A safety report on Britain's rail network shows some positive trends with many key areas continuing downwards.
Porvisional statistics for the year 1998-1999 show a decrease in the total number of accidents on Britain's railways. It is also the first time in 5 years that no passengers were killed in train accidents.
However, there remain a number of worrying areas. The Railway Safety Statistics Bulletin 1998/99, published by the Health & Safety Executive paints a "mixed picture, with some good trends and some not so good" according to the Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, Sir Frank Davies. Although there was a decrease in the number of accidents, there has been an increase in the number of significant train accidents - those which are potentially the most dangerous to passengers. There have also been increases in the incidence of trains passing red signals, broken rails and in violence to staff.
- Headline statistics from Railway Safety Statistics Bulletin 1998/99
no passengers were killed in train accidents (first time in five years)
total number of train accidents decreased by 7% - 1863 to 1728
significant train accidents increased from the record low of 89 to 104
people accidently killed decreased by 25% - 48 to 36
broken rails increased by 21% - 801 to 973
train drivers passing red signals inceased by 8% - 593 to 643
employees attacked by members of the public increased by 14% - 382 incidents
Passing red signals and broken rails are important safety indicators and are being taken seriously by the HSE. Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott recently announced announced that a new safety system is to be installed by 2003 which will prevent trains from passing red signals.
Broken rails have the potential to cause derailments. Recent HSE accident reports from Bexley (1997) and Burntisland (1997) underline poor maintenance procedures. Following HSE track inspections, Vic Coleman, HM Chief Inspector of Railways noted "many sections of track do not comply with Railtrack standards. We continue to press for action to be taken to deal with this". In a warning to Railtrack, the infrastructure provider, he added, "We will take enforcement action if necessary".
Railtrack said it was determined to "meet head on" the issue of broken rails and had set aside for it an extra £40 million over the next three years. It was also pointed out that it has been more than 20 years since an injury had been caused through a broken rail. The rail unions however say that the increase in broken rails are evidence of the deterioration in rail infrastructure since privatisation.
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