britain's rail industry, following the Hatfield train crash in which four people died.

Chief Executive Gerald Corbett says there must be a major modernisation of the rail network - involving the public and private sector.

The Health and Safety Executive is due to release the first findings of its investigation on Friday morning, but the accident is thought to have been caused by damaged rails.

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

Railtrack's Chief Executive, Gerald Corbett

Mr Corbett has put some of the blame for problems in the rail industry on privatisation - and said a "massive challenge" lay ahead.

He told BBC 2's Newsnight "The railway was ripped apart at privatisation and the structure that was put in place was a structure designed, if we are honest, to maximise the proceeds to the Treasury.

Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett
Gerald Corbett: Radical rethink needed

"It was not a structure designed to optimise safety, optimise investment or, indeed, cope with the huge increase in the number of passengers the railway has seen."

He said that any future reforms would have to be done to be done in partnership with the government.

"The reality is that we have made progress in the last couple of years, but not enough."

Tuseday's disaster at Hatfield, in which four people died and 35 were hurt, was the third major rail crash in three years.

Together with train operators, Railtrack has agreed that the focus for the immediate future must be "safety, maintenance and investment".

But it warned there will be a price to pay, with major disuption to passengers as emergency engineering work is carried out.

Travel chaos

Railtrack is already increasing its rail replacement programmes and has imposed speed restrictions at 81 sites across the country where the track features "similar characteristics" to the Hatfield stretch.

Hatfield has told us we must not take risks

GNER chief executive Christopher Garnett

As a result, thousands of commuters face travel chaos on Friday with delays of up to 55 minutes on trains heading north from London.

The company has admitted warning its maintenance company, Balfour Beatty, seven months' ago that there was a major derailment risk in the Hatfield area.

Rail passengers
Rail passengers can expect long delays

The third rail crash in as many years may have rocked the country's confidence in the industry but Mr Corbett insisted rail travel was still safe.

"There will be two million people on the railways tomorrow and there will be 20,000 trains and the railway is safe," he said.

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

No risks

"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," he said.

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

Train operators and maintenance contractors who met attended Thursday's emergency meeting to discuss the way ahead for Britain's rail network will return to the table next Wednesday.

In the meantime an investigation has been launched into how a rush-hour passenger train derailed near Stafford on Thursday.

The Virgin cross-country service - between Birmingham and Manchester - came off the tracks at low speed. Some of the 80 passengers suffered minor injuries.

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