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Adonis: No public inquiry for Grayrigg or Potters Bar rail disasters

Transport secretary Lord Adonis today rejected calls for a public inquiry into the rail accidents at Grayrigg and Potters Bar, that both resulted in deaths of passengers.

The RMT rail union said the news was a “scandal”.

Adonis told the House of Commons that coroner inquests would allow “appropriate further investigations of the accidents”, negating the need for public investigation.

“I would like to inform the House that following careful consideration, including those representations made by affected parties, I have decided that the public interest is best served by the continuation of the two inquests that have begun into the deaths resulting from the rail accidents at Potters Bar and at Grayrigg. I have therefore decided not to convene a public inquiry into the accidents, either individually or jointly,” Adonis said.

He added that he was satisfied that the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) investigation into the Grayrigg accident was “thorough” but would make further funds available to the Coroner for South and East Cumbria for further investigation work if required.

The Potters Bar accident will be the subject of an “enhanced inquest”.

Adonis added: “In October 2008, the rail safety regulator Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) assured the then secretary of state that no further immediate actions to ensure the safety of passengers and staff were necessary as a result of RAIB’s final report into Grayrigg, beyond those that had already been taken.”

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the decision was a scandal.

“The RMT has consistently called for a full public inquiry into Potters Bar and Grayrigg that looks at all the issues surrounding these disasters including the role played by the privatisation and fragmentation of the rail network.
The inquest announcement is welcome but is not an alternative to a full public inquiry and it’s a scandal that the government have specifically ruled that out.”

“RMT has also warned repeatedly that the decision by Network Rail to defer nearly a third of its track renewals as it seeks to hit financial targets creates the conditions for another serious derailment. There is a real danger of another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg and the Government should intervene to reinstate the full renewals programme before we have another disaster on our hands, he said.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said the decision was “unacceptable”.

“This is a real blow for the families of those who died in these terrible crashes. It is unacceptable for the Government to have left those campaigning tirelessly for a Potters Bar inquiry hanging on for seven years. The delay has only served to increase the distress to those who were injured or lost loved ones as a result of the crash.”

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch investigation into the Grayrigg crash which killed one and injured 22 on 23 February 2007 blamed Network Rail’s failure to correctly set up points and carry out a track inspection.

The findings concluded that the immediate cause of the derailment, which caused the death of passenger Margaret Masson, was the deterioration of Lambrigg 2B points through a combination of failures of three stretcher bars, the lock stretcher bar, and their fastenings.

It went on to say three factors – the mechanical failure of a bolted joint, the incorrect set up of the points and a track inspection that was missed five days before the accident – were to blame for causing these unsafe conditions.

Points failure caused by poor maintenance was also to blame for the May 2002 Potters Bar disaster, where seven were killed and another 70 injured.

The Health & Safety Executive led the investigation into the crash and published a report into its findings in May 2003.

The report concluded that there were gaps in the maintenance schedule for this set of points and that the main nut, lock nut and insulating bush were absent from the right-hand end of the rear stretcher bar that failed.

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