Potters Bar crash: Network Rail fined £3m

Pat and Anne Smith who lost their mother Agnes Quinlivan in the crash said "We've waited nine years to hear sorry"

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Network Rail has been fined £3m for safety failings over the Potters Bar train crash, which killed seven people.

The rail infrastructure company had admitted breaching safety regulations over the accident in May 2002.

Faulty points were to blame for the crash, in which a London to King's Lynn service operated by WAGN derailed near Potters Bar station, in Hertfordshire.

After the hearing, Network Rail, whose fine effectively comes from the public purse, said it was "truly sorry".

Six passengers and a pedestrian walking near the station were killed when the train derailed.

'Sense of justice'

Overall responsibility for the track at the time lay with Network Rail's predecessor, Railtrack.

Railtrack was in administration at the time of the crash but because of its role in operating the country's rail infrastructure, it was allowed to continue trading until Network Rail took over in October 2002.

Last year, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) launched proceedings against maintenance firm Jarvis and Network Rail under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Network Rail's spokesman PJ Taylor: "We say again today that we are truly sorry"

Both companies were accused of failings over the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars, which keep the moveable section of track points at the correct width for train wheels.

However, the prosecution against Jarvis was dropped in March as its rail maintenance arm is now in administration.

Director of rail safety at ORR, Ian Prosser, said: "Today marks the end of a long process in which we have sought to gain a sense of justice for the families of the victims of the Potters Bar derailment.

"It is welcome that Network Rail, as the successor to Railtrack, pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches, demonstrating that, under its new management, it is now an organisation willing to take responsibility and learn from past mistakes."

Network Rail spokesman PJ Taylor said: "We recognise with many that the sorrow remains and we should all pause and reflect as we remember those who lost their lives.

"Network Rail has today been sentenced for failings that contributed to this accident and we accept the fine as we accept the liabilities inherited from Railtrack. We say again today, that we are truly sorry."

Network Rail

  • Network Rail bought Railtrack - the private-sector owner of Britain's railway infrastructure - in October 2002
  • Railtrack had gone into administration in October 2001 after the government withdrew its funding in the aftermath of the 2000 Hatfield train crash, but was still operating at the time of Potters Bar.
  • Network Rail now owns Britain's rail infrastructure, including tracks, signals, most stations, tunnels and level crossings. It does not run any trains
  • Railtrack was a private company with shareholders to whom it paid dividends, Network Rail is a "not-for-dividend" company, which means all profits are invested in the railway network
  • It makes some of its money from charging the rail operating companies for track access, but most comes from the Department for Transport and local authorities and it is allowed to borrow money by issuing bonds

Judge Bright, presiding at St Albans Crown Court, said Railtrack's procedures and standards were "seriously inadequate" and that the serious faults with the points "could and should have been identified sooner".

The company's failures had put the travelling public and train crews at the risk of serious injury, the judge said.

Considering how far within Railtrack the failings went, Judge Bright said that although there were very serious failings by Jarvis, "overall responsibility for the breach of duty lay with Railtrack at senior management level and their failures were significant and extensive".

The judge said there were individuals who bore responsibility for the maintenance failures which led to the tragedy.

He added: "I do not doubt that those who lost loved ones in the crash might have hoped to see those individuals held to account for their failure.

"However, they are not before the court and it's Network Rail Infrastructure who fall to be sentenced for an offence committed by Railtrack plc."

Railtrack went into administration in October 2001 after the then Transport Secretary Stephen Byers decided not to give it more taxpayers' money to fund urgently needed track upgrades.

Start Quote

It's offensive that I pay a fine for something that killed my father”

End Quote Perdita Kark Daughter of crash victim

The government said Railtrack was not capable of running the railways and was insolvent without government support. Network Rail was set up as a not-for-profit organisation to take over Railtrack's responsibilities.

Network Rail has no shareholders and its debt is guaranteed by the government.

Speaking after the court case, Perdita Kark, the daughter of Austen Kark who was one of the victims, said: "It's offensive that I pay a fine for something that killed my father.

"Directors of the two companies should have been in the dock as individuals and they should have paid out of their own purses."

'Safety not profit'

Ms Kark - whose mother, author Nina Bawden, now 86, was badly injured in the crash - added: "This fine is going to be paid by the taxpayer and will mean there is less money to be spent on the rail network.

"The crash has made my mother's old age desperately difficult."

Patricia Smith, whose mother Agnes Quinlivan died in the crash, said they had waited nine years to hear an apology from Network Rail.

"We knew any fine would come out of public funds, so we weren't really looking for a big fine. What we've always been hoping for is an acknowledgement that they got it wrong and they're putting it right," she said.

"Safety first rather than profit and bonuses first which is what they've done in the past."

All the passengers who were killed were in the train's fourth carriage which left the tracks after derailing and ended up wedged under the canopy of Potters Bar station.

How the Potters Bar crash happened

The WAGN service bound for King's Lynn left Kings Cross at 1245 BST on 10 May 2002. The four-carriage train was not due to stop at Potters Bar, but it came off the rails as it approached the station, smashing into the canopy.
The accident happened at about 1300BST, after the train crossed the points outside Potters Bar at close to 100mph. The fourth carriage derailed, sending debris onto Darkes Lane below. Six passengers and one passer-by were killed.
A series of investigations found a faulty set of points was to blame. Two sets of nuts holding stretcher bars in place, were loose or missing. Rail investigators believe the first, or "lock" stretcher bar, fractured under the extra pressure.
The ineffective stretcher bars failed to hold the points in place when the train passed over them. The right hand switch rail closed against its stock rail, leaving no room for the train's wheels, sending the fourth carriage off the rails.
After it derailed, the fourth carriage flipped over and careered down the track at right angles. It finally came to a halt under the station canopy. The front three carriages continued further down the track before stopping.
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