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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 19:51 GMT 20:51 UK
Contractor criticised before Hatfield
Hatfield rail crash
The Hatfield rail crash killed four people
The company responsible for inspecting the track involved in the Hatfield crash was heavily criticised for poor workmanship just two weeks before the incident.

Railtrack sent a letter to the contractor Balfour Beatty warning that it must improve its standards.

In a letter seen by the BBC, Railtrack described the company's work at Leeds railway station as "shoddy" and "appalling".

Four people died and more than 30 were injured in the crash at Hatfield on 17 October

The tragic event at Hatfield reminds us that in future, as in the past, there must be no higher priority than safety

John Prescott
A preliminary Health and Safety Executive report found that a broken rail was the "substantial" if not the only cause of the crash.

Railtrack's memo is scathing about the contractor's work.

It says one piece of track was so inexpertly replaced that every train passing over it was causing new damage.

The letter, which is accompanied by an internal memo, was sent by Railtrack's north east director.

It ends by asking Balfour Beatty not to bother apologising but to fix the problem and fix it quickly.

The complaints were about a major contract to rebuild tracks at Leeds station.

Connex warning

But Balfour Beatty was also in charge of track maintenance at Hatfield, 175 miles down the line.

Balfour Beatty does not deny being rebuked but says it has also received praise from Railtrack.

Earlier on Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he hoped the removal of train operator Connex's franchise would prompt a "clear sense of purpose" by the rail operators to improve services.

Mr Prescott promised to do whatever possible to improve rail safety in the wake of the Hatfield crash.

John Prescott
John Prescott : Extra funding is start of major overhaul
He told the House of Commons on Tuesday the rail industry was fragmented, short of leadership and suffering from decades of under-investment.

The extra 1.5bn now set to be invested in the system was the start of a major overhaul, he added.

"We all want a safe and well-performing railway," he said.

"But the tragic event at Hatfield reminds us that in future, as in the past, there must be no higher priority than safety."

Urgent action

Mr Prescott said the crash was likely to have been caused by a broken rail, an example of a much wider problem which had been a "continuing concern for some time" to ministers, the Health and Safety Executive and the rail regulator.

He said he had therefore asked the HSE "to look urgently" to see what action was needed on other parts of the rail network where broken rails may be a danger.

"I have agreed with the HSE that the investigation must look beyond the immediate causes of the crash, to any root causes, including structural and organisational factors which could have contributed to the accident."

Following criticism of management and performance, Connex lost the South Central franchise to Go-via, a company owned by the Go-Ahead group, which already runs the Thameslink and Thames Train services.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | UK
Connex's colourful years
24 Aug 00 | Business
Battle for train operator escalates
24 Oct 00 | UK
Connex loses rail franchise
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