TRAIN SERVICES into Paddington are likely to be disrupted for the rest of the year because of a legal stand-off between the Health & Safety Executive and Railtrack, it emerged this week.
NCE has learned that confusion over changes needed to the track and signals at the centre of last October's Ladbroke Grove rail crash has left a major section of track out of use. Its use will now remain in limbo until the results of Lord Cullen's crash inquiry are published at the end of the year.
Thirty one people died last October when a commuter train crashed into an InterCity service after passing signal SN109 at danger (NCE 14 October 1999).
The stand-off arose after HSE refused to advise on the changes it required to the signalling. Railtrack claims that without guidance it cannot carry out the work.
As a result, Paddington is unable to operate at full capacity and train operators will be forced to continue with scaled down timetables.
The track closure is the result of a prohibition notice served on Railtrack by the HSE just after the crash. The notice prevents the track and signals leading to SN109 from being used until work to improve the visibility is carried out and formally approved by the HSE.
The notice alleges that track and signals leading up to SN109 should be changed because they increase the likelihood of crashes and because they are likely to cause the signal to be passed at danger. However, the notice does not list any specific failings in the layout.
But this week Railtrack told NCE it was unable to carry out the improvements because it did not know what changes to make.
However, it also emerged that Railtrack was planning a second appeal against the HSE's prohibition notice. The appeal deadline is tomorrow. Last month, an industrial tribunal rejected a first appeal in which Railtrack said the notice unfairly apportioned it with blame for the crash. It is now taking the case to the appeal courts.
A Railtrack spokesman said: 'It implies we aren't meeting our statutory undertakings. We believe it was safe. Obviously, the accident has happened and everything must be looked at. But if we don't appeal that could be taken as a tacit admission of guilt.'
Referring to its problems carrying out work around SN109, he added: 'We had done lots of work on the signal over the years to mitigate SPADs (signals passed at danger) and it had all been signed off. We could make more changes now but there is no point if Lord Cullen's inquiry tells us to do something completely different.'
But a spokeswoman for the HSE said it was not the Executive's responsibility to tell Railtrack what to do to make its track safe.
'We have asked it to look at visibility. It is now up to Railtrack to come to us with proposals and we will look at them. It is not up to us to come up with the solutions. If it seeks advice we will give it but we won't tell it what to do because that is a matter for Railtrack. We are not expecting it to sit and wait until Cullen comes out. I would be surprised if it doesn't have a team working on it.'