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Points failure caused Potters Bar crash

Seven people died in the 2002 Potters Bar rail crash because an unsafe set of points failed, an inquest jury decided last week.

There were failures of inspection and/or maintenance of the points in the period before the crash, the jury in Letchworth concluded following the seven-week hearing.

The 12.45pm King’s Cross to King’s Lynn train crashed at Potters Bar, where it was not due to stop, at around 1pm on 10 May 2002. The train had been travelling at a legal speed - 158km/h - and driver Gordon Gibson was cleared of any blame.

“Today we remember the lives lost eight years ago,” said a Network Rail spokesman. “Since then much has changed. The railways are almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002.

“Private contractors are no longer involved in the day-to-day maintenance of the nation’s rail infrastructure as 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 actioned. Today the railways are safer than they have ever been.”

“Continuing risk”

But the coroner, Judge Michael Findlay Baker QC, warned there was a continuing potential risk to rail passengers.

He said he would file a report under Rule 43 of the 1984 Coroners Rules which allows coroners to express concern that circumstances continue to create a risk of other deaths.

Rail regulators said they were considering criminal proceedings.

“We will now proceed to determine whether any criminal proceedings for health and safety offences should be brought in accordance with the Work Related Deaths Protocol,” said an Office of Rail Regulation spokesman.

The Crown Prosecution Service - which ruled out criminal proceedings in 2005 - said it would now consider whether any new evidence came to light during the inquest.

The Department for Transport said it would “carefully” considering the verdict and the coroner’s impending report, which is due to warn of continued risk to passengers.

“A report by the Office of Rail Regulation earlier this week confirmed that the UK railways are among the safest in Europe, but we must never be complacent,” added an Association of Train Operating Companies spokesman.

“Train companies will study carefully all recommendations made by the coroner.”

Six passengers - Austen Kark, Emma Knights, Jonael Schickler, Alexander Ogunwusi, Chia Hsin Lin and Chia Chin Wu - died in the crash in Hertfordshire.

The passengers who died were in the fourth carriage, which became detached and airborne.

A seventh victim, Agnes Quinlivan died after she was hit by debris. More than 70 people were injured.

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