The recent tragic railway disaster at Hatfield now appears to have been principally caused by a broken rail. What also seem to be emerging are hints that difficulties with arranging track possessions to carry out maintenance, repair or replacement may well have been a factor in the delay to remedial work.
Whether this proves to be the case or not, it will strike a chord with every highway authority in the country. For some years they have experienced enormous frustration while trying to carry out work on their own bridges over railway lines. These have been caused by very long lead in times for possessions - often up to eighteen months - and very high costs together with delays and cancellations at often little or no notice.
All this makes essential work over or beside the railway track very expensive and disjointed.
The safety implications are obvious.
Through my work with the London Bridges Engineering Group (Lobeg) I have been trying to make the case for these possessions to be contractual so that if they were cancelled or delayed compensation would be paid.
This would underline the importance of the work which at present seems to be the poor relation to everything else that happens on the railway.
I am told that such contractual arrangements are impossible, largely because of the clout train operating companies have. I know even Railtrack's inspection teams have trouble getting access for their own work.
After Hatfield, it is time to put priority back into track occupations for the sake of essential care and maintenance work Frank Paine, Chairman, Lobeg south area, 31 Farm Fields, Sanderstead, Surrey, CR2 0HQ