|Rail unions have called on the lessons to be learnt on the 30th anniversary of the Clapham rail disaster.
Thirty five people died and hundreds more were injured on December 12 1998 when a crowded train from Poole to London Waterloo crashed into the back of a stationary Basingstoke service, which had stopped at a red signal. A third train, travelling empty in the opposite direction, hit the wreckage only minutes later.
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “Our thoughts at this time are with all the families who lost their loved ones. The Clapham rail disaster was a watershed moment for railway safety. A public inquiry into the accident, conducted by Anthony Hidden QC, found that the primary cause of the crash was a wiring error made by a worker who had only had one day off in the three months prior to the accident.
“The Hidden report pinpointed failings and made 93 recommendations – including limits on the number of hours that railwaymen and women should work – to improve safety on the rail network in Britain. In response, the rail industry introduced higher standards and testing of signalling equipment and minimum rest periods between safety critical work.
“Another result of the crash was a change in UK health & safety law, as we developed a better understanding of the need to monitor the quality of safety critical work on all aspects of the railway to protect the safety of passengers and crews.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Today we remember those who lost their lives and those injured on that terrible and tragic day in south London.
“We forget the lessons of Clapham at our peril. What happened that day was nothing less than a watershed moment for railway safety. The public inquiry which followed found that a wiring error which led to the crash had been made by a worker who’d had just a single day off in many weeks.
“Important recommendations were then made including limits on working hours for those on the railway. These were, above all, safety recommendations which heralded changes on minimum rest periods, health & safety and equipment testing.
“Safety on our railways is critical and it always will be. Railways workers carry out work central to the safety of millions of passengers, day in day out. We will always strive to ensure that safety – rather than performance – remains paramount.
“The best way of doing this would be to remove the profit motive from our railways and return the network to public hands. That way we can ensure that the lessons of Clapham, and the lives of those who perished, are never forgotten.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “This warning from the RAIB about an eerily similar chain of events at Waterloo should be taken very seriously by the industry as a whole.
“As the RAIB points out the steady loss of experienced workers has been taking place since the break-up of the industry following privatisation 25 years ago.
“The fragmentation of the rail industry that started after Clapham has meant that there is an ever greater disconnect between contractors striving for ever greater profit while Network Rail, responsible for operating, maintaining and renewing rail infrastructure, is stretched to breaking point due to budgetary constraints.”