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Hatfield rail crash: 'worst example of sustained negligence' - judge

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EVIDENCE OF sustained negligence triggered the imposition last month of record fines on UK contractor Balfour Beatty and rail operator Network Rail for their roles in the 2000 Hatfield train crash.

The judge, Mr Justice MacKay, described the failings of Balfour Beatty, which he fined ú10M ($18M), as 'the worst example of sustained negligence in a high risk industry I have ever seen.' Fines totalling ú13.5M ($24.3M) plus costs were imposed on the two companies for health and safety breaches relating to the derailment in October 2000 which killed four people.

Law firm Lovells' health and safety solicitor Magnus Burroughs said it was the sustained nature of the failings that made the fines five times the previous English record. This is held by Thames Trains, which was fi ed ú2M ($3.2M) for its part in the Paddington train crash in 1999.

'If you look at previous cases, like the Paddington and Southall rail crashes and the Heathrow tunnel collapse, they were instances of errors of judgement or management, rather than long term failings, ' he added.

A higher fi of ú15M ($27M) was imposed on gas company Transco following a gas explosion in Scotland.

'Compared to Transco there are similar elements in the judgment of a breach of public trust and a large number of people exposed over a long period.' The derailment of the train at Hatfield was caused by a cracked section of the track which shattered when the 12.10 from King's Cross ran over it at 180km/h on 17 October 2000.

The judge said Network Rail had failed to ensure its maintenance contractor, Balfour Beatty, was doing its job.

Balfour Beatty in turn had provided too few staff to be able perform visual track inspections.

Staff were also not trained to fill out forms to report defective rails or to use ultrasonic testing equipment.

Corporate manslaughter charges against both firms were dropped during the trial.

The judge concluded that with the formation of Network Rail since the Hatfield crash, the rail industry was a very different place. Because Network Rail puts its profits back into the railways, the judge said he was mindful that every pound he took from the fi m was a pound taken from rail safety.

Neetwork Rail chairman, Ian McAllister said: 'Since Network Rail took over the nation's railway infrastructure some three years ago, maintenance has been taken in house rather than being outsourced, and we have changed our approach from a 'find and fix' maintenance regime to one of 'predict and prevent'.' A Balfour Beatty spokesman said it was clear that the Hatfi eld crash was the result of a systemic failure in the industry as a whole.

The company has not yet decided whether to appeal against the judge's sentencing.

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