Rail Passenger Safety

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 12:00 pm, 1st March 2007

To ask the First Minister, in light of the Cumbria train crash, what action it will take within its responsibilities in the interests of passenger safety. (S2F-2760)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I apologise for the length of this reply but, clearly, it is on an important and immediate issue on which I would like to give some information to the chamber. First, on behalf of all members, I express my condolences to the family of Margaret Masson, who lost her life so tragically at the weekend. Our thoughts are also with all those who were injured in the incident in Cumbria, particularly those who are still in hospital.

Railway safety is a reserved issue. However, Transport Scotland officials are actively engaged with the Department for Transport in developing safety policy. They will work with the department and the Office of Rail Regulation in taking forward any specific recommendations that arise from the derailment investigation.

The Office of Rail Regulation supports the precautionary inspection by Network Rail of the 900 sets of points across the UK network that are similar to the ones that form part of the current investigation. I am informed that, by the evening of Tuesday 27 February, all of the 200 similar sets of points on the Scottish network had been checked by Network Rail engineers and no safety concerns had been found. Although all members will welcome that information, I am sure that we would also want to insist that Network Rail continues to be vigilant in the future about the safety of the track, which is its responsibility.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I thank the First Minister for that detailed answer and echo the sentiments that he expressed in respect of the lady who lost her life and the people who were injured.

We have to await the outcome of the derailment investigation, but I want to look to the longer term. Seat belts have been mandatory for a long time in motor cars and aeroplanes. Surely a suggestion that is worthy of consideration is that three-point seat belts should be supplied on trains, particularly when new rolling stock is purchased.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I speak personally rather than necessarily on behalf of the whole Executive, although I understand that a number of ministers have strong views in support of having seat belts on trains. A very strong case can be made for the provision of seat belts on trains. I believe that any investigation into the derailment last weekend should look again at the issue, which has been looked at before, and do so positively. Even if the issue of train safety is reserved, we have responsibilities for train services and for the track in Scotland, so we will consider contributing to any debate on the issue over the months to come. In any debate on how to move forward on the issue, seat belts will have to be part of the consideration.