Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Byers Calls for Maintenance Shake-Up as Crash Line Opens

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Byers Calls for Maintenance Shake-Up as Crash Line Opens

Article excerpt

By Mark Benham, Dick Murray and Laura Birkin TRANSPORT Secretary Stephen Byers today called for a "fundamental change" in the way rail maintenance is managed amid growing controversy over the cause of the Potters Bar train crash.

Mr Byers told the national conference of train drivers' union Aslef such a change was "vital" for the industry's future. His comments will further encourage critics convinced faulty maintenance must have played a part in the derailment at Potters Bar 10 days ago, in which seven died and 76 were injured. The track at the site was back in service today.

But he fell short of demands from the rail unions for all maintenance to be taken back in-house by Railtrack. The company's chief executive John Armitt had ruled this out even though a few days before the crash he said he had become deeply worried over the use of casual, unqualified labour.

Mr Byers, who arrived a few minutes late at the conference in Scarborough because of a late-running train, told delegates that when awarding contracts, it was "safety that has to be paramount, not the lowest price". He added: "Change is essential and a new relationship is vital. I say that because of concerns over the relationship between contractors and subcontractor."

He said Network Rail, the likely successor to Railtrack, recognised change was needed, and would put the public and the industry ahead of shareholders.

To warm applause, Mr Byers defended his decision to place Railtrack in administration.

Aslef president Martin Samways praised Mr Byers for attending but said the jury would be out on him unless he scrapped the controversial part-privatisation of the Tube, a subject the minister avoided in his speech.

Unions warn the role of private contractors in the PPP will duplicate safety failures on the national rail system.

The Transport Secretary refused to comment today on claims by contractor Jarvis Rail, responsible for maintaining the track at Potters Bar, that saboteurs with specialist knowledge of the industry could have caused the derailment. The firm claims points at the centre of the probe into the crash of the WAGN train from King's Cross, at near 100mph, could have been deliberately damaged. …

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