A Conversation for British Trains

Rail accidents

Post 1


"Trains are late more often, delays have become more frequent and accidents more common."

Trains are more often delayed, and explanations sometimes hard to come by or clearly misleading or irrelevant (and sometimes intent on blaming somebody else). Privatisation has not developed the reliability improvements that were occurring under BR.

But, I don't think you can say that accidents are more common. The nationalised railway (and the private railways before that suffered accidents). The trend has and is more or less the same over the years.

What you can say is that the four major accidents since privatisation are unlikely to have occurred in the nationalised railway.

Southall (HST overran signals and collided with freight train) - BR usually did not run trains single manned at 125 mph with the AWS inoperative. BR were developing an automatic system for preventing signal overrun (ATP), but that was abandoned by the train operator and Railtrack following arguments about paying for development. Either is likely to have prevented the accident.

Paddington (local train leaving Paddington overran signal and collided with incoming HST) - the signal sighting had been criticised and a number of meetings to discuss improvements had taken place over months before the accident. It is difficult to accept that BR would not have acted more quickly on the signal sighting problem. There were also queries about the standard of training of the local train driver (killed in the accident) - he had a shorter period of training than under BR, and had apparently, never worked a train through the particular line under an adverse signal.

Hatfield (rail fracture) - the site had been identified as problematic for over a year, and ineffective efforts made to repair it. Track inspections were from the cess, from where the inspectors could not even see the rail. Railtrack (then responsible for infrastructure) had decided on a policy of repair only when needed, rather than on the time-based replacement program used by BR. Difficult to accept that BR would not have either got around to replacing the offending track section, or have introduced speed limits before the accident.

Potters Bar (rear part of train derailed on defective point blades) - still the subject of inquiry, and the contractor (Jarvis) suggested that there had been some sort of interference with recent work on site. The argument seems to have been abandoned, and it is likely that poor maintenance was responsible. That could well have occurred under BR, although it seems less likely that experienced permanent way staff would have made the mistakes that appear to have been made here by the contractors (although that assumes that their work was not sabotaged).

The fifth major accident - Great Heck (road vehicle left road and ran down embankment into the path of a train) is the responsibility of the road vehicle driver and would have occurred irrespective of privatisation.

So, while you can say that the four accidents probably would not have occurred in that nationalised railway, what you cannot say is that others may not have, and that some of the less publicised other accidents may not have led to injuries or loss of life, and would have occurred in any event.

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Rail accidents

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