RAIL PASSENGERS RUNNING SAME RISK say Ladbroke Grove survivors – six years on


On 5 October 1999, 31 people died and 259 were injured in a terrible train crash that took place at Ladbroke Grove, just outside Paddington station, west London.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the crash the Paddington Survivors Group launched a rail safety week from last Sunday 2nd to Thursday 6th October.

The week culminates with the group taking a petition, collected at the group’s stall on Paddington station all week, to 10 Downing Street tomorrow.

Paddington Survivors Group spokeswoman Pam Warren said at the beginning of the week: ‘The purpose of the rail safety week is to bring back into the public arena the idea that a year on from what happened at Ladbroke Grove, nothing has changed.

‘They are still running the same risks today as we ran on 5 October 1999.’

RMT rail union issued a statement on Tuesday also stressing ‘lessons have still not been learned from Ladbroke Grove disaster’.

It read: ‘Six years after 31 lives were lost in the Ladbroke Grove rail disaster, Britain’s biggest rail union says that key rail-safety lessons are still being ignored – and that safety and profit do not mix.

‘On the eve of the anniversary of the 1999 crash, RMT has renewed its call for Automatic Train Protection, the retention of independent safety regulation and the enactment of a corporate manslaughter law.’

‘Automatic Train Protection was promised after the Clapham disaster in 1988, yet in 2005 we are still no nearer getting it,’ RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

Crow added: ‘ATP would have prevented the Ladbroke Grove crash and saved 31 lives – but Thames Trains had decided not to install it on grounds of cost.

‘After Ladbroke Grove, Lord Cullen said that regulation of rail safety should be put in independent hands to avoid it being “captured” by vested commercial interests.

‘Yet the government is throwing that into reverse and handing responsibility back to an industry still dominated by private sector interests motivated by cutting costs and maximising profits rather than improving safety.

‘A host of other recommendations from Cullen have either been shelved or watered down.

‘Where is the central driver and signaller licensing system and joint training scheme?

‘What has happened to the statutory duty to comply with railway group standards?

‘Where is the commitment to ensure that unions play a significant role in safety management?

‘At Ladbroke Grove the guard played a crucial role, recognised by Cullen – yet those duties had just been removed from the rule-book and we are still fighting constant attempts by the privateers to downgrade the guard’s safety role.’

Crow concluded: ‘RMT will continue to campaign for robust and independent regulation of safety – and a corporate manslaughter law that holds to account bosses whose negligence results in unnecessary deaths.’

Drivers’ union ASLEF condemned the Crown prosecutors’ decision to drop remaining health and safety breach charges against Railtrack and Balfour Beatty managers, on trial over the Hatfield rail crash in 2000 which cost four lives.

ASLEF General Secretary Keith Norman said: ‘Maintaining and replacing the railway infrastructure is not rocket science.

‘In some ways it is an even more complicated operation. It involves many thousands of highly skilled people.

‘It requires big revenue flows. Upon the efficient conduct of its business depends the lives and safety of millions of passengers and thousands of railway workers.

‘A big part of the economy and many, many jobs rest on its effective management.

‘It is for these commonsense reasons rather than any questions of ideology that the rail unions, the whole trade union movement, the Labour Party (if not ministers), public opinion in its overwhelming majority and most probably the angels in heaven believe that such an enterprise should be publicly owned.

‘But Railtrack, lest we forget, was a privately owned business and, as such, its executives seem, as the disturbing abandonment of the manslaughter charges reveal, beyond the reach of the law.

‘Its shareholders perhaps saw themselves as buccaneering captains of private enterprise boldly taking risks, pledging their capital in a precarious commercial environment.

‘In reality, it was a privately owned business that was locked into a network of highly profitable arrangements with infrastructure and construction firms.

‘The first response of Railtrack’s managers to their business crisis was not to go to their shareholders for a cash injection but to solicit and get a massive public subsidy.

‘Their second was to dish out £137 million in dividends to precisely these shareholders. Some risk.

‘In the final reckoning shareholders were compensated with 240p a share while the public picked up the bill for reconstituting their failed business as Network Rail.

‘You have to admire the sheer brass neck of these people who now are seeking to blame Stephen Byers, the former transport minister, for the collapse of the business.

‘ASLEF didn’t always find itself in agreement with him but we are clear that on this issue he acted with prudence and foresight and in the public interest.

‘The case for rail public ownership is confirmed both by his actions and by the contrasting irresponsibility and amorality of these litigants.’