TRANSPORT SECRETARY Stephen Byers was this week under pressure to scrap the first phase of a new train warning system in favour of longer term safety improvements.
This would force the government to abandon a commitment to bring the new system into operation by 2010.
Two reports published this week recommend that level one of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) should be scrapped and that work should concentrate on delivery of level two.
ERTMS is a sophisticated form of train control that aims to increase capacity.
Level one relies on the use of trackside signals, but level two removes the need for these, allowing trains to be controlled remotely. Level two also increases rail capacity by allowing trains to travel closer together.
Neither level one nor two are operational anywhere in the world, but the inferior level one will be ready for installation sooner.
Lord Cullen's report into the 1999 Ladbroke Grove accident, published last year, recommended the installation of ERTMS across the network. The government committed to act on all his recommendations by 2010.
But a joint report by Railway Safety and the Strategic Rail Authority published today is expected to recommend level two implementation only. It was commissioned by government in the wake of the Cullen report to look at the best way of taking ERTMS forward.
Earlier this week, the government's Commission for Integrated Transport warned that fitting level one would increase deaths as rail capacity would be reduced. This would push more traffic on to the roads increasing road deaths by between 13 and 21 a year.
It recommends spending the estimated £3.5bn it will cost to install level one on other safety improvements that would save more lives.
Steve Turner INFOPLUS Go to the rail microsite at www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine