INVESTIGATIONS INTO the Hatfield crash are expected to reveal that the broken rail which caused the fatal derailment may have been broken before the train passed over it.
It is also believed that grinding of the affected rail weeks before the crash could have damaged it.
Investigators are now asking why signallers failed to notice that the rail was broken even though several trains could have passed over it immediately before the crash which killed four (NCE 26 October 2000).
When a rail is broken it breaks a circuit, sending a message to the signal box. Signalling personnel should then shut down that section of track. Railtrack has confirmed this policy, but said the loss of signal would depend on the severity of break.
It is believed that maintenance contractor Balfour Beatty advised Railtrack that the rail needed grinding in early 1999.
Grinding did not take place until September 2000. By then, the rail profile may have changed, making grinding detrimental.
Railtrack confirmed that the grinding in September would not have improved the rail, but doubted it would have caused damage.
Claims by former Railtrack chief executive Gerald Corbett that the state of the rail at Hatfield was the 'worst he had ever encountered' are also being looked at. A Railtrack investigation has since identifed over 300 sites where rail conditions were classed as severe.
Railtrack is reviewing the structure of the new style maintenance contracts. It is expected to wait until the publication of a report on the structure of the railways by shadow Strategic Rail Authority chairman Sir Alastair Morton. It will include recommendations on how Railtrack deals with its subcontractors.
Morton is producing the report for deputy prime minister John Prescott. Results will form part of the sSRAs strategic plan, now expected to be published at the end of January.