RAILTRACK MAY take as long as two years to carry out vital signalling work to stop trains from passing danger signals.
Industry sources said the track operator was unable to fit safety equipment at one site in Kent because staff are too busy installing the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) across the network.
The Health & Safety Executive ordered Railtrack to fit a 'close doors/right away' indicator to signals at Sevenoaks station, Kent, in August 2000. This followed a signal passed at danger (SPAD), when a train left the station before it was clear and narrowly missed a Eurostar.
The indicator prevents platform staff from telling drivers the train can leave until the platform signal is off red.
Railtrack is unable to fit the equipment in the signal until August 2002, as all signalling resources have been tied up fitting TPWS.
TPWS automatically stops trains which pass through a red light and it is hoped its introduction will cut SPADs by 70%.
HSE figures released last week show that SPADs rose dramatically last month. There were 56 SPADS in May, 21 more than May last year. Of these 22 were classed as serious SPADS - those most likely to cause an accident - up four on last year.
As a result of the increase the HSE has pledged to get tough with train operators. It has written to them urging action to reduce SPADs.
Ten operators which the HSE felt needed to take urgent action over SPAD performance also received a further letter asking for an 'explanation for the lack of improvement, ' within a fortnight.