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May 13, 2011

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Rail operator hit with £3m fine over Potters Bar crash

Network Rail has been fined £3 million at St Albans Crown Court today (13 May), just over nine years since the fatal train derailment at Potters Bar.

The company, which succeeded Railtrack, the privately-owned company responsible for the rail infrastructure at the time of the incident, was sentenced after pleading guilty to a charge under s3(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was also ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

Network Rail admitted a charge, relating to the period 31 March 2001 to 11 May 2002, of failing to ensure the safety of those not in its employment by neglecting to provide and implement suitable and sufficient training, standards, procedures, and guidance for the installation, maintenance and inspection of shallow-depth adjustable stretcher bar points. The bars keep the moveable section of track at the correct width for the train’s wheels.

The incident, in which a train derailed at Potters Bar station, in Hertfordshire, on 10 May 2002, resulted in the deaths of seven people, with many more seriously injured.

Commenting after the sentencing, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “This week marks the ninth anniversary of the terrible, tragic event at Potters Bar. We recognise for many that the sorrow remains, and we should all pause and reflect as we remember those who lost their lives.”

The spokesperson emphasised, however, that “private contractors are no longer in control of the day-to-day maintenance of the nation’s rail infrastructure”, and added: “Today, the railways are safer than they have ever been, yet our task remains to build on that record and always to learn any lessons we can to make it ever safer for passengers and those who work on the railway.”

Agreeing that safety on the nation’s railways has improved significantly in the last decade, Ian Prosser, director of rail safety at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), nevertheless warned “there can be no room for complacency”.

He said: “As long as the regulator continues to have to step in to enforce improvements, or bring prosecutions where things have gone wrong – as we have done many times this year – then, despite progress, it is clear that the industry has significant work still to do.”

Maintenance contractor Jarvis Rail Limited had also originally faced a charge under s3(1) of the HSWA, resulting from its own failure to provide and implement suitable and sufficient training, standards, procedures and guidance for the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars. However, in March, the ORR said it would not proceed with the prosecution of the firm, which is currently in administration as it felt a prosecution was no longer in the public interest – despite there being sufficient evidence for a conviction.

The RMT union is furious that the directors of Railtrack and Jarvis were not held personally liable for the disaster.

General secretary Bob Crow said: “Instead of coming out of the pockets of those actually responsible, this £3 million fine will come out of precious, public Network Rail funds that could – and should – have been invested in improving and maintaining safety on our railways. That is an appalling indictment of the way that this whole episode has been handled.”

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, expressed doubts that justice had been done, and fears that an impending report into rail will jeopardise rail safety further by making the case for privatisation in the industry.

Its general secretary, Keith Norman, said: “We fear that the McNulty report to the Government, which is due out next week, will. . . put safety back into the profit arena.”

An inquest held last year into the deaths at Potters Bar returned seven verdicts of accidental death.

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13 years ago

The real tragedy is the time which it has taken to bring a prosecution – about 9 years! In the lapsed time Jarvis have gone into insolvency and Railtrack have been taken over by NWR. I fail to see how the prosecution was in the public interest, especially now that NWR are a public organisation. In truth, £3 million is small change for an organisation like NWR, even so, what a waste of public money – the prosection and fine.

13 years ago

What a tragic/unfortunate loss of live in the name of profit for Jarvis who would have been found guilty of gross dereliction of duty & wholly & solely responsible for that tragic event instead of hiding behind the law there to protect big business “Insolvency” whilst front line Network Rail workers will probably loose their jobs when NR impose massive and far reaching cuts to try and recuperate the fines that should have gone to Jarvis, 3 million in fines is a lot of lost jobs !!!