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Wednesday, October 6, 1999 Published at 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK

UK Politics

Prescott urged to act on rail safety

John Prescott will have to answer safety questions

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Transport Secretary John Prescott is facing new pressure to take action on rail safety in the wake of the west London crash.

Transport groups claim the deputy prime minister has failed to meet promises he made after the Southall disaster two years ago.

London Train Crash
When he launched the inquiry into Southall, Mr Prescott pledged to take action to remedy the problems which caused the accident.

But two years later, with the inquiry into that accident only just started, it is claimed that Mr Prescott and his ministers have done nothing.

And many people are pointing back to the 1988 Clapham disaster, claiming that safety measures identified after that tragedy have not been put into practice because they are too expensive.

Ducked issues

The Transport Secretary at the time of Clapham, Cecil Parkinson, insisted measures would be taken to ensure such a disaster could never happen again. But many believe ministers ducked the real issues.

The Clapham inquiry recommended that the automatic train protection (ATP) system should be installed in all trains.

But its £750m cost was seen as too high and would make privatisation of the rail network more difficult.

The Southall crash saw renewed demands for the safety system to be installed, but they have also been dismissed.

Mr Prescott is now being pressured to take tough action and order the rail companies to install the system, whatever the cost.

Critics claim that, despite the repeated warnings that accidents such as the one at Ladbroke Grove were inevitable, commercial interests have over-ridden safety concerns.

Too expensive

The latest disaster also comes at a time when the government is attempting to persuade travellers to abandon their cars and take public transport instead.

But many commuters already believe the transport network is too expensive and unreliable, and the issue of safety has now been added to their list of concerns.

Mr Prescott has a formidable task ahead of him to dispel those concerns and to make public transport attractive to commuters.

And he will be under intense pressure to pre-empt the inquiry into the crash and order the rail companies to install safety measures, whatever the cost.

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