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Network Rail admits Potters Bar charges

Network Rail this week admitted breaches of health and safety law that caused the 2002 Potters Bar rail crash, in which seven people died.

The company said it will plead guilty to the charge that its predecessor Railtrack, as infrastructure controller, failed to meet the standards for maintenance of parts of track at the first hearing in the case at Watford Magistrates’ Court today.

The Potters Bar accident happened on 10 May 2002 when the 12.45pm King’s Cross to King’s Lynn became derailed on a set of points just before the station. Six passengers and a pedestrian were killed in the accident, which occurred when rail maintenance responsibility was outsourced by Railtrack to private contractors. In this case, the contract was held by Jarvis, who also face charges.

A spokesman for Network Rail said that the railway is now “almost unrecognisable” since the days of Railtrack, and now has a safety record that matches the best in Europe and makes rail the safest form of transport in the UK.

The company said that all 25 recommendations from an industry inquiry after the accident have been put in place, as have 24 that resulted from the Health and Safety Executive’s investigation. In 2004, Network Rail took maintenance work in house, moving 15,000 people into Network Rail.

Admitting the charges that were bring brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) that Railtrack failed to provide and implement suitable and sufficient training, standards, procedures and guidance for the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars on the railway, the Network Rail spokesman said: “The railway today is almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002. We have indicated a guilty plea today as Network Rail took on all of Railtrack’s obligations, responsibilities and liabilities when it took over the company in October 2002, some five months after the accident.”

Adjustable stretcher bars keep the moveable section of track at the correct width for the train’s wheels.

“Private contractors are no longer in control of the day-to-day maintenance of the nation’s rail infrastructure since Network Rail took this entire operation, involving some 15,000 people, in-house in 2004. All of the recommendations made by both the industry’s own formal inquiry and the Health and Safety investigation have been carried out. Today the railways are safer than they have ever been, but today our task remains to build on that record and always to learn any lessons we can to make it ever safer for passengers and those who work on the railway,” the spokesman added.

Network Rail will be sentenced at St Albans Crown Court on 30 March, after the chair of the bench at Watford Magistrates’ Court Peter Palfrey said: “In this case we have decided that the charge is so serious we cannot give punishment at this court.”

The ORR requested that the court adjourned the first appearance of Jarvis until 21 March, when it will appear at Watford Magistrates’ Court. The regulator said that in the meantime it will decide whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution of Jarvis, and will make this decision before that hearing. 

The ORR said in coming to a decision it will consult fully with the families of the victims and take into account their views.

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