Socialist Worker

Rail safety still at risk, says Potters Bar coroner

Issue No. 2213

The jury at the inquest into the 2002 Potters Bar rail crash inquest last week found that unsafe points outside the Hertfordshire station were to blame for the incident in which seven people died.

The judgement is a damning indictment of the privatisation and fragmentation of the railways.

The coroner, Michael Findlay Baker QC, warned that there was a continued risk to passengers’ safety across the network.

He said he would now compile a report under powers that apply in cases where the evidence raises concern that “circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will continue to exist, and in the coroner’s opinion action should be taken”.

The official rail regulator said that it would reopen the investigation into whether criminal proceedings could be brought in relation to the crash.

The inquest jury ruled that there were failures of inspection and/or maintenance of the points outside Potters Bar station, which led to the crash. Poor training and inadequate testing equipment were also to blame.

Jarvis, the private contractor then responsible for maintaining the rails, originally claimed that sabotage of the points was responsible for the accident.

Liability

Health and Safety Executive reports identified poor maintenance as the key issue. Jarvis later admitted joint liability for the crash with Network Rail.

Jarvis went bust earlier this year, leaving hundreds of workers with wages unpaid and without jobs.

The Railtrack consortium of private firms, which was in charge of the railways, was replaced by Network Rail in 2002.

This raises questions about who could be prosecuted for the accident. The coroner also criticised the amount of time the families of the victims had to wait until the inquest as “indefensible”.

The New Labour government rejected demands for a full public inquiry in 2005.

Families and the unions demanded an improvement in safety following the inquest verdict.

The RMT union has said that it will ballot all its members on the railways unless it receives safety assurances.

Network Rail claims that the “railways are safer than they have ever been”. But it is slashing thousands of maintenance jobs, which raises crucial questions about safety.

Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said, “This tragic loss of life at Potters Bar could have been avoided if safety rather than profits had been the priority on our railways back in May 2002.

“Basic failures of inspection and of maintenance, driven by the greed and fragmentation of rail privatisation, led us to Potters Bar.

Lethal

“Those responsible for creating that lethal culture – the politicians and their business associates – will never share the pain of the victims of their gross mismanagement.

“They have escaped prosecution for their role in this avoidable disaster.

“The cuts to maintenance and renewals being imposed on our railways today are dragging us back to the same poisonous cocktail of conditions that led to Potters Bar.

“RMT demands an end to the axing of rail jobs, and an end to the shelving of maintenance and renewals work, before we have another disaster on our hands.”


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Article information

News
Tue 3 Aug 2010, 18:18 BST
Issue No. 2213
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