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Prescott takes safety regulation away from Railtrack

DETR   : Tuesday February 22, 2000
The responsibility for deciding whether train companies are safe to operate is to be stripped from Railtrack and given to the Health and Safety
Executive, following Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's decision to accept the recommendations of a high-powered rail safety reviewMr Prescott told the House of Commons today that the review had confirmed fears of a potential conflict of interest within Railtrack's Safety and Standards Directorate (SSD).

The work was put in place after concerns about Railtrack's role in authorising Train Operating Companies' safety regimes were raised by the Environment Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee, and in a Health and Safety Commission report.

The review also recommended taking SSD out of all involvement in Railtrack's operational management and separating the remaining industry-wide work undertaken by SSD into a separate company.

The new company will have independent and rail industry Board representatives. In addition, the Chief Executive will be appointed by the Board of the subsidiary, not Railtrack, and his/her remuneration will be linked to safety, not commercial success.

Commenting on the results of the Review, Mr Prescott told MPs: "I am satisfied that these carefully considered measures will quickly address the problems I outlined to the House in October last year. They should be seen as a further major step towards improving railway safety - not the end of the line. But they will ensure that safety is the highest priority.

"I have gone as far as I can within existing legislation, and have met the commitments I made in October. Lord Cullen's Public Inquiry into the Paddington crash will be far-reaching and will look thoroughly at safety management and safety culture. The measures announced today will not pre-empt Lord Cullen and we are prepared to go further if that is what he recommends.

"As operators of the rail network, Railtrack - like any other company - must carry ultimate responsibility for operating their network safely. But it is now quite clear that their commercial relationship with train operators does not sit easily with their responsibilities for the safety regulation of those same operators.

"These changes will improve accountability and public confidence in the safety of our railways."

The Deputy Prime Minister also welcomed a review of train protection systems produced by the eminent engineer, Sir David Davies.

The Review recommends that the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) should be installed across the network as soon as possible. TPWS should be upgraded to an enhanced version, known as TPWS+, which will extend protection from 75mph to 100mph with Automatic Train Protection (ATP) fitted to all high speed lines as they are upgraded.

Mr Prescott concluded:

"This report will be of considerable assistance to Lord Cullen as he investigates the horrific Ladbroke Grove accident and brings forward recommendations for delivering a safer railway. It will also inform the forthcoming joint hearing on train protection by Lord Cullen and Professor Uff in the summer.

"Sir David's report is an extremely thorough piece of work and puts clearly in focus exactly what is possible in terms of ATP - now and in the future. I am grateful to him and his team for bringing forward their report in such a short period of time."

Mr Prescott also revealed that since November, the average number of signals passed at danger (SPADs) has dropped by around a third when compared with the same period last year. He unveiled an even bigger reduction in SPADs for January from 56 in January 1999 to 36 in January 2000.

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Railtrack - Safety & Standards Directorate

Health & Safety Executive

Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions

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This file last updated: Tuesday, 22-Feb-2000 20:21:25 EST
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