The coroner supervising the inquest into the deaths of six passengers and a pedestrian as a result of a derailment at Potters Bar station in 2002 has suggested that there are still risks involved in rail travel today. So there are. But there are risks involved in any mode of travel.
There have also been more suggestions that there should have been a public enquiry into the accident, but other than spray large amounts of money up the wall, the benefits of such an approach are of dubious value. There was a public enquiry after the Clapham collision back in 1988, and its main recommendation – some form of automatic train protection – would have been of little use in that accident.
Clapham happened as a result of a wiring error, causing a “wrong side failure”: in other words, instead of something failing safe, which is what should happen, a failure produces a potentially dangerous outcome, which in that case was a green signal in rear of an occupied section. Train protection would have also been affected by that failure, had it behaved as if the signal were showing green.
The constant call for more and broader enquiries has also been fuelled by the lawyers who have chosen to specialise in anything to do with the rail industry, whether or not they know one end of a signalling installation or maintenance regime from the other. And demonstrating that she is not backward in coming forward in this case has been our old friend Louise Christian, doyenne of ambulance chasers, or at least those ambulances that attend rail accidents.
Ms Christian has now said that “We still cannot be confident that maintenance staff have proper instructions, know how to report defects and crucially that there is sufficient management involvement in the overall safety process”.
Perhaps she missed the significant management involvement of Network Rail (NR) taking maintenance back in-house two years after Potters Bar, and that there has been only one passenger fatality on the NR network in the last five and a half years.
It would be even better to have no passenger fatalities. But right now, rail travel is the safest way of getting around the UK, and it is about time Louise Christian and her pals admitted it.