Grayrigg Rail Crash Report Due as Early as Tomorrow
Bloomberg: Feb. 25
By Reed V. Landberg
U.K. investigators probing the derailment of a high-speed train on Feb. 23 may disclose their initial findings as early as tomorrow as officials focus on a set of points used to switch trains to another track.
"They will be telling us what they have learned tomorrow,'' John Armitt, chief executive of Network Rail Ltd., which operates Britain's railroad track and signaling network, said in an interview on Sky News today.
A Virgin train traveling from London to Glasgow jumped the tracks at 8:25 p.m. on Friday after passing over a switch near the village of Grayrigg, about 4 miles northeast of Kendal in England's Lakeland. One person was killed and 22 injured after all nine carriages of the train left the track.
Network Rail has invested 8 billion pounds ($15.7 billion) re-laying 1,100 miles of track along the West Coast Mainline to address safety concerns and speed up services linking London and Scotland. The three-year upgrade, completed in 2005, cut 40 minutes off the London-Glasgow journey and allowed Virgin to operate trains at up to 125 miles per hour on the track.
A series of rail crashes following the sale of British Rail to private companies in the mid-1990s raised concerns about the safety of the service and quality of maintenance work. Sky News, citing unidentified people close to the investigation, said bolts from the points or switching unit were found near the track.
"Investigative work is set to continue for some days and is focusing on a set of points south of the scene of the derailment,'' British Transport Police, who are coordinating the investigation, said in a statement today. The police said they would report within seven days and earlier if possible.
Access to the scene was complicated by rainy weather and muddy rural roads accessing the track, the police said. About 75 investigators at the site were combing through the wreckage and preparing local roads for cranes needed to lift pieces of the train that fell down an embankment.
Network Rail was performing safety checks on 700 other switches nationwide, a process unlikely to delay services, Armitt said on BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend program.
Trains to Glasgow will stop at Lancaster, where passengers will board a replacement bus service to Carlisle, Virgin Group Ltd. said in a statement posted on its Web site.
"The initial estimate for the line to reopen is during the week commencing Monday, March 5,'' Virgin said.
Switch in Question
Armitt said the switch near the derailment was last inspected on Feb. 3 and that the West Coast track was "in good condition'' after the upgrade. The points, used infrequently, were last opened on Feb. 15, according to Bob Crow, the head of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union.
Crow said private companies including Jarvis Plc and Balfour Beatty Plc, which do some work under contract for Network Rail, shouldn't have a role in the railways. Jarvis said in January it won contracts for the West Coast Mainline valued at a minimum of 65 million pounds, including a five-year project to upgrade signaling on the line and rebuilding a station at Rugby.
"Some points failure has taken place, and that is unacceptable in this day and age,'' Crow said on the BBC Sunday AM program. "You don't see bolts falling off planes and space ships. What Network Rail should be doing is bringing all work into the public ownership.''
Jarvis spokeswoman Toni Jackson said today her company wasn't involved in maintenance work for Network Rail. Network Rail spokeswoman Rebecca Warren said yesterday that maintenance work on the line was done in-house by Network Rail.
"In 2005, all the private contractors were relieved of their responsibilities for maintenance, so all the network is maintained directly by Network Rail,'' said Tim Sharp, a spokesman for Balfour Beatty. "The only thing we've done on the West Coast mainline is electrification.''
Britain's main opposition Conservative Party, which privatized British Rail under Prime Minister John Major beginning in 1993, said it was considering ways to make Network Rail work more closely with companies including Virgin Group Ltd. that operate the trains.
"here is mismatch between the management of the railways and the companies that run the trains,'' George Osborne, the Conservative lawmaker in charge of economic policy, said on Sky News. "We're looking into whether there should be a much closer link between the company that owns the track and the ones that run the trains.''
Network Rail, a government-backed company, took over Britain's 20,000 miles of track and 2,500 stations in October 2002 after its privately owned predecessor, Railtrack, was blamed for the shattering of a rail that led to a fatal crash at Hatfield, near London, in 2000.
That crash prompted a three-year investment in improving tracks across the U.K., costing at least 17.2 billion pounds. Crashes in the 1990s raised further safety concerns.
The derailment of a West Anglia Great Northern train at Potters Bar, north London, in May 2002, killed seven people and seriously injured 11. An inquiry by the country's health and safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, found the main cause of the accident was poorly maintained rail switches.
In November 2004, seven people were killed and about 150 injured when a First Great Western train collided with a stopped vehicle at a crossing near the English village of Ufton Nervet. One of those killed was the driver of the car.
A head-on collision between two trains at Ladbroke Grove Junction, near London's Paddington rail station, in October 1999 killed 31 people and injured 296, after one of the drivers failed to stop at a red light. A public inquiry found problems with training procedures and a lack of response to complaints by train drivers about difficulties seeing the light.
A high-speed train accident near Selby, north England, in February 2001 left six passengers and four railway staff dead, and 82 people with serious injuries. The crash occurred when a car swerved off a nearby road onto the track and got stuck.
Crow, the union leader, added to praise for the Pendolino trains Virgin used, saying the carriages were "fantastic'' in the crash and "haven't crumpled like tin cans.'' Yesterday, Virgin founder Richard Branson praised the safety measures imbedded in the tilting Pendolinos, saying they saved lives.
Virgin ordered its Pendolino trains in 1998 from Fiat Ferroviaria, which was bought in 2000 by the French design and construction company Alstom, now the world's biggest maker of high-speed trains. They went into regular service in 2003.
The trains, which can travel in the U.K. as fast as 125 miles an hour, continue to be maintained by Alstom Traincare, Virgin said on its Web site. The trains can accelerate from a standstill to 100 miles an hour in 100 seconds, Virgin said.