The Hatfield rail crash in October 2000 changed the face of the rail industry forever. It precipitated the demise of Railtrack and birth of Network Rail and led to the creation of a new law of Corporate Manslaughter.
Four people were killed when an express train on the East Coast Main Line derailed after travelling over a broken rail.
Investigations rapidly revealed that engineers knew the track was in poor condition but had neither replaced it, nor imposed a speed restriction. The faulty rail had been spotted 21 months earlier but it was left unrepaired even though a replacement rail had been delivered and left alongside it for six months.
Blanket speed restrictions were put in place across the network at 650 sites following the crash as Railtrack rapidly sought to better understand gauge corner cracking, the phenomenon held responsible for the broken rail.
By January 2001 more than 240m of track had been replaced across the network. Over Christmas 2000 work was carried out at over 60 locations, involving some 8,000 man days.
Criminal investigations into the accident continued alongside this work to make the network safe, and prosecutions followed.
After a five year ordeal, five engineers singled out to stand trial walked free in September 2005, having initially faced charges of gross negligence manslaughter and failing to ensure the health and safety of people in their care.
Contractor Balfour Beatty and Network Rail were handed record fines, however, with Judge Mr Justice McKay describing the failings of the firms as “the worst example of sustained negligence in a high risk industry I have ever seen”.
Both admitted breaching the Health & Safety at Work Act. Balfour Beatty was fined £10M, although this was reduced to £7.5M on appeal. Railtrack, by then trading as Network Rail, was fined £3.5M.
The failure to make corporate manslaughter charges stick led to the introduction of a new law, the Corporate Manslaughter & Homicide Act 2007.
This law removed the need for prosecutors to identify a “controlling mind” in the offending company.