9 May 2023
RMT Press Office:
Rail union RMT will mark the 21st anniversary of the Potters Bar rail disaster tomorrow.
On 10 May 2002, a northbound train to Norfolk, derailed at high speed, killing seven and injuring 76 at Potters Bar station leaving part of the train wedged between the station platforms and building structures.
Six of the victims were travelling in the train, while a seventh was killed by the masonry falling from a nearby bridge.
The Health and Safety Executive report released in May 2003 found that the points were poorly maintained and that this was the principal cause of the accident.
The points had been fully inspected on 1st May by a team working for the private railway maintenance firm Jarvis plc and there had been a further visual inspection on 9th May, the day before the crash, with no problems reported.
The following year Network Rail brought their maintenance in house, announcing all track maintenance would be done by its own workers, rather than using private contractors.
On 13th May 2011, Network Rail was fined £3 million for safety failings related to the crash.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “Today we remember the victims of the avoidable Potters bar tragedy 21 years ago.
“Potters Bar could have been avoided if safety had been put ahead of profits.
“Those responsible for creating that lethal culture escaped prosecution for their role creating an avoidable disaster.”
Right now, the Government are looking to cut £2bn from their rail budget, Network Rail is currently slashing track maintenance inspections by 50%, their “Modernising Maintenance” programme involves moving away from scheduled to reactive maintenance.
Mr Lynch added: “We need an end to the axing of safety-critical jobs, the shelving of maintenance and renewals work and the downgrading of inspection time. We believe that this is going to be highly unsafe, and it is only a matter of time before we see another Potters Bar tragedy.
“We also need a strong independent safety regulator to ensure rail companies don’t put our safety at risk while they drive through the huge budget cuts demanded by Government. Unfortunately, the rail safety regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) do not appear up to the job. Network Rail has not entered into meaningful consultation with RMT regarding its proposed changes to track safety maintenance regime – but ORR has refused to intervene”.
During recent RMT strike action, the ORR failed to intervene to prevent rail companies jeopardising passenger safety, despite the many safety incidents which RMT reported caused by contingency staff.
Examples include: On 15th December 2022, the contingency staff response to a collapsed overhead electric line put the contingent Mobile Operation Manager and possibly train crew and passengers also, at serious risk of electrocution. This happened as a result of contingent staff in the Electrical Control Room failing to follow the correct procedure - instead re-energising the Overhead
Line Equipment (OLE) without first asking the signaller if there were any electric trains in the OLE Area that had tripped.
On 3rd January 2023, a Signal Passed at Danger occurred due to a serious operating irregularity and miscommunication by Network Rail managers during Emergency Special working. Operating rules were broken as an exit signal at an easily identifiable location was not used, nor were relevant operating forms. This resulted in a serious miscommunication between the driver and signaller and a signal being passed at danger by over 2000 metres. Unbelievably, ORR said this was a “low-risk incident”.