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Overall safety regulator vital to transport policy, Government told

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THE GOVERNMENT'S integrated transport policy could fail if it rejects calls to create a new independent transport safety regulator, safety experts told NCE this week.

An overarching safety authority was vital, they said, to restore public confidence in transport, badly dented by last month's Paddington rail disaster.

The warnings follow a House of Commons Transport Select Committee report published this week. It demanded the immediate creation of such a safety watchdog to regulate road, rail, air and maritime transport.

The recommendation was one of 45 changes to the Railways Bill demanded by the committee. It says the new body should be free from government and private sector influence.

Calls for a new safety body are a direct result of outrage following last month's Paddington rail crash which killed 31 passengers.

Transport experts contacted by NCE this week said there was a perception after the crash that safety had been compromised by commercial or political interests and that there was no clear responsibility for safety.

A transport safety watchdog with teeth and independence would, they said, go a long way to restoring public confidence.

Chairman of the County Surveyor's Society Transport & Safety Committee Dr Alastair Jeffords said: 'The key thing is giving safety a new priority. Transport safety is crucial because of how it influences people to travel.

If rail concerns stops people switching to bus or rail travel then it is a major concern because it is crucial to integrated transport.'

This view was endorsed by Automobile Association policy director John Dawson: 'It's a terrific proposal but needs more scrutiny. There is evidence that the decline in road casualties might be plateauing. There are a lot of road safety issues similar to those raised by Paddington, such as sign visibility.'

Railtrack also welcomed the proposal: 'We believe that a pan-modal regulatory organisation covering all types of transport would be able to offer the benefit of objectivity while being able to look at the relative risks between all modes.'

The new body would replace HM Railways Inspectorate, the Safety & Standards Directorate of Railtrack, the safety regulation group of the Civil Aviation Authority and the Marine Safety Agency. It would also take over some of the functions of the British Transport Police, take charge of road safety and carry out air and sea accident investigations.

MPs said the new body should be 'properly funded', possibly by means of a safety levy, and be given 'robust powers to set safety standards, to examine whether or not they are being met, to punish companies, organisations or individuals when standards are breached, and to investigate accidents when they occur.'

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