Financial News

  • 7 March 2014, 12:24

Network Rail Boss Crossing Deaths Apology

The boss of Network Rail has apologised for failing the families of those killed on level crossings after a report by a committee of MPs criticised the firm for putting lives at risk.

The House of Commons Transport Committee said that the company had shown "callous disregard" for families who had lost loved ones on the tracks.

And it warned there were hundreds of crossings where lives were still being put at risk.

The MPs said that there should be a zero deaths limit set and that executive bonuses should be assessed in light of the failure to ensure safety.

Speaking after the report, chief executive Mark Carne, a former oil and gas executive who is on a salary of £675,000, issued an "unreserved apology".

Speaking to Sky News he said: "First and foremost I want to reiterate this full and unreserved apology to all of those people we have let down through our failure to properly manage the risk associated with level crossings.

"But I want to go further than that and I also want to apologise for the behaviour of Network Rail in the way that we have dealt with the bereaved in these tragic circumstances.

"We have not always demonstrated the sensitivity that I would expect in such awful circumstances."

The report warned that there may be many hundreds of crossings "which exceed Health and Safety Executive guidance on the acceptable level of fatality risk to the public".

He said £100m would be spent over the next five years improving safety at the country's 6,500 crossings and that 500 would be closed.

Publishing the report committee chairman Louise Ellman said: "The number of deaths on level crossings must come down and Network Rail must aim for zero deaths by 2020.

"NR has lowered the risk of death at a level crossing by 25% since 2008, but when suicides and trespass are excluded, level crossings still account for one half of all fatalities on the railway in recent years including nine people who died in 2012-13.

"Every one of those deaths was a personal tragedy which could have been averted. Yet looking back it's clear that on too many occasions Network Rail showed a callous disregard for the feelings of the families of people killed or seriously injured in accidents at level crossings."

Those families include the relatives of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, who were killed at Elsenham in Essex in December 2005.

They have always argued that key documents were withheld at the inquest and that they faced "a conspiracy of silence".

Mrs Ellman said the lack of transparency around safety concerns at the Elsenham crossing "was particularly shocking and raises profound questions about Network Rail's internal culture and accountability".

The committee's comments have been welcomed by Olivia's father Chris.

"It totally vindicates our view that NR have not done enough in the past to improve safety on level crossings, and that they treated us very badly - not just us but other families who lost relatives in accidents.

"Other families shouldn't have to go through what we have experienced, and we welcome the fact that the committee wants to see NR transform the way it which it treats families, the way it handles legal issues and that bereaved families should be entitled to legal support at inquests."

The MPs also made it clear that they would be concerned if Network Rail executives were to receive bonuses after being prosecuted and fined £500,000 last year over safety failings at a crossing in Beccles, Suffolk.

But the company has stated that if targets are met, bonuses of as much as 60% of salary will be paid.

Mr Bazlinton said: "I think bonuses are wrong and until the safety issue is resolved and until the safety record is much better, they should not be paid bonuses."

Network Rail says significant progress is being made across the network.

It has closed nearly 800 crossings since 2010 and spent £130m on safety. A further 500 will be shut by 2019.

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