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Southall report demands Railtrack review maintenance

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RAILTRACK HAS been asked to review all maintenance contracts after last week's official inquiry into the 1997 Southall train crash highlighted that a contract dispute had left a misaligned signal unchecked for more than three years.

Maintenance contractors confirmed to NCE this week that uncertainties in Railtrack's maintenance contracts - particularly on signal alignment - could result in infrastructure around the network being left without routine maintenance.

The Health & Safety Commission's Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report published last Thursday highlighted the errors in the alignment of three signals at Southall.

The report said the problems were caused during the installation of three signals at Southall but 'were not picked up by routine maintenance during the period of well over two years that they were in use before the Southall crash; nor in the period of some 18 months after they were handed back into normal maintenance'.

It added that due to a row between Railtrack and Amey Rail over interpretation of the contract, no maintenance checks had been carried out in the area.

The report recommends that: 'Railtrack should review all maintenance contracts to ensure that all parties are aware of what checks are included and which excluded.'

Inquiry chairman Professor John Uff QC told NCE this week: 'There should be a network-wide review of these contracts. Differences like this should not arise in practice. The argument that developed between Railtrack and Amey showed it was possible to have a fundamental dispute in terms of what people were responsible for.'

Another contractor confirmed: 'I would have thought this is not unique. This could be repeated elsewhere on the network if there are no clear specifications.'

Both said there were also grey areas at the interface between maintenance and renewals work which could leave bits of infrastructure without maintenance.

One renewals contractor said: 'Interpretation of handover procedures is very subjective. If the maintenance contractor refuses to accept handover because there are some snagging works outstanding from renewals there is a question mark over who is responsible for maintenance.'

He added: 'There is the potential for bits of track to be left in no man's land.'

The HSC has given companies three weeks to develop action plans in response to the 93 recommendations in the Uff report. Uff will then chair a meeting on 17 April to review plans.

The Southall Rail Accident Inquiry Report can be obtained from HSE Books, tel: (01787) 881165. Price £19.50.

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