It's a Shambles and a Miracle Disasters like Potters Bar Don't Happen More Often; EXCLUSIVE: RAILTRACK BOSS REVEALS THE TRUE STATE OF OUR NATIONAL NETWORK.(News)

Sunday Mirror (London, England), May 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

It's a Shambles and a Miracle Disasters like Potters Bar Don't Happen More Often; EXCLUSIVE: RAILTRACK BOSS REVEALS THE TRUE STATE OF OUR NATIONAL NETWORK.(News)


Byline: DAN EVANS and DOMINIC TURNBULL

THE terrifying state of Britain's railways is exposed today in a dossier that will shock every train passenger.

A senior Railtrack executive, who asked not to be named, felt compelled to contact the Sunday Mirror after seven people died in the Potters Bar tragedy.

He reveals how:

-FIVE-HUNDRED rail passengers narrowly escaped death when a 100mph Inter-City train left the tracks after a rail disintegrated - the same cause as the Hatfield tragedy. The incident, which has never been publicised, sent shockwaves through the industry but failed to prevent the Hatfield disaster.

-INCOMPETENT engineers wired up a signal system back-to-front - sending a train in the wrong direction.

-RAILTRACK has just two vital pounds 1million grinding machines to cover 20,000 miles of track - while another hi-tech machine is still not in use eight months after being bought.

-THE company is so desperate for decent staff that it is trying to poach soldiers from the Royal Engineers with big cash bonuses.

The Railtrack source said: "I am amazed there aren't more tragedies on the railways. Every day there are dozens of incidents that could lead to the loss of life.

"Railtrack is replacing track all the time but there are still broken rails throughout the system."

He claimed that in spring 1997 an eight-carriage Virgin Express train travelling south on the West Coast mainline jumped over a shattered section of track at 100mph near Kilsby Tunnel, Rugby.

Miraculously no one was injured and a major disaster was averted when a middle carriage bounced back on to the track.

Investigators found that the cause of the derailment was a disintegrated section of track.

Railtrack, Virgin Trains and contractors Carillion, who were working in that area, say they have no records of a train jumping the track. Railtrack said work inside Kilsby Tunnel was carried out when a patrolman discovered a hairline fracture in a track.

But the Railtrack whistleblower said: "It certainly did happen. The rail was so badly damaged that it had just shattered. If the train had not righted itself then many people could have died.

"It was only reported between Railtrack and the engineers GTRM, now known as Carillion, Railtrack's contractors in that area. The passengers who were on the train that day do not know how lucky they were."

After the incident, Railtrack officials launched an inquiry. The rail boss added: "It was panic stations. The whole stretch of track had to be inspected."

On the track-maintenance crisis, our source said: "The grinding machines are the fastest way to repair cracked rails. But at the moment we are struggling with just two machines. We actually need at least 15 to cope with the backlog."

Railtrack recently bought a pounds 1million Loram grinding machine from the US. Despite receiving the equipment eight months ago, it is still being tested at Derby.

Our source also lifted the lid on Railtrack's staffing nightmare, saying it is short of 200 highly-skilled engineers.

The Sunday Mirror has learnt that Railtrack has begun "headhunting" Royal Engineers to sort out the mess. Bosses are offering top salaries and big bonuses compared with Army pay.

But the Railtrack manager told how greedy train-operating companies are putting profits before safety. "The safest way to proceed would be to shut the network completely at certain times," he said. "But because the operators insist the trains keep running on lucrative freight routes speed restrictions are brought in - giving us only a limited time to carry out vital repairs.

"The public will not like it if we shut down sections of track, but at least people would not die."

It has also emerged that contractors for a division of Fastline, later bought by Jarvis, were involved in a potentially deadly signal mix-up similar to Potters Bar in 1997. …

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