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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Points 'failed' in fatal train crash
Scene of Potters Bar crash
Investigators have been combing the crash scene
A points failure caused the Potters Bar rail crash that killed seven people, Railtrack has confirmed.

As the train passed over the points they moved, throwing it off the track, chief executive John Armitt said.

Investigators have discovered that the nuts holding the set of points in place had become detached.

Mr Armitt said the focus of the investigation would now be to find out why this had happened, and vowed he "would not rest" until this had been achieved.

This has been a terrible accident and one for which the industry is truly sorry

John Armitt, Railtrack

Police say they cannot rule out vandalism, but experts also say the bolts could have been weakened by passing trains.

A maintenance failure could also be to blame, and for that reason Railtrack ordered a nationwide inspection of points around the network.

But out of more than 400 checks, no similar problems have come to light.

Extensive check

Mr Armitt said the set of points that caused the crash had been "visually inspected" just a day before the accident and nothing unusual had been reported.

They had also been the subject of a usual, more extensive check, on 1 May.

"This has been a terrible accident and one for which the industry is truly sorry," Mr Armitt said.

Potters Bar rail crash
The rear carriage flipped across two platforms
Potters Bar crash
  • Seven people died
  • Two are still critically injured
  • Investigation teams are combing the scene

  • "We are unclear why nuts which were an integral part of the points were detached, and the investigation will look into this with great detail.

    "We will not rest until we have exhausted the investigation."

    He accepted there may be questions as to whether people had "taken their eye off the ball" given the recent problems in the rail industry.

    But he added that in the six months he had been with Railtrack, he had "seen nothing but a determination and absolute commitment to running a safe railway".

    "This accident is a savage blow to us all," he said.

    The section of the track under investigation will be removed and taken to a special laboratory in Sheffield where it will be examined closely for any clues as to how the nuts had become detached.

    The accident happened just before 1300 BST on Friday when the rear carriage of a WAGN train derailed and flipped across two platforms before wedging under the canopy of the Hertfordshire station's roof.

    A crane is being built overnight on Saturday to move the carriage, but police warn this could take at least 48 hours.

    While recovery and investigation work continues at the station, trains are being diverted via Hertford.


    Earlier in the day, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers visited the site and moved to reassure the public that rail travel was "still one of the safest forms of transport".

    He said everything was being done "to get to the bottom of the tragedy".

    "It's very difficult in a situation like this to say that the network is safe but if you compare the network to other forms of travel it is one of the safest forms."

    Railtrack Chief Executive John Armitt
    Railtrack boss John Armitt: The crash was a "savage blow"
    Police have confirmed that the former head of the BBC World Service, Austen Kark, was among the seven killed in the disaster.

    Eighty-year-old Agnes Quinlivan - a great-grandmother of two and grandmother of eight from Potters Bar - has also been named as being among the dead.

    Officers have confirmed the names of four others but are still trying to identify the seventh victim who they say is a foreign woman.

    Two people remain in a critical condition in hospital.

    Floral tributes

    A team of 40 British Transport Police officers - many veterans of previous rail crashes - have been helping with the search and looking for personal belongings of passengers.

    Also on Saturday, Prince Charles visited survivors of the crash in Barnet General Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield.

    The train was the 1245 WAGN service from King's Cross, London, to King's Lynn in Norfolk, and was not due to stop at Potters Bar.

    The crash site remains sealed off but two families of the bereaved have visited privately to lay flowers on the track.

    A man, thought to be a survivor, arrived at the scene on Saturday night.

    In his 30s, the man had severe scratches to the right side of his face and his right arm was in plaster.

    Emergency information phone number: 0845 944 1551. For national rail inquiries call 08457 48 49 50.

    The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
    "The points had failed"
    The BBC's Tom Symonds
    "The big question is 'why were the bolts missing?'"
    Railtrack's chief executive, John Armitt
    "This accident is a very savage blow to all of us"
    ATOC's George Muir
    "This is really dreadful"

    Key stories





    See also:

    11 May 02 | England
    10 May 02 | England
    11 May 02 | England
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