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London Times: Drivers 'unfairly blamed' for rail disasters


RAIL managers were accused of turning dead train drivers into "scapegoats" over fatal accidents yesterday as ministers announced new laws to clamp down on negligent employers.

John Prescott said that wide-ranging laws would be introduced after the election to force employers to improve safety at work and in public transport. The legislation, which is likely to include a new offence of corporate killing, comes in response to widespread criticism of the safety culture on the railway network and in the building industry.

The laws will impose much tougher responsibilities on employers to ensure that staff are fully trained and follow safety rules, and are expected to include sweeping changes to railway regulation. They will follow a report, expected next summer, from the inquiry into last year's Ladbroke Grove disaster, in which 31 people died.

The crash, the anniversary of which is next week, prompted furious attacks at the Labour Party conference. In an impassioned speech Tony West, an official of Aslef, the train drivers' union, said: "My trade union is sickened at the way Railtrack has sought to evade its own responsibilities for the safe management of the railway infrastructure and passed the buck on to deceased train drivers."

Michael Hodder, a train driver, was among 31 people killed in the crash. Although his train passed a red signal before colliding with an intercity train, Aslef says that signalling was unclear.

Mr West said that his union would not watch train drivers "hounded as scapegoats" from the "failure and mismanagement of the railway industry". "Train drivers are the first victims of these disasters, not the authors of them," he said.

Mr Prescott said that the proposed Bill would represent "the biggest shake-up in safety in a quarter of a century".

-- Carl Jenkins (, September 26, 2000

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