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November 4, 2011

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Grayrigg findings highlight need for public inquiry, says union

The RMT union has called for a public inquiry into the management and operations of Network Rail, following the conclusion today (4 November) of the inquest into the death of a woman in the Grayrigg train crash.
 
Margaret Masson, 84, died when an express train derailed on the West Coast Mail Line, near the Cumbrian village of Grayrigg, on 23 February 2007. All eight carriages of the train came off the track and careered down an embankment, leaving 88 people injured.
 
Releasing a final report into the incident in October 2008, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) made 29 safety recommendations – the majority of which related to a review of the design, inspection and maintenance of points. Staff fatigue was also considered to be an issue that needed to be addressed.
 
The report concluded that rail operator, Network Rail, had “an incomplete understanding of the design, maintenance and inspection” of stretcher bars used in points “due to the limited application of a risk-based assessment”.
 
The jury in the inquest into Mrs Masson’s death did not apportion any blame in delivering its verdict, but found that badly-maintained points had caused the train to derail.
 
The court had heard that just five days before the crash, an opportunity had been missed to check the points. A track supervisor for Network Rail at the time of the incident told the inquest he forgot to check the points, but had previously warned management that his team were under-staffed and overworked and that they needed more time to carry out the checks.
 
Following the hearing, RMT general secretary Bob Crow called for a public inquiry, saying there remains “systemic problems, which have failed to be addressed since this derailment”.
 
He added: “It is now crystal clear that too many political careers and financial incentives for senior management depended on meeting deadlines, regardless of safety considerations.”
 
Network Rail’s managing director of network operations, Robin Gisby, apologised to Mrs Massons’s family, adding that the company “quickly accepted that it was a fault with the infrastructure that caused the accident”.
 
He continued: “Since the derailment, Network Rail has worked closely with the authorities, conducted comprehensive and detailed investigations, and made substantial changes to its maintenance regime. Today, there is no safer form of travel than rail and it is important that the rail industry seeks ways to make it safer still.”
 
A spokesperson for the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said: “The ORR welcomes the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Margaret Masson following the train derailment at Grayrigg in 2007. ORR will now complete its investigation and will decide in accordance with prosecution protocol whether to bring criminal proceedings for health and safety offences.”

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