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EDITIONS
Monday, 13 May, 2002, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Inquiry demand over rail crash
The crash scene at Potters Bar
Stephen Byers has inspected the crash scene
Pressure is growing for a public inquiry into the Potters Bar rail crash, as Transport Secretary Stephen Byers promised an interim report "within the next few days".

Mr Byers confirmed to MPs that a faulty set of points appeared to have caused Friday's train crash in which seven people died.

The bolts at the centre of the inquiry
The points are the focus of the investigation
During a House of Commons statement Mr Byers said 800 other points across the UK had been checked and no problems found.

Conservative transport spokesman Theresa May called for a full public inquiry into the crash, if it was revealed as anything other than a freak accident.

As well as the seven dead, 40 people were injured, with several still in hospital on Monday afternoon - two on the critical list.

Engineers at the scene of the Hertfordshire crash are still preparing to move the carriage which remains wedged under the roof of the train station.

Poor weather has hampered the operation to drag it by crane until it rights itself, ahead of an inspection.

It will then be lifted clear but the operation is now not expected to begin until at least Tuesday.

Passengers on the east coast mainline have been warned to expect travel delays for a further week or so.

Forensic tests

Mr Byers said everything possible would be done to establish the cause of the accident.

Experts are increasingly speculating that poor maintenance, poorly qualified staff or inadequate checks were at the root of the crash, rather than the initial theory of deliberate sabotage.

"In this tragic incident lives have been lost and we must not forget those who survive but who will be mentally and physically scarred for the rest of their lives," said Mr Byers.

The fourth carriage lying on its side
The fourth carriage of the train remains wedged under the station canopy
"That is why it is vital that we discover not just what happened at Potters Bar but how it happened."

Nuts from the points, and part of the points themselves, are being forensically tested at the HSE laboratory to establish why the points failed.

Mr Byers's statement came amid claims that a rail worker warned management about problems with the track at Potters Bar three weeks before the crash.

The worker, who did not want to be named, said on Monday afternoon he had written down his concerns in a book for reporting faults.

He said: "There is water retention under the track that has not been fixed for two to three years.

'Seized with rust'

"The ballast is sucked up like a pump and this has made the track very unstable, causing the train to lurch from side to side.

"This is about 200 yards before the accident. I believe this could have started the train rolling.

"I also believe there were some loose ballast on the check rail which guides the train into the points, and some bolts were seized with rust."

Jarvis, the firm which is contracted to carry out track maintenance at the area, said two inspections had been carried out, one on 1 May and one on 8 May, by full-time, fully-qualified employees, and not found a problem.

However, an unnamed caller to BBC News 24 said the problem may have resulted from nuts being screwed in incorrectly.

He believed there were many more cases happening nationwide because standards were slipping and workers were inexperienced.

Safety standards

British Transport Police appealed for the man to come forward.

RMT leader Mr Crow said he believed the accident was not a "one-off", but a symptom of poor maintenance on the UK's railways, and a lax safety regime.

Mr Crow argued safety standards were not high enough because of a lack of track inspectors and because too many casual workers were being used to maintain tracks.

Labour MP George Stevenson, a member of the Commons transport select committee, said ministers should take back the entire rail infrastructure into public control.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The important questions remain unanswered"
The BBC's Helen Simms
"There are growing calls to renationalise the rail industry"
Regular commuter on the line, Kevin O'Neill
"There are places along the track where the train really jolts and vibrates"
Transport Minister John Spellar
"The investigation is working through the evidence at the moment"

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13 May 02 | Business
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