RAILTRACK AND Balfour Beatty were fined a total of pounds150,000 and ordered to pay costs of almost pounds40,000 this week for their part in last year's Bexley rail crash.
Four people were injured when a freight train loaded with aggregate plunged off a busy main line, partially demolishing a brick viaduct and a number of workshops (NCE 6 February 1997).
Kingston Crown Court heard that the cause of the accident was a combination of badly maintained track and the train travelling at excessive speed, as well as being overloaded by
Judge Tilling described the events leading to the accident as a series of 'mutual misunderstandings'. He ruled that South East Infrastructure Maintenance Company - part of Balfour Beatty Rail - failed to take proper responsibility for maintaining the track, and that Railtrack had not carried out adequate checks on contractors.
Plans to carry out major maintenance work on the track had been made as far back as 1993, with Railtrack highlighting the section as needing urgent maintenance in August 1996.
The court had been shown a video of railway inspectors removing screws holding the rails in place from rotten longitudinal timbers with their bare hands .
SEI, Railtrack and Southern Track Renewals Company - which had hired the freight train and is also part of BB Rail - all pleaded guilty to breaches of the Health & Safety at Work Act. SEI and Railtrack were fined pounds82,500 and pounds60,000 respectively with STR held only 5% responsible.
Balfour Beatty claimed that since the accident it had carried out 'intensive inspections of additional bridges and track across the whole South East area, and an upgrading of all relevant maintenance procedures'.