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What the papers say

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Government ministers have reluctantly accepted that it will be impossible to strip Railtrack of its responsibility for safety until next year. After the Paddington disaster last October in which 31 passengers died, Whitehall sources were predicting legislation 'within weeks'. Since then, however, the Government has been persuaded that the issues involved are too complex for haste, and provisions to relieve Railtrack of its safety duties have been left out of the Transport Bill currently going through Parliament.

The British Standards Institution has appointed financial advisers to help it prepare for a flotation that could value it at £200M. BSI has doubled in size over the last three years through organic growth and acquisitions, including last year's £36M purchase of international test house Inspectorate. In the nine months to December 1998 BSI made a pre-tax profit of £8.3M on a turnover of £124M.

Venezuela could be facing a mud slide disaster even worse than the 19 December slides which killed at least 25,000 and left 400,000 homeless. Italian geologist Piero Feliziani, who has spent 23 years studying the Avila mountains overlooking the capital Caracas, said: 'The tropical soils have suffered constant erosion, a type of fatigue, loosening boulders up to 50m below the surface, transforming the whole area into a holocaust waiting to happen.' Forecasts of more heavy rain in the area after Christmas led the Mayor of Caracas to issue a 'grave warning' to 300,000 people living in the danger areas.

A new National Film Theatre and Museum of the Moving Image buried beneath a 12m high grassy mound next to the landmark London Eye Millennium Wheel is the centrepiece of the latestplans to revive London's South Bank arts centre. Demolition of the unloved Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room also feature in the proposals drawn up by architect Rick Mather. These replace a Lord Rogers plan to cover the whole complex with a dramatic glass roof, which was rejected as too expensive.

Vehicle speed limiters using a combination of satellite navigation and in-car computerised road maps could be made compulsory within 10 years, if ministers accept the results of Government-funded research carried out by Leeds University in conjunction with the Motor Industry Research Association. The research concluded that available technology now makes it possible for vehicles to 'know' what the speed limit is on every stretch of road in the UK and to cut back automatically on power to prevent drivers speeding. Safety campaigners claim that fitting such limiters on all private cars would save more than 2,000 lives every year. But the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions has to be convinced that such a move would have no adverse effect on civil liberties.

Earthquakes, typhoons and other natural cataclysms have killed nearly 1.8M people in the last 50 years,a survey by insurer Munich

Re has calculated. On average five major catastrophes strike the planet every year, but the last two decades of the 20th Century saw a disaster rate four times higher than in the 1950s. Topping the death toll charts is the cyclone which devastated the Chittagong and Khulna regions of Bangladesh in 1970, leaving an estimated 300,000 dead behind it. A similar event in the area in 1991 killed around 139,000, the biggest toll of the 1990s. Total insurance losses since 1950 have climbed from an inflation-adjusted £3.75bn per disaster to more than £60bn. The ten worst natural disasters of the 20th Century were:

1 Bangladesh cyclone, 1970 (300,000 dead)

2 Chinese earthquake, 1976 (290,000)

3 Chinese earthquake, 1920 (235,000)

4 Japanese earthquake, 1923 (142,800)

5 Chinese flood, 1931 (140,000)

6 Bangladesh cyclone, 1991 (139,000)

7 Peru earthquake, 1970 (67,000)

8 Bangladesh cyclone, 1942 (61,000)

9 Chinese flood 1954 (40,000)

10 Pakistan eathquake, 1935 (35,000)

French private highway operator Cofiroute has invested £84M in the 91 Express Lanes project in California. This involves the conversion of the central reservation of the Riverside Freeway into toll lanes, allowing motorists to pay to bypass heavy rush hour congestion. Cofiroute is the only European company to invest in road construction in the USA. It expects revenue from the 91 Express Lanes project to top £12M in the fourth year of operation.

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