‘Sack NR chief’ call over level crossing deaths

05 November 2009

Train drivers’ union ASLEF is calling for the dismissal of Network Rail chief Iain Coucher after an enquiry yesterday revealed ‘gross incompetence’ which contributed to three deaths at the Halkirk level crossing in Caithness last month.


The initial enquiry at Inverness revealed that while Network Rail had decided two months previous to the incident that speed restrictions should be applied on the line, it had failed to erect notices advising train drivers of the decision.


An internal Network Rail risk assessment exercise two to three months before the deaths had proposed that trains should approach level crossings at Watten, Delny, Bunchrew and Halkirk at a maximum of 35 mph. However boards pointing this out to drivers were not delivered or erected by the time of the incident. The day after the deaths someone made the effort to courier them to the location.


Evidence shows that the driver approached the crossing at 47 mph, three mph slower than the line speed.


‘That 12 mph could have literally made all the difference in the world to the three people killed on the line that day,’ ASLEF’s Scotland officer Kevin Lindsay says.


‘Iain Coucher picks up a £200,000 bonus on top of his salary of more than £540,000. It is a slap in the face to the families of the dead, and shows total disregard for what the driver of the train has gone through. In view of this incompetence by his company, Mr Coucher should go. Or is no one prepared to take responsibility for this massive failure?’


Mr Lindsay also wants a thorough investigation into whether there are other parts of the railway where temporary speed restrictions should be in place, but there are no boards to advise train drivers of them.


Immediately after the Halkirk incident the union advised its drivers to approach all automatic open crossing at drastically reduced speeds of around 20 mph to protect the public and its members. According to the union’s general secretary Keith Norman the only response ASLEF has received is an intimation that it will be served an injunction to retract the advice.


‘It almost beggars belief that Network Rail should find the time, money and energy to take the union to court for offering responsible safety advice while it can’t make the effort to inform drivers of important safety decisions,’ Keith says.


A full enquiry into the incident will take place later in the year.

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