Socialist Worker

Rail crash firm given licence to sabotage truth

Issue No. 1801

MOST newspapers printed claims by rail privateer Jarvis that 'sabotage' was responsible for the Potters Bar crash. The Guardian ran the front page headline last weekend, 'Sabotage-Rail Firm's Crash Theory'.

The entire story was full of quotes from Jarvis's chief operating officer, Kevin Hyde, promoting his 'theory'. Not once were reports included from experts and rail maintenance workers on safety lapses since privatisation lying behind the crisis on the railways. Nor did it make the obvious point about the sabotage claim-Jarvis would say that, wouldn't it?

Its share price is falling through the floor, and it is desperate to avoid responsibility for Potters Bar, where it had the contract to maintain the track. Nor did the mainstream papers report the findings of the Engineer magazine about the most up to date points system containing electronic sensors that would have detected the problem at Potters Bar. This points system is in use at only about 50 sites in Britain.

British Transport Police were saying at the weekend that there was no evidence from CCTV cameras at Potters Bar that anyone had tampered with the track. Similar groundless stories about mysterious vandals came up at the time of the Southall crash.

As for claims that nuts never come loose on the railway, rail workers rubbished that last week. The Daily Mirror printed pictures on Monday of other rail tracks where nuts and bolts were missing. The facts point to a catalogue of safety lapses by Jarvis. The company has £4.4 billion worth of government contracts under PFI and privatisation schemes, and is set to take over part of London Underground.

On 4 March the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted Jarvis for 'unsafe practice during railway maintenance work'. The company was fined £7,000 after nearly running over several track workers with an engineering train driven without 'guidance or warning' on the West Coast main line.

HSE railway inspector Anthony Woodward said, 'The company's failure to manage arrangements properly led to people who were not competent being expected to do jobs they were not able to properly discharge.' After another accident in March 1999 Jarvis was fined £500,000. This was one of the largest HSE fines to date.

Jarvis 'failed to check the track before trains were allowed to run, exposing employees and passengers to risk of injury'. The HSE said the case was 'taken following two separate train derailments in March and August 1999'.

Despite this record Jarvis acted as 'technical adviser' to Network Rail, the company that transport secretary Stephen Byers wants to replace Railtrack. Privatisation is the real story of the Potters Bar train crash, not providing a public relations offensive for corporations to escape responsibility and blame.

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Article information

Sat 25 May 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1801
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