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Calls grow to create a new railway safety watchdog

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RAIL PROFESSIONS would back plans to separate investigation and safety regulation roles on the railways and to create a new independent accident investigation body, it emerged this week. A report commissioned by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to review the role of Railtrack's Safety & Standards Directorate reveals that engineers in the rail industry want to see the HMRI's roles changed.

Findings are due to go before ministers in the next few weeks. However the plan is likely to meet with wide political support. On Tuesday, Conservative shadow transport minister Bernard Jenkin called for Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Paddington crash to consider the issue.

Last November the cross party transport select committee also called for the creation of an independent transport safety watchdog (NCE 18 November 1999).

Support for the changes is highlighted by the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions' report published by Prescott this week. It states that during consultation with the industry, 'many consultees felt that arrangements for accident investigation could be improved... some have suggested transferring HMRI's investigation function to an independent body thus separating accident investigation from safety regulation.'

The Infrastructure Contractors Liaison Group also told the DETR it would like to see accident investigation moved into a multi-modal independent body.

The DETR's ongoing Transport Safety Review was, according to the report, also considering whether accident investigations should be separated from safety regulation. This already happens in aviation and marine transport.

However a spokeswoman for the HSE said it was important not to overlook the advantages of the current set up. She said the aftermath of Paddington and Tuesday's safety audit had shown the benefit of retaining the expertise of many sectors under one roof.

'If an independent accident investigation body improved safety we would be in favour but there are advantages to the current system,' she said.

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