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Network Rail facing large fine today over Grayrigg train crash
NETWORK Rail faces a hefty fine today when it is sentenced in court for safety failings over the 2007 Grayrigg train crash, which killed a Scottish grandmother and left five people fighting for their lives.
The company, responsible for Britain’s railway infrastructure, admitted shortcomings in maintenance and inspection over the accident at a brief court hearing at Lancaster Magistrates on February 29.
Network Rail will learn its punishment, set to be an unlimited financial penalty, at Preston Crown Court from 10.30am
The firms's lawyers pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act for ‘failing to provide and implement sufficient standards, procedures, guidance, training, tools and resources for the inspection and maintenance of fixed stretcher-bar points.’
On February 23, 2007, Glasgow pensioner Margaret Masson, 84, was killed when a Virgin Pendolino derailed at 95mph after hitting a set of points which had vital parts missing.
Eighty-six of the 105 passengers and crew aboard were hurt - 28 of them seriously.
Points are mechanisms which allow trains to switch tracks during engineering work or emergencies.
Stretcher-bars, components within the points, hold switch rails a set distance apart creating a gap for the train’s wheels to pass through.
But stretcher bars in the points at Grayrigg were either missing or disconnected from the rail.
This caused the train’s wheels to over-run the track, derailing every one of the nine carriages minutes after passing through Oxenholme Station at around 8.10pm.
The 300-tonne tilting train leapt into the air before plummeting 50ft down an embankment close to a viadict, leaving most carriages strewn across remote farmland.
A major rescue operation, hampered by narrow country lanes, rain and darkness, was launched to free passengers and transport them to neighbouring hospitals.
Five people, including train driver Iain Black, were critically injured.
Mrs Masson was travelling in the first carriage of the train which bore the brunt of the impact, crashing into a field and turning 190 degrees from the direction of travel.
She sustained multiple injuries and died three hours later en-route by helicopter to Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
Investigations into the crash revealed that a scheduled track inspection which would have identified the faulty points did not take place five days before the disaster.
A jury inquest into Mrs Masson’s death in Kendal last November ruled faulty points were to blame for her death.
At the inquest, Network Rail’s former track section manager for Cumbria, David Lewis, described his workload as ‘like spinning plates’ and that he forgot to carry out the inspection because of a lack of staff and resources.
Holding back tears, Mr Lewis said his men were not given the correct tools to carry out work, that his repeated requests for staff were rejected and how, in a series of damning emails, he warned bosses as early as a year before the derailment that he thought the inspection system was a ‘shambles’ and could cause an accident.
Coroner Ian Smith said it was a ‘tragic irony’ that after flagging up safety concerns, Mr Lewis was the man who missed the points check days before the derailment.
Other Network Rail engineers told how they felt under pressure and under resourced, were not given enough time to complete safety checks and were ‘hounded’ to get off the track by a certain time to avoid delaying trains.
The Office for Rail Regulation decided to prosecute Network Rail after considering evidence raised at the inquest and completing its own inquiry.
Margaret Masson’s son, George, also of Glasgow, has previously told the Gazette he would prefer to see Network Rail ‘lose their contracts’ instead of being fined.
Speaking in January, retired engineer Mr Masson, 63, said: “Money is no object to them - they made millions last year and a fine isn’t going to hurt them.”
Mr Masson has also said he holds Network Rail, not David Lewis, responsible for his mother's death.
Both men have become friends since Mr Masson heard the former railwayman’s evidence at his mother’s inquest.
Mr Masson said: “In my eyes it is negligence on Network Rail's part, not him (Mr Lewis).
"The one that tried to make changes lost his job, his pension, he was not listened to from above.
“He's the only one who has shown any remorse.”
Meanwhile the RMT Union plans to demonstrate outside court against the controversial McNulty Report, which aims to improve Britain’s railways.
The RMT says the report calls for the axing of railway infrastructure workers jobs ‘creating the perfect conditions for another Grayrigg on the tracks’.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “The harsh reality is that any financial penalty on Network Rail as a result of this action will simply come out of the budget for maintenance increasing the likelihood of another Grayrigg in the future.
“The ORR which has brought the prosecution has also been demanding the cuts that led to Grayrigg in the first place as it is both financial controller and safety regulator in the insane world of rail privatisation.
“RMT will not let them off the hook for their responsibility for the cuts programme that results from their dual role.”
An ORR spokesperson said: “ORR has always been clear that health and safety on Great Britain’s railways is the absolute priority.
"Our role as combined safety and economic regulator enables us to ensure that the industry delivers a safe, high-performing and efficient railway for passengers and funders."
“The drive for better use of fare-payers’ and taxpayers’ money, will never compromise safety.”
Today's hearing is set to draw a line under the Masson family's five-year wait for justice.