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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Rail inquiry report due on Friday
Train crash
Four people died in the Hatfield rail crash
Transport Minister Lord Macdonald has told the House of Lords that a preliminary report on the Hatfield rail crash would be published on Friday - but he added that the condition of the track appeared to be a "significant factor" in the derailment.

He said that the Health and Safety Executive would carry out an immediate formal investigation into the derailment but there would be no public inquiry.

I am sure you will agree that at this stage, and until we get the interim HSE report, it would not be right to make assumptions about the causes, which could turn out to be complex

Lord Macdonald
Instead the investigation would examine the "underlying issues" as well as the causes of the tragedy and any findings would be made available to Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove disaster, so that he could look at the implications for rail safety in the round.

He said: "Tuesday's tragic accident is a sombre reminder that in all we do - whether as government, regulator or industry - we must redouble our efforts to ensure that safety remains the highest priority."

Railtrack had acknowledged that the state of the track was "not good" and there had been a lot of speculation about the possible causes of the accident, he said.

Lord Macdonald reiterated Railtrack's preliminary view "that a broken rail caused the accident".

Safety remains highest priority

And he pledged that the government would redouble its efforts to ensure safety remained the highest priority.

Lord Macdonald acknowledged that it was a "matter of considerable concern" that there had been three rail crashes with multiple fatalities in just over three years.

He said: "However, I am sure you will agree that at this stage, and until we get the interim HSE report, it would not be right to make assumptions about the causes, which could turn out to be complex.

"Neither do I consider that it would be helpful at this early stage to speculate on any wider implications that this derailment may have for the rail industry."

The transport minister was joined by members of all sides of the Lords in expressing "deepest sympathy" for the families and friends of those killed or injured.

There were also words of praise for the emergency services and medical staff.

Railways becoming safer

The Tory's transport spokesman in the Lords, Lord Brabazon argued that the UK's railways were becoming safer and "no objective observer" would suggest that they were now more dangerous.

He said that suggestions that the complex structure of the railways, in the wake of privatisation had made rail travel less safe, should be rejected.

But to expressions of surprise from Labour peers, he added: "If it [privatisation] was wrong, we would be the first to join ministers in calls to change it."

Lord Macdonald blamed a "hiatus of investment" in the middle of the past decade for "much of the trouble of the railways in recent years".

He said as many as 700 broken rails existed during the days of British Rail.

"We felt a couple of years back that we were making significant progress here, but in the past two years, the number of broken rails identified had risen."

Lord Brabazon said he welcomed Lord Macdonald's announcement that there would be no public inquiry.

Instead he called for a special technical inquiry into track maintenance and metal fatigue.

He also demanded the creation of a permanent, independent rail accident investigation branch at the DETR.

And Lord Brabazon commended the Minister for supporting Gerald Corbett, chief executive of Railtrack, after he offered to resign.

He said: "We too support the decision of the Railtrack board to keep him on."

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