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UK rail companies must do more to stop SPADs

  : Friday, September 03, 1999
Railway companies in Britain are strongly criticised over the number of incidents involving trains passing red danger signals in a new report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The report by Dr Bob Smallwood, the deputy chief inspector of railways says that there are "significant weaknesses" in the way train companies handle the issue of signals passed at danger (SPAD).

The number of incidents of SPADs rose by 8% in 1998-99 from from 593 to 643. Although the rail industry has made considerable improvements according to Dr Smallwood, the report "reveals weaknesses in rail industry management systems that give rise to real concerns". Dr Smallwood wants the rail industry to improve their internal procedures and liaise more closely. In addition, the rail companies must reduce a backlog in internal investigations into SPAD incidents.

In July, Great Western Trains was fined a record £1.5 million over an accident at Southall, West London which killed 7 people. An Intercity 125 went through stop signals a collided with an empty freight train. A system which should have warned the driver of the error was inoperative. The government announced recently that a new safety system developed by Railtrack, Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) would be installed at vulnerable points on the network to help to reduce the incidence of SPADs. The cost of installing the equipment at lineside and on trains is estimated to be about £150 million.

SPADs have been blamed for four fatal train accidents in the last decade:

  • 1997, 19 September - Southall Seven passengers were killed and 147 people injured when a Great Western Trains Intercity 125 collided with an empty freight train which was crossing its path.
  • 1996, 8 August - Watford One passenger was killed and 69 injured when a passenger train collided with an empty train near Watford Junction station.
  • 1994, October - Cowden Two passengers and three rail employees were killed and 12 people injured in a head-on collision between two trains on a single line.
  • 1991, September - Newton Two trains collided at a junction killing their drivers and two passengers and injuring 22 others.

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