RAILTRACK AND its contractors are facing a barrage of Health & Safety Executive prosecutions following rail accidents in areas where maintenance work was being carried out.
The track operator and six of its specialist contractors face four separate cases over the next few weeks. Charges include failing to protect the public, failing to protect workers and failing to provide a safe method of working.
The HSE's actions underline the conclusions of its annual Railway Safety report, published last month, which expressed concern about Railtrack's methods of managing its contractors.
At the time HM Chief Inspector of Railways Vic Coleman said: 'There are still too many incidents that can be attributed to poor track maintenance. We have therefore challenged Railtrack to demonstrate their commitment to improving both track condition and control of contractors.'
'We are taking the situation extremely seriously,' said a Railtrack spokesman. 'Following our own detailed analysis of safety indicators Railtrack has set up a high level working group to look at management of contractors and safe work methods on site.'
In a case before Mid-Warwickshire Magistrates Court on 26 January, Railtrack, Jarvis Fastline and GTRM will face charges of 'failing to ensure the health and safety of persons not in their employment'.
It relates to an incident in June 1997 when an alleged signalling failure led to a high speed train being mis-routed off the Coventry to Leamington Spa branch line into a passing loop.
At Bournemouth Crown Court tomorrow Railtrack, German signals specialist Siemens and Surrey contractor BCM Construction face unlimited fines after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches in an incident in March 1997 when BCM workers struck a 33,000V electric cable near Bournemouth Station.
Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance is awaiting a date for sentencing at Chelmsford Crown Court after pleading guilty to charges of failing to maintain a safe method of work and failing to protect passengers following a freight train derailment at Rivenhall in Essex in September 1997.
Southampton-based contractor Tarrock has been charged with failing to provide a safe method of work after a worker was injured falling from a scaffold tower at Eastleigh Railway depot in December 1997. A plea and directions hearing has been set for 4 February.
The HSE is now investigating the cause of a 10-carriage derailment in London last week when two commuter trains collided on viaduct near London Bridge.