Union leader calls for massive investment in Rail Safety

30 June 2005

Keith Norman, the acting General Secretary of train driver’s union ASLEF, called today for massive investment in the most important aspect of rail travel – its safety.

He wants to see technology used to allow drivers to ‘see’ obstructions on the line through cab computer screens, and insists on the need for a ‘massive and on-going’ public awareness campaign about interfering with any part of the track.

“The technology exists to enable transponders to be placed on rails that can ‘read’ an obstruction on the track,” Keith said. “It is in use in the USA, and its introduction is vital if we are to avoid future unnecessary rail disasters. Accidents of the type that killed one of our members this year when a car was parked on an unmanned level crossing can be made a thing of the past. It is criminal irresponsibility to ignore available technology.”

He pointed out that last year the number of prosecutions linked to rail safety doubled, and total fines for rail firms exceeded half a million pounds for the first time. 

“ASLEF doesn’t want to be the accusing party after the next preventable rail accident,” he insists. “We don’t want the accident.”

Keith said that rail accidents that attract publicity don’t –mercifully- happen all that often - but the number of ‘near misses’ is a genuine cause for alarm. 

According to industry figures, every single day 80 trains in the UK collide with something on the track. “There are 3,400 reported collisions of trains with objects on the line every year,” Keith says – and one of the main causes is vandalism. On Monday this week on a branch line between Falmouth and Penryn a concrete block was dropped from a bridge onto a train, hospitalising the driver. 

“We need a massive public awareness campaign to educate people into exactly what they are doing if they interfere with rail lines. These actions might start as a moment of irresponsibility – but they can end up as mass murderers.”

Keith remains critical of overall safety on the UK’s railways. “The Old Bailey trial over the Hatfield rail disaster shows clearly that ever since rail privatisation, no one has taken responsibility for rail safety,” he says. “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.” 

Keith was speaking ahead of the rail union’s Rail Safety Day, Monday 7 March. ASLEF members will be leafleting at Euston Station, asking the public to sign their Rail Safety Charter and listening to an array of speakers at 1300, including union leaders, industry spokespeople and Nina Bowden, the author widowed in the Hatfield rail disaster.

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