On Air Now
Early Breakfast with Jenni Falconer 4am - 6am
London Underground and its contractors have been fined £300,000 for safety failings after a runaway train caused chaos and put passengers at risk on Friday the 13th.
The 39-tonnes maintenance wagon hurtled through seven stations on the Northern Line before it could be stopped.
A train in front of it was told to keep going and not stop, while its passengers were told to run to the front carriages, the Old Bailey heard.
London Underground, Tube Lines Ltd and Schweerbau GMBH pleaded guilty to endangering passengers and staff under Health and Safety law. They were each fined £100,000.
Tube Lines and LU are part of Transport for London while the German company manufactured the wagon and its tow-bar.
Judge Richard Hone said:
"There was the potential of terrible tragedy."
He said the runaway train was out of control for four miles during 16 minutes.
"To those involved it must have seemed an extremely frightening eternity," he added.
The court was told that a fault had now been remedied and the incident was extremely unlikely to occur again.
Jonathan Ashley-Norman, prosecuting for the Office of Rail Regulation, told the court that the rail grinding unit was being towed when it broke away during the early morning.
It started rolling downhill without brakes from Highgate and into central London in August, 2010.
"It could have led to tragedy but thanks to the immediate actions of LU staff, no one was hurt," said Mr Ashley-Norman.
Speeds of 30mph were reached as it raced after the passenger train told to speed out of the next station at Archway, north London, and to keep going.
Control staff watched helplessly as they saw the flashing lights of both vehicles turn into one as the grinder got within 600 metres of the fleeing train.
Mr Ashley-Norman said attempts were made to slow the runaway train down using points at Camden Town and Mornington Crescent, and the trains were diverted onto different lines.
It eventually stopped at Warren Street central London when it reached an upward incline.
"In the event, and fortunately, no one was harmed," added Mr Ashley-Norman.
Keith Morton, QC, for the Tube companies, said:
"London Underground is one of the safest railways in the world - if not the safest."
He said a billion passenger journeys were made on London's Tube network each year.
London Underground (LU) director Mike Strzelecki said:
"This was clearly a serious incident and LU and Tube Lines acted quickly to investigate its causes and take action to ensure that the risk of such a rare incident recurring was minimised.
"Following the incident LU immediately put in place procedures to remove the engineering train and tow-bar from use on the railway.
"Since then LU and Tube Lines have put in place even tighter approvals and controls for the design and use of all such equipment."
He went on:
"LU staff's swift actions meant that this incident was drawn to a safe conclusion. LU has an excellent and improving safety record, with more than 10 times fewer serious incidents on the Tube than in 2000.
"This has been achieved in part by ensuring that all significant incidents are investigated thoroughly and the root causes addressed."
Ian Prosser, Office of Rail Regulation safety director, said:
"LU is one of the safest railways in the world and normally has a very good safety record. The companies responsible for running and maintaining services have an important duty to ensure that their workers and members of the public are not exposed to unnecessary safety risks.
"However, in this case, LU, Tube Lines and Schweerbau, through inadequate management and planning, failed to ensure the safe recovery of an engineering train. This is clearly unacceptable, and led to a potentially catastrophic incident on the Northern Line where the train careered out of control for over four miles.
"It was only the professionalism of control room staff taking decisive action which prevented a collision between trains, and averted a much more serious outcome.
"We welcome the steps taken by the companies to improve safety management on London Underground since this incident. The regulator will continue to closely monitor the actions of all parties involved, and will not hesitate to step in should further safety failings be found."
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, said:
"This shocking incident, which could very easily have resulted in a major tragedy and loss of life....should continue to serve as a wake-up call to LU and (London Mayor) Boris Johnson nearly two and half years on.
"The reports of what happened on that day will still send a shiver down the spine of Tube users and no-one should underestimate the role played by a fast-acting Tube driver in saving lives as the grinder chased behind the train. Against that background the dangerous talk of driverless operation should stop right now."
He went on:
"This near miss, where tragedy was only avoided by a few hundred metres, underlines the importance of maintaining the highest possible safety standards on the Tube where no-one is put under any pressure to cut corners - and yet that is exactly the pressure our members are under right now with maintenance and staffing cuts still on the agenda.
"The runaway grinder incident back in August 2010, and today's court outcome, reinforces RMT's case for a halt to the on-going cuts process to jobs and maintenance schedules that is undermining and diluting safety procedures across the Tube network and which continue to create the perfect conditions for a major disaster."