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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
'We want Darling to get tough'
Train which crashed at Southall 1997
Southall survivor Carol Bell wants "strong" leadership

Train crash victims have said they hope new Transport Secretary Alistair Darling will "get tough" with the railways and the UK transport system as a whole.

Carol Bell, a survivor of the 1997 Southall rail crash, said she wanted Mr Darling to be a "lot stronger" than his predecessor.

"Stephen Byers just faffed around really," she told BBC News Online.

"I'd like him to be more effective, a lot stronger, and say to the companies: 'When I say I expect you to do something, you do it'."

Alistair Darling
Mr Darling: Regarded as a safe pair of hands
Alistair Darling
  • MP for Edinburgh Central since 1987
  • Work and Pensions Secretary 1998-2002
  • Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1996-97
  • A former solicitor and advocate, married with two children

  • Mr Darling should insist on no more delays to structural and safety changes to the railways, she said.

    "Timetables were put back and put back because Stephen Byers let them do it."

    Ms Bell said she would like Mr Darling to insist the European Train Control System was put on all trains long before the current reported deadline of 2015.

    And she would like him to lean on the Home Office to introduce legislation to make directors personally accountable for accidents caused by their company.

    But it was not just the railways which needed to be addressed urgently, she added - roads and buses also needed improvements.

    "The whole public transport system's just an absolute farce."

    Research required

    Louise Christian, a solicitor representing survivors and relatives of victims of the Paddington and Potters Bar crashes, wanted Mr Darling to do more long-term planning.

    "I want the government to rewrite the 10-year plan," she said. "There's not enough long-term financial planning.

    Louise Christian, solicitor for Potters Bar and Paddington crash survivors and relatives
    Louise Christian: Overcrowding as well as safety is a problem
    "We need... a research and development body for railways - a government body that can actually carry out itself the research and development needed.

    "Research and development is just not coming from the private sector - far from putting money in, they're actually draining it out."

    She wanted Mr Darling to speed towards the ultimate goal of a network of high-speed trains running on the computerised European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

    "This would allow higher capacity - apart from safety that's another big problem on the railways".

    Privatisation worries

    The system, already in use in many European countries, is currently timetabled for 2010 in the UK.

    Ms Christian was also concerned about the fractured nature of the rail industry following privatisation - she estimated 1,000 companies were involved.

    I want to see government assume more responsibility

    Louise Christian
    "My clients want a public inquiry to look into reintegration. "

    Like Ms Bell, Ms Christian wanted much tighter ministerial control of the railways.

    "I'd like to see Railtrack brought under government control, and I want to see government assume more responsibility."

    She said she would also like to see Mr Darling pay more attention to victims of rail crashes.

    "Transport Secretaries tend to assume these are people with nothing to say. That's not the case, they're really quite knowledgeable. He needs to listen very carefully to their concerns."

    Pressure on Mr Darling is also coming from environmental groups, with Friends of the Earth focusing on financial concerns.

    Director Charles Secrett said: "Mr Darling's political future will depend on whether he can persuade the chancellor and the prime minister to spend more government money on public transport, cycling and walking."

    The group also says the government should "never have abandoned" the principle of road traffic reduction targets.

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