Hatfield shows Rail Safety is lost in Bureaucratic Treacle says Union Chief

30 June 2005

Keith Norman, acting General Secretary of train driver’s union ASLEF, said today that the Old Bailey trial over the Hatfield rail disaster shows clearly that ever since rail privatisation, no one has taken responsibility for rail safety.

“Whenever there is an accident on our railways, three things happen: managers disappear into the distance, politicians wash their hands and lawyers book their next holiday in the Caribbean,” says ASLEF acting General Secretary Keith Norman. 

Keith was speaking beforethe union’s activities at Euston Station on 7 March to mark International Rail Safety Day. 

Keith says that the enquiry into the Hatfield de-railment sums up the appalling situation. 

Sir Philip Beck, non-executive chairman of the Railtrack Group between 1999 and 2001, says it wasn’t his company’s fault. They were, he says, “faced with inadequate resources and other problems following privatisation.”

Defence lawyer Nigel Sweeney suggests it was the government’s fault in the way it privatised the industry. “The government compulsorily outsourced engineering work to contractors who were given responsibility for maintenance and renewals and the specification and inspection of their own work without interference from Railtrack.”

Defence barrister Jonathan Goldberg also blames the government, but on a different basis. He accuses them of failing to invest. He says, “The British government wanted a Japanese railway but they were not prepared to invest Japanese-style money."

Prosecuting QC Richard Lissack blames management for failing to order speed restrictions which would have mitigated or reduced danger. 
Ronald Thwaites QC blames Balfour Beatty’s director of engineering Kenneth Mee for ‘faking faking ignorance about rail defects’ saying he must have known more about problems than he told either the police or the Old Bailey jury.

Mr Mee says it wasn’t his fault. He blames ‘subordinates’ for failing to provide specialised engineering know-how.

Richard Lissack QC also blames ‘railway workers’ because, he says, they had not implemented safety warnings about cracked rails after a broken rail was found in a separate incident a year earlier. He blames the lack of “a competent track engineer”.

The managers in the dock blame the orders they were given from above. They were only carrying out orders, they say.

“All this mass of accusation and counter accusation serves one useful purpose,” says Keith Norman. “It clearly shows that action needs to be taken to bring the UK’s railways back under a single authority. The alternative is playing politics with the safety of every passenger who travels on British rail.”

Keith was calling for maximum support for the 7 March activities in London, including speeches from senior figures in the rail industry at 1300 in Euston Square Gardens.

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