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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 20:41 GMT 21:41 UK

UK Politics

Rail bosses called to safety summit

John Prescott (left) will meet with rail executives and union leaders

Rail executives and union leaders have been summoned to meet the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to discuss immediate measures to improve safety on the UK's railways.

London Train Crash
Mr Prescott announced the move during a statement to MPs on the collision between two rush hour trains outside Paddington station in London earlier this month.

The BBC's Simon Montague: "The reopening of Paddington may seem like a return to normality on the railway"
The deputy prime minister, who has responsibility for transport, said 30 people had been killed in the disaster and 245 had been injured.

The HSE has said it is satisfied with proposals put forward by Railtrack for the re-opening of Paddington station at 2359 BST on Wednesday. Train services will resume on Thursday morning.

Signal 109, which was passed at red by one of the trains involved in the collision, has been taken out of use and other signalling arrangements have been adjusted.

[ image: The collision resulted in 30 deaths]
The collision resulted in 30 deaths
Public fears over rail safety have been further heightened by the collision between two trains at Lewes, East Sussex, on Monday night.

Mr Prescott said he had summoned the managing directors of all passenger and freight operators, the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, the rail regulator, Railtrack and the general secretaries of the rail unions to the meeting next Monday.

It would "thrash out any immediate and additional steps that can be taken to improve safety", he said.

The meeting would discuss in particular the results of reports by the HSE on cases of signals passed at danger and Railtrack's safety and standards directorate.

Mr Prescott's statement follows that made to the House of Lords by Transport Minister Lord Macdonald last week.

The deputy prime minister repeated that the government was minded to remove safety regulation from Railtrack but that "careful consideration" should be given to where those functions should be located.

He told MPs that the Paddington collision had to be "a watershed for railway safety".

He said: "We must make it so. We must emphasise to everyone concerned that safety comes first, second and third on Britain's railways."

But the deputy prime minister urged MPs not to "leap to hasty conclusions" about the cause of the Paddington disaster.

[ image: Paddington station has been closed since the crash]
Paddington station has been closed since the crash
He reminded them that he had established two inquiries to look into safety factors.

Shadow environment, transport and the regions secretary John Redwood also said it would be "dangerous" to make rash conclusions about the cause of the Paddington crash.

The opposition would support "any sensible measures" that could ensure such an accident was less likely to happen in future, he said.

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, said Railtrack "did not have the confidence of the travelling public".

Mr Salter, from whose constituency many of those injured in the crash came from, said people were angry that the disaster had occurred so soon after the 1997 Southall disaster on the same area of track.

Gwyneth Dunwoody, chair of the parliamentary committee covering transport matters, welcomed the promised removal of the safety regulation role from Railtrack.

She also suggested that a confidential hotline be set up so rail staff could tell investigators about the pressures they worked under.

Mr Prescott said that was one of the suggestions Monday's meeting would consider.

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