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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Rail bosses 'warned' about Potters Bar
Engineer working at Potters Bar crash scene
Work is continuing to clear the crash scene
Rail bosses were warned weeks ago about problems near the points thought to be responsible for the Potters Bar rail crash, say unions.

An employee raised his concerns in a letter to bosses three weeks before the fatal accident, said Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union.

And an anxious commuter wrote a letter to Railtrack and the Health and Safety Executive in March, raising similar fears.

Railtrack has admitted carrying out repairs to faulty track at Potters Bar last year, but insists it could not have caused last Friday's crash.

I don't think this is a one-off and I think the entire industry needs to be looked at regarding sub-contraction

Bob Crowe, RMT Union
Unions have rejected claims by Stephen Byers and Railtrack that the crash was a "one-off", and say tracks are not being inspected often enough to prevent accidents.

The RMT also wants an end to Railtrack's policy of employing sub-contractors to carry out maintenance work.

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers is to make a statement about the Potters Bar crash to the House of Commons on Monday.

Meanwhile, engineers are making the final preparations to remove the carriage wedged under the platform canopies.

Once the carriage has been dragged clear by crane, Health and Safety inspectors will begin a thorough search.

'White knuckle' ride

Mr Crow said an RMT member had written a letter to managers saying that the track was not in a fit state.

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

  • He said: "No response was made to him. He is now speaking to British Transport Police explaining what he said."

    Commuter Kevin O'Neill, who travels daily from Peterborough to London, complained his daily journey had become a "white knuckle" ride and "a derailment waiting to happen".

    He said: "There are several places along the line where the train bucks and sways and makes it almost impossible sometimes to read your paper.

    "I have done it myself and seen other passengers blanche sometimes at the jolting and careering around this set up."

    The HSE told BBC News Online that Mr O'Neill's comments had been due to be raised at a routine meeting with Railtrack in June.

    Lack of inspectors

    Mr Crow said it was "scandalous" to call the Potters Bar crash an isolated incident.

    Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast News, he said: "I don't think this is a one-off and I think the entire industry needs to be looked at regarding sub-contraction.

    A set of points similar to those being investigated
    The inquiry is focused on a set of points
    "What we have seen is track inspections being done once a week, when they should be done every single day in my opinion. "

    He added there were not enough track inspectors employed to cover such vast areas of the network.

    His comments came as it was revealed recommendations made by Paddington crash inquiry chairman Lord Cullen about the need for tighter controls on contractors, have still not been implemented.

    An interim report into Friday's accident, in which seven people died and more than 70 were injured, is expected to be published later this week.

    Investigators are continuing the painstaking operation - including forensic tests - to find out exactly what caused the accident.

    Experts believe the most likely cause is the failure of a set of points.


    The dislodging of vital bolts is being blamed, possibly caused by one or more holding nuts coming loose due to vandalism, sabotage or poor maintenance.

    The derailment happened as the train passed over the points mechanism.

    Railtrack said cracks were found in the rails near Potters Bar, which were repaired last autumn and the track was given a clean bill of health in March.

    Jarvis, the company responsible for inspecting the track, insists the points were checked the day before the crash.

    Railtrack has also confirmed two other assessments were carried out within the past month.

    Mr Byers said it was too early to call a public inquiry into the crash.

    Nationwide checks

    Railtrack has confirmed the crash prompted a nationwide points system check.

    Mr Armitt said 400 sets of points had been inspected across the whole network but nothing similar to the problem discovered at Potters Bar had been found.

    He said the points passed a safety inspection only the day before and that there had been a thorough investigation at the beginning of May and a further inspection a few weeks prior to this.

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

    The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
    "The important questions remain unanswered"
    The BBC's Helen Simms
    "There are growing calls to renationalise the rail industry"
    Bob Crowe, RMT Union
    "The entire industry needs to be looked at"
    Regular commuter on the line, Kevin O'Neill
    "There are places along the track where the train really jolts and vibrates"

    Key stories





    See also:

    13 May 02 | UK Politics
    12 May 02 | England
    10 May 02 | England
    11 May 02 | England
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