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Ladbroke Grove

The Ladbroke Grove rail crash has given the nation's rail infrastructure operator the most difficult week in its five year history. Some Railtrack executives no doubt feel like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man with the media, politicians and trade unionists lining up to wield the dentist's drill.

Many working for rail contractors and consultants would happily join the queue, as long as they were suitably disguised of course. Railtrack is not the best loved client.

But they do recognise that the blame for last week's tragedy cannot be laid at the door of any one organisation. As the chief Inspector of Railways Vic Coleman said, the crash was 'a system failure' - one in which Government (Labour and Conservative), the regulator(s), Railtrack, the train operators, infrastructure companies and, no doubt, dozens of individuals are implicated.

It is also too easy to say the crash was a result of rail privatisation, although the new regime has created significant problems (see News).

Rail investment has boomed since privatisation, after decades of public sector neglect. Railtrack and the train operators (to make money) together with the regulators (at the behest of their political masters) have facilitated a 25% increase in passenger growth since 1995. The fierce concentration on increasing rail traffic has obscured other issues, sometimes including safety.

It is to be hoped that all parties quickly learn the specific lessons of Ladbroke Grove, whatever they turn out to be. If individuals or specific firms are found to have acted negligently then they should not escape censure or, if appropriate, punishment.

Equally, any weaknesses in the corporate or regulatory regime must be thoroughly worked out.

But to paralyse the industry in a blind hunt for scapegoats and to take action just to play to the gallery would be a disaster. It would also be the worst possible memorial for those who died at Ladbroke Grove.

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