Railways

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 6th March 2007.

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Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle 2:30 pm, 6th March 2007

How many sets of points of the same type as those at Grayrigg are to be found on the railway network.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

This is an operational matter for Network Rail, which advises that there are more than 4,000 sets of similar points on the national network. The Office of Rail Regulation, as safety regulator for the railway, is satisfied with the actions taken by Network Rail, following the derailment, to ensure that the railway is safe to operate. In particular, the ORR supports Network Rail's precautionary visual sample inspection of similar points across the network.

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

Trains are running across the network, so there is no design flaw in the points themselves, but I was reflecting on the signalling. At the Carlisle control centre the signal was at green. Why did that happen? Is any work being done to make sure that signalling systems are more sensitive to the condition of the track?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I am sure that most Members of the House would recognise that it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the subject of an ongoing investigation by the rail accident investigation branch.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

In light of the Grayrigg derailment, and the apparent similarities between that and the Potters Bar derailment, is there not a need for more than a precautionary inspection of 900 points? Is there not a need for a thorough inspection of the maintenance system and the inspection system for points, and indeed of the whole safety culture surrounding the points, so as to avoid this type of derailment?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The hon. Gentleman is getting rather ahead of himself. First, we have to take forward the continuing work of the rail accident investigation branch in clarifying exactly what happened at Grayrigg and the reasons for that particular tragedy. I understand that that will take some months. I am sure that we should allow the rail accident investigation branch the opportunity to do that work. In addition, however, it obviously continues to be an option for the ORR, the safety regulator, to set down conditions for Network Rail. My understanding is that, post the tragedy at Grayrigg, the ORR is satisfied with the steps that Network Rail has taken.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Perhaps the Secretary of State will confirm that the west coast main line will open again on 12 March.

Following the Potters Bar derailment, when there was a failure involving the points, the Rail Safety and Standards Board made 16 recommendations specifically on rail maintenance. Have those recommendations been implemented?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I will certainly be happy to write to my hon. Friend about the RSSB recommendations. I assure the House that work is under way to make sure that the west coast main line opens as quickly as possible.