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Paddington Crash

These bulletins are from 1999. See also BBC coverage.

Let's Talk

FT.comAnother crash in England has prompted the British transport minister to call a meeting with Railway executives, regulators and trade union leaders to talk about it. Two Connex trains crashed on Monday the 18th after one of them ran a red light, but no-one was seriously injured. In the week following the Paddington disaster, which killed 30 people, there were 16 passed signals. A senior government official said: "Drivers who pass red signals may have to go back to school for a bit." (October 20th)

Editor's comment: What a stupid senior government official. The problem is not that humans are fallible. The problem is that a network like England's, which has such dense passenger traffic, should never allow a train to pass a signal at red, regardless of what the driver happens to be doing at that moment. Sure it costs money to implement such a system, but it's been done before all over Europe. It's not complicated. Here's a beginner's course for the stupid senior government official: A signal shows red. The signal transfers this information along a wire in the track. The wire is attached to a radio transponder in the track. When the train passes the transponder, the radio signal activates an electro-mechanical device which applies the brakes and stops the train. It's very simple and very robust.

There are kewl variants of this, such as moving block and computer-aided signalling, which let trains run much faster and much more frequently than any human-run system would allow. The machines will outperform the humans, regardless of how much the senior government official sends the humans back to school. For the sake of Britain's rail passengers and their relatives, let's hope the people who attend Mr. Prescott's meeting don't fool themselves like the senior government official did. (October 20th)

Gerald Corbett, Railtrack's chief executive, has gone on an interview spree to detail his version of the company's role in the crash. (October 16th)

Railtrack is to have its role removed of overseeing safety on Britain's railways. The company may also loose other responsibilities it has concerning safety. The announcement follows a report commissioned by the government last year which was highly critical of Railtrack's performance is a number of areas related to safety. The report was being considered before the Paddington rail crash on October 5th. (October 11th)

FT.comPlans to remove the responsibility for rail safety from Railtrack could be costly and disruptive, the Health and Safety Commission has warned in a confidential report to John Prescott, deputy prime minister. It warned that removing safety from Railtrack could disrupt projects such as the £2.1bn west coast mainline upgrade, where Railtrack is working on safety standards for new train control systems, and place a heavy burden on HSE resources. find (October 11th)

Signal sn109 has been passed at red eight times, but there are nine other signals which have been passed at red even more times. See the complete list at the Danger Ahead website. (October 9th)

Sweden's ATC system has not only spared the country nasty rail accidents, but also let trains run faster and more frequently, says Lennart Warsen at SJ. Automatic Train Control transponders in the track inform the driver of what the signals up ahead indicate, as well as about speed restrictions and track geometry. If the ATC disapproves of the driver's actions, it stops the train, but the driver can override the system and proceed with a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Where there is no ATC installed, there is a permanent speed restriction of 40 km/h.
> > However, there were nine fatalities and 130 people injured in an accident in Lerum outside Göteborg in the mid eighties when two ATC wires were mixed up after some construction work. Two trains collided head-on at 100 km/h. (October 9th)

The Health and Safety Executive has revealed its interim findings about the London rail disaster. The report is available here at the BBC website. (October 8th)

Three days after the two-train collision, police said 127 people remain unaccounted for. So far only 30 bodies have been found. At least 70 of those missing are known to have boarded the trains. Officers are now seriously concerned that the remainder were also caught up in the carnage on Tuesday morning. (October 8th)

FT.comThe Great Western train had its ATP shut off, and had been operating without Automatic Train Protection since last month, the Financial Times writes. Great Western was fined £1.5 million last July and criticised by a judge for not activating the ATP system on the train that crashed at Southall two years ago with the loss of seven lives. find (October 8th)

A joint statement issued by Railtrack, Thames Trains and First Great Western states "the signals concerned were in full working order and that the First Great Western train was authorised to proceed under green lights". In the light of reports that the other train had passed a signal at danger, the statement adds "Investigations will now concentrate on the behaviour of the Thames turbo train."
> > While investigators may be concentrating on whether the Thames Train passed a signal at red, observers are wondering how the points could be set to carry the Thames train into the path of the oncoming express. This should not have been possible untill the Great Western train faced a red light. (October 7th)

FT.comIt turns out that none of the railway industry's four main regulators has the power to remove a train company's licence to operate - however bad its safety record. (October 7th)

The BBC reports that the Thames commuter train ran a red light. The red signal in question, known as SN109, has been known to give trouble before. It is an unusual shape, with the red light offset to one side because of visibility problems caused by overhead wiring and pylons. Drivers have described the signal as "dodgy" and the train operators have complained repeatedly and very recently to Railtrack and Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate about the signal, which they believe is unsafe. (October 7th)

The two trains collided close to Paddington station in London at rush hour Tuesday morning (the 5th). It is thought that the 08:06 Thames Trains service from London to Bedwyn in Wiltshire, ran into the side of the 06:03 Great Western Intercity 125 from Cheltenham, which was approaching Paddington. (October 5th)

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