Rail safety plan is put on hold

15 August 2005

A state-of-the-art train safety system promised by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, after the Ladbroke Grove accident in 1999 is to be put on hold by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).


The system, known as the European Rail Traffic Management System, automatically stops trains that go past danger signals no matter what speed they are travelling. Because it allows trains to run more closely together, it also means more trains can run on lines which are already at saturation point. Costing £3.6bn, it is projected to save nearly 400 lives over 40 years.


But the SRA is expected to announce that work on the system will not begin until at least 2010, despite Mr Prescott"s pledge that "no expense would be spared" to implement it. The technology was recommended after the 1988 Clapham disaster and by the Cullen inquiry into the Southall (1997) and Ladbroke Grove crashes. Network Rail is installing the more primitive Train Protection and Warning System, which stops trains going through red signals, but not at more than 70mph.


The SRA"s decision follows statements by its chairman, Richard Bowker, scaling back expansion. His updated strategic plan, expected in the next few weeks, is likely to curtail investment and postpone new projects, including planned electrification for commuter lines in the South-east.


Louise Christian, a solicitor who has acted for rail crash victims, said: "When we get another fatal crash caused by a train going through a red light, everyone will say why wasn"t the Cullen recommendation implemented."


Meanwhile, a report published today reveals that some train fares on inter-city journeys have doubled since the rail network was privatised. The rises are revealed in a study by campaign group Transport 2000 as rail companies put up their fares today.


The cost of a standard single from London to Manchester on Richard Branson"s Virgin trains goes up to £98.50 today while a return now costs £175. In 1995, immediately prior to privatisation, the fare was £50 for a single and £96 return. Inflation for that period is around 20 per cent.


But this is not the experience across Europe. A single from Paris to Strasbourg - 40 miles further than the distance between Manchester and London - is EUR37.20 (£24).


Rail companies said they offer lower fares than were available eight years ago - off-peak travel is cheaper in some cases and regulated fares have seen only modest increases. Campaigners said some reduced-fare tickets have been scrapped and the replacement is more restricted.

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