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EDITIONS
Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 16:22 GMT
Delay for rail safety system
Paddington rail crash
Deaths at Southall and Paddington totalled 38
A deadline for the introduction of a new safety system for high speed trains has been rejected by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.

An inquiry into the Paddington rail crash said the system should be in place by the end of the decade.

The HSC's advice to government sets a sensible framework in which this can take place

SRA spokesman
Instead Mr Darling agreed with rail safety officials that a date of 2010 for the new European system - which stops trains going past red signals - is "not viable".

The Cullen inquiry was set-up after a total of 38 people perished in the late nineties during two separate head-on crashes - at Paddington and at Southall.

Lord Cullen recommended the new train control system should be fitted on all high speed lines.

At the time, the government gave "a categorical assurance" that the measure would be delivered within ten years.

But ministers have now accepted advice from the Health & Safety Commission [HSC], that the so-called European Rail Traffic Management System won't be available in sufficiently advanced form until well into the next decade.

Red signals

The level two version is currently working on just one line in Switzerland.

In the meantime work continues on another safety system - the train protection and warning system (TPWS) - which stops trains from passing red signals.

That system only works if trains are travelling at below 70mph.

HSC chairman Bill Callaghan acknowledged, in a letter to Mr Darling, that there was currently a "low level of technology that currently helps drivers avoid signals being passed at danger".

But the Cullen timetable for the new safety system - known as ERTMS - was "not viable".

High speed need

"However the Commission also believes it important that there is a clear and credible path to the installation of ERTMS at a future date," he said.

"ERTMS would be essential if train speeds above 125 mph are contemplated."

Mr Darling said in the light of the HSC's recommendations he had "asked the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to develop a single programme for ERTMS development".

And SRA spokesman said: "The HSC's advice to government sets a sensible framework in which this can take place."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Plans to carry passengers at 140mph have been derailed"
Peter Robinson, West Coast Rail 250
"The West Coast route is already 20 years behind the rest of the network"

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