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Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, my noble friend makes a telling point. We shall be looking at all the practices throughout the network, and the breadth of the Cullen remit will ensure that that is so. I have no doubt that many take comfort from the traditional deployment of staff across British Rail. They may also feel that after a period of inevitable dislocation as people are brought together in new groupings it is timely to try to introduce a new culture of safety in the changed structures and re-create the reputation for solidity and good practice that our railways once had. I am not aware of the recent statement relating to the
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, first, we thank the Minister for the Statement and welcome him to his responsibilities. We also express deep sympathy with the bereaved and injured as a result of the accident and our great admiration for the heroic work of the emergency services.
I make three brief points, the first of which concerns the safety functions. I am sure that those should be transferred away from Railtrack. I hope that the Government will see fit to put those safety functions into the hands of the rail regulator who is an extremely competent person and stands in a properly independent relationship to Railtrack. Secondly, signal 109 has received a great deal of attention. Railtrack has been heavily criticised in the past week. I believe that some of that criticism is justified and some is misguided or exaggerated. It must be remembered that that signal was altered in March of this year in response to a request from the Health and Safety Executive. All of us will have seen newspaper photographs of the driver's eye view of that signal. One wonders whether the difficulty of sighting that signal is as great as has been maintained.
We should also pay tribute to Railtrack's signalling staff. What has not been mentioned this afternoon, and perhaps is not widely known, is that the signalman who monitored the stretch of track from the Slough signalling centre was instantly aware that the Thames train had passed the signal at red and took immediate action to do what he possibly could--in other words, to put the signal for the Great Western train to red--but alas it was too late and the accident happened. We need to pay tribute to the vigilance of Railtrack's signalling staff and many other staff who work extremely hard and with devoted correctness, often in very stressful circumstances.
Finally, driver morale is absolutely crucial. I am glad that the Government will consider that area. I welcome the Cullen and Davies inquiries. I hope that they will address that issue. Traditionally, the culture of safety on the railways has been paramount and the standard of professionalism among railway staff very high indeed. Has the increase in the number of signals passed at danger to do with the present management of the train operating companies, much of which has passed into the hands of people who are not professional railwaymen and may not understand that paramountcy of safety?
What steps are taken to investigate every signal passed at danger? What is the state of mind of a driver who can pass two warning signals and a signal at red? Is it a lack of professionalism? Is it in most cases to do with some private crisis or anxiety, boredom or familiarity? We know that in very busy areas drivers repeatedly cancel the warning sign because they run against warning signals again and again.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises some fundamental issues. When we consider the safety functions of Railtrack--we have asked an independent team to audit them very quickly--we shall bear in mind some of the questions he has asked about where they might best be relocated. However, the office of the rail regulator is a non-ministerial government department. It is independent. But while the regulator clearly has an important role to play in ensuring that standards are maintained before he grants an operator's licence or any licence exemptions, we do not believe that it would be right to involve the regulator more deeply in the processes of rail safety.
The sighting of the signalling has been a recurring question. Railtrack says that it has tried to address it. I know that the Railway Inspectorate has also brought pressure to bear, not just here but in other areas, to ensure that signalling sighting committees are set up and address those questions as quickly as possible. If any casualness has crept into that regime, the events of last week should ensure that it is driven out as quickly as possible.
I pay tribute to the staff, in particular those at Slough, who tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to stop the accident they saw happening before them on their screens. I am sure that there are as many dedicated, hardworking people on the railways as there ever were. If their morale has been affected by the transitions of recent years, let us hope that by working together inside the industry, creating that co-operative culture of safety and ensuring from all sides of the House and politics that we support the creation of that culture of safety which tries to remove or reduce the adversarial elements which may still be too prevalent we can improve the morale not just of the drivers but of other employees. If the management of the train operating companies needed any reminding of the importance of the duties that it performs, clearly that message has been sent out in the past week. When we consider the regime, people must realise that when lights say caution" they mean caution and are not to be overridden easily.
I did not answer an earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, about the resources available to the Railway Inspectorate. I know that it has five teams, with three people in each, working up and down the country as well as supporting staff. I was in discussion with it only this morning. It did not suggest to me that it was under-resourced. But if that were the case, I would hope that it would bring the problem forward so that we can ensure that it is addressed.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I have not had registered officially with me from any quarter any formal request for seat belts in trains. I have seen the matter referred to. However, again it is the kind of issue that I am sure will be covered in Lord Cullen's public inquiry.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is aware that there is a question mark against the efficiency of TPWS with high speed trains travelling at over 70 miles per hour. Therefore is Sir David Davies' remit wide enough not only to examine TPWS and ATP but also to consider the next generation of digital radio control signalling, ETCS, which might provide a safer system?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, Sir David Davies' remit is to examine all systems and not just ATP and TPWS. The information available is that TPWS would have coped with about two-thirds of the reported signals passed at danger incidents--as I said earlier, up to 85 per cent with properly trained drivers. Whether the system would work at over 70 miles per hour is as yet unclear. It has been suggested by barristers, I think at the inquiry at Southall, that it would not have worked. The technical advice is that in some circumstances with the equipment properly placed it might have worked. These are the uncertainties which I hope that Sir David Davies will clarify.
Lord Methuen: My Lords, the issue is of particular significance to me. I was a railway signal engineer and I am still a member of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, the professional body to which most of these people belong. I know that they will be deeply distressed by what has happened at Paddington.
The industry has a long history of taking note of what happens in these accidents, and of improving their system as a result of the inquiries which have followed, and of working closely with the Railway Inspectorate. I hope, therefore, that an independent Railway Inspectorate will result. I hope that the consideration of criminal proceedings will not delay the inquiry.
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