£3 Million Fine For Potters Bar Crash

Network Rail (NR) was fined £3 million today for health and safety failings over the 2002 Potters Bar train crash.

NR admitted failings over the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars which keep the moveable section of a track at the correct width for train wheels.

Its predecessor company Railtrack was the company in charge at the time of the crash but NR has shouldered the responsibility.

The West Anglia Great Northern express train was travelling from London to Kings Lynn on May 10 2002 when it derailed at a faulty set of points just outside Potters Bar station in Hertforshire, killing six passengers, Austen Kark, Emma Knights, Jonael Schickler, Alexander Ogunwusi, Chia Hsin Lin and Chia Chin Wu, and one pedestrian, Agnes Quinlivan.

The prosecution, at St Albans Crown Court under the Health and Safety at Work Act, was brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

Judge Bright QC passed sentence against NR after Nicholas Hilliard QC, appearing for ORR, had said the poor state of a set of points on the track at Potters  Bar had made the crash "inevitable''.

The now in-administration maintenance company Jarvis, which was responsible for the section of track at Potters Bar, also faced prosecution but the ORR decided in March not to proceed as the prosecution was "no longer in the public interest".

Judge Bright QC passed sentence against NR after Nicholas Hilliard QC, appearing for ORR, had said the poor state of a set of points on the track at Potters  Bar had made the crash "inevitable".

Director of rail safety at ORR Ian Prosser said: "Today marks the end of a long process in which we have sought to gain a sense of justice for the families of the victims of the Potters Bar derailment.

"It is welcome that Network Rail, as the successor to Railtrack, pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches, demonstrating that, under its new management, it is now an organisation willing to take responsibility and learn from past mistakes.

"Safety on Britain's railways has improved significantly over the last nine years and, today, statistics show we have one of the safest railways in Europe.

"But there can be no room for complacency. The safety culture of the rail industry can be significantly strengthened.

"As long as the regulator continues to have to step in to enforce improvements or bring prosecutions where things have gone wrong - as we have done many times this year - then, despite progress, it is clear that the industry has significant work still to do."

Pat Smith, 63, the daughter of Mrs Quinlivan said: "I just hope that other families in the future are not treated as shabbily as we were by the rail companies, and I include Network Rail in that.

"There has been total disregard for the bereaved families. We finally got our apology from NR yesterday. They should have put their hands up right away. That would have eased our pain."

Mrs Smith, from Potters Bar, said she felt the railways had got safer since the crash and she hoped lessons would be learnt and improvements implemented.

NR has no shareholders and and its debt is guaranteed by the Government. This means that any fine imposed on the company effectively comes out of the public purse.

Speaking after the court case today, Perdita Kark, the daughter of Austen Kark, said: "It's offensive that I pay a fine for something that killed my father.

"Directors of the two companies should have been in the dock as individuals and they should have paid out of their own purses."

Ms Kark, whose mother, author Nina Bawden, now 86, was badly injured in the crash, added: ``This fine is going to be paid by the taxpayer and will mean there is less money to be spent on the rail network."

Sentencing NR and ordering the company to pay £150,000 costs, Judge Andrew Bright said the crash had been "catastrophic".