Rail union attacks landslide safety record

THE leader of Britain's rail union yesterday challenged Network Rail's landslide safety record as a major operation began to remove two stranded carriages from a blocked line.

• A 1,000-tonne crane lifts one of the carriages from the derailed train clear from the 50ft high embankment and down to the road below. Photograph: Ian Rutherford

A rock fall derailed the Glasgow to Oban train near the Falls of Cruachan on Loch Awe on Sunday night. Eight of the 60 passengers were injured when the front carriage of a two-carriage train went over the edge of a 50ft embankment.

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A 1,000-tonne crane yesterday successfully lifted the front carriage clear of the embankment.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, claimed that the accident was the latest in a "catalogue of derailments" in Scotland. And he revealed that there had been a derailment at almost exactly the same location in April 1997.

Mr Crow has written to Network Rail bosses seeking urgent answers from the track operator on the investigations carried out into the series of derailments before Sunday's incident.

He said: "RMT is deeply concerned that there is growing evidence that lessons of derailments prior to Sunday's narrowly-avoided tragedy at the Falls of Cruachan may not have been learned and that key recommendations may not have been actioned.

"Against the background of savage cuts to budgets at Network Rail, and the prospect of more to come from the new government, we are today seeking assurances that all recommendations have been actioned and that corners have not been cut."

In his letter to Paul Taylor, Network Rail's route maintenance director in Scotland, Mr Crow lists a total of five previous derailments caused by landslips, dating back to the previous derailment at the Falls of Cruachan on 5 April, 1997.

He said: "I am extremely concerned that although the Railtrack report into the 1997 incident makes reference to the high level of false alarms with the stone signals and there is reference to designing a new system of alarms, no recommendation on this was made by the panel. It was also concluded that the embankment should be stabilised ... I also believe this was not actioned."

In response to Mr Crow's comments, a Network Rail spokesman said the company was working with the Rail Accident Investigation Bureau (RAIB) to investigate the derailment.

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He said: "At this stage it has not been shown if the maintenance regime has any bearing on this incident. The cause of this accident is for the RAIB to determine, not the RMT."

He added: "The operation to recover the vehicle proceeded as planned and engineers are now in the process of preparing the vehicle for removal from the site by road for its journey back to Glasgow. Engineers will then rerail the second carriage so it can be recovered from the site."

David Simpson, Network Rail route director Scotland, said: "This is a very complex operation, due to the location of the incident site and the unique design of the road, but the recovery of the rail vehicles continues to progress well.

"Our engineers are doing an excellent job in challenging conditions and every effort is being made to restore road and rail links as quickly as possible."