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Train experts question warning systems deadline

THE RAIL industry will have to undergo a major culture change to have any chance of meeting the timetable set out for installing new train protection systems by 2008, experts warned this week.

It is that feared skill shortages and delays sourcing equipment could also defer implementation of recommendations made last week by Professor Uff and Lord Cullen in their report into the potentially life-saving warning systems.

Sir David Davies expressed concern. Last year he also compiled a report into the feasibility of installing warning systems for the Government following the Southall and Ladbroke Grove crashes, and gave evidence to the recent crash inquiry.

He said he 'didn't know if it was feasible' for a system to be fitted for South West Trains by 2003 as required by the report.

However, he backed the report's findings, pointing out that many of its recommendations were similar to his own.

The latest report was produced following the inquiry set up and led by Uff and Cullen in the wake of the Southall and Ladbroke Grove train crashes.

The report itself admits the timetable is challenging. But industry critics went further, with one describing it 'a tall order'.

All lines that carry trains at over 160km/hr, it says, must be fitted with the European Train Control system by 2008. Five or six manufacturers across Europe will compete to produce the necessary equipment, which now exists in prototype form only and is being tested in Italy.

A spokesman for signalling equipment manufacturer Siemens said this plan was achievable 'if everyone in the industry gives it their full support'. He said manufacturers may have to team up to achieve targets.

However, shortages of signalling engineers, which have already caused problems on the West Coast Main Line upgrade, could delay testing and commissioning.

Regulations from 1999 require all lines to be fitted with the inferior train protection warning system by 2003. But this system will only stop trains travelling below 120km/hr.

Although the report recognises that the system has 'significant shortcomings', it says it is simple, cheap and quickly available and implementation must be completed.

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