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November 10, 2010

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Charges brought following Potters Bar inquest

Network Rail Infrastructure Limited and maintenance contractor Jarvis Rail Limited are to be prosecuted in the new year for alleged breaches of health and safety law in relation to the Potters Bar derailment in May 2002.

The inquest in July concluded with the jury’s verdict that the train crash at Potters Bar station in Hertfordshire eight years ago resulted from a points failure caused by their unsafe condition. Various factors were identified as contributing to the derailment – which resulted in seven people being killed and many more seriously injured – including failures of inspection and/or maintenance of the points.

In October, the Crown Prosecution Service informed the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) that it had decided that there was no realistic prospect of conviction for an offence of gross negligence manslaughter against any individual or corporation involved in the incident.

However, after considering the inquest evidence, along with the findings from its own investigation into the incident, the ORR announced today (10 November) that it has initiated criminal proceedings against the rail operator and its maintenance contractor.

Network Rail, which took over control of the rail network infrastructure from Railtrack plc in October 2002, faces a charge under section 3(1) of the HSWA 1974, which results from its failure to provide and implement suitable and sufficient training, standards, procedures and guidance for the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars.

The bars keep the moveable section of track at the correct width for the train’s wheels.

Jarvis Rail, which went into administration in March this year, is facing prosecution under the same charge, resulting from the same failure, as maintenance contractor for the Potters Bar area of the network.

Director of rail safety at the ORR, Ian Prosser, said: “I have decided there is enough evidence, and it is in the public interest, to prosecute Network Rail and Jarvis Rail for serious health and safety breaches. For the sake of the families involved, we will do all we can to ensure the prosecutions proceed as quickly as possible.

“The railway today is as safe as it has ever been, but there can be no room for complacency. Where failings are found, those at fault must be held to account – and the entire rail industry must continue to strive for improvements to ensure that public safety is never put at a similar risk again.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Network Rail said: “The railway today is almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002. Private contractors are no longer in control of the day-to-day maintenance of the nation’s rail infrastructure since Network Rail took this entire operation, involving some 15,000 people, in-house in 2004.”

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, welcomed the ORR’s announcement, which he described as “a clear warning to those currently responsible for rail maintenance, and the Government, in this climate of cuts to transport budgets, that anyone caught playing fast and loose with rail safety can expect to feel the full force of the law”.

The first hearing is scheduled to take place at Watford Magistrates’ Court on 7 January.

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