Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Elsenham: A bear trap in the woods known as Network Rail

A friend asked me not so long ago, ‘what past event would you want to return to and change?’ This thought flashed across my mind this morning as I jostled in a media scrum outside Basildon Magistrates Court in a sleeting Essex chill. 
  Chris Bazlinton and Reg Thompson stood amidst the jostle. Their respective daughters, Olivia, aged 14, and Charlotte, 13, were struck and fatally killed by a train at a footpath level crossing at Elsenham station in December 2005.
  Six years later, inside the tiny magistrates court, with graffiti etched on the public seats, both men strained to hear a swish Network Rail lawyer sheepishly say the UK's rail infrastructure company was pleading guilty to criminal charges of breaching health and safety law – criminal breaches that had led to the girls’ death (See London Intelligence for details). 
  The Office of Rail Regulation had brought the criminal prosecution against Network Rail.
  Behind the guilty plea lies a sordid mix of incompetence, deceit and arrogance - and a  sickening trail of 'if onlys'. 
  If only...Network Rail had acted on respective warnings issued by its own staff in 2001 and 2002 saying Elsenham’s footpath level crossing was dangerous and life-threatening. 
 If only...the company had rendered Elsenham safe – via locking gates, a footbridge and effective audible warnings - then Network Rail could’ve prevented the girls from being killed on a Saturday morning that was brightened, from all accounts, by their cheerful, youthful exuberance. Let's not forget, although this was a rural station, the London-Liverpool Street-Stansted Airport route is very busy, with some trains, including the express that killed Olivia and Charlie, roaring through at speeds up to 110mph.
  If only Network Rail managers had admitted to the existence of these prior warnings to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch...
 If only Network Rail had told the Essex Coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murray, in January 2007...
 And, if only, Network Rail had admitted responsibility for failing to act on those previous warnings, the company could at least have accorded Chris, Reg, Tina and the rest of the girls’ families the honesty and dignity they surely ought to have received.
  Instead, Network Rail treated the families to a six-year cover-up that piled frustration and outrage upon the families' already unimaginable anguish. 
 Of course, even a substantial fine won't hurt Network Rail too much. After all, this not-for-profit eats up taxpayers' money, providing handsome salaries and bonuses for its top executives whilst cutting lower grade staff and jobs and humping its massive accumulated debt back onto the public purse. 
  The new man at the top of Network Rail – chief executive David Higgins – promises to be a new broom sweeping transparency and accountability through the company. “Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by Olivia and Charlotte’s families but I have promised them we are committed to making our railways as safe as possible,” said Higgins after today’s hearing.
 Give Higgins his due. He has earned Chris Bazlinton’s confidence but is cited as saying there is no evidence the prior risk assessments and warnings were wilfully witheld.
 Chris Bazlinton told the media pack outside the court this morning: “We shall be watching closely to make sure that changes Network Rail have promised to improve level crossing safety are carried out.
  Going back to my friend's question, sadly, there’s no way anyone can go back in time and whisper a warning to the girls – ‘Be careful. That level crossing at Elsenham is like a bear trap in the woods'.
That’s how Reg Thompson once poetically yet aptly described Elsenham station.
 By failing to act on those warnings several years before Olivia and Charlotte lost their lives – and for harbouring individuals who covered up their responsibility for that tragedy – ‘a bear trap in the woods’ seems an equally apt description for Network Rail itself. 

Paul Coleman, London, January 2012

1 comment:

Туры в США said...

Its good to know that a new broom sweeping transparency and accountability through the company is promised. Great thought.