TWO MAJOR collisions on the approaches to London’s Paddington terminus, both involving 200 km/h diesel trains operated by Great Western Trains, raised political concerns about rail safety to fever pitch after the Ladbroke Grove disaster on October 5 1999 (RG 11.99 p703).

The next day, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott appointed Sir David Davies, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, to recommend a national train protection strategy, given that both accidents were caused by drivers passing signals at danger. Sir David’s report was published on February 22, along with two separate reviews of Railtrack’s role in the management of safety since the industry was fragmented by privatisation in the mid-1990s.

Two days later, Professor Uff produced the report of his inquiry into the earlier accident, which occurred at Southall on September 19 1997 (RG 11.97 p741).

Nor is this the end of the story. On May 10, Lord Cullen starts Part 1 of his inquiry into Ladbroke Grove. When that is finished, he will hold with Professor Uff a joint inquiry into the primary issues common to both accidents: signals passed at danger (SPADs) and train protection.

Finally, in the autumn Cullen will open Part 2 of the Ladbroke Grove inquiry, which will comprise a general review of the way rail safety is organised and structured in Britain. Only when these further inquiries have reported, and the government has responded, will the long term impact of the two accidents become apparent.

Steady as she goes

Meanwhile, Sir David’s primary recommendation is that Railtrack should install the Train Protection & Warning System at 12000 critical signals and hazardous speed restrictions by the end of 2002, as already planned. All driving cabs in the national fleet will be fitted with TPWS by the end of 2003, as required by a ministerial order signed last year.

This will provide a good measure of protection against SPADs, avoiding around 70% of accidents so caused. However, Sir David is not content with the TPWS currently being installed because, even with 12% braking, trains exceeding 120 km/h may not be halted within the overlap beyond a red signal.

Where line speeds exceed 120 km/h, he wants stop signals protecting conflicting movements to be protected by two TPWS speed traps instead of one, raising their ability to stop trains within the overlap to 160 km/h. This ’TPWS+’ would increase the capital cost to Railtrack of the current programme from £193m to £263m. The official estimate for fitting the trains remains at £50m; Redifon MELwon in February a £37m contract to fit passenger stock owned by the three principal leasing companies.

Completion of TPWS+ should be followed by the development and installation of full automatic train protection on all routes where the line speed exceeds 160 km/h, Sir David says. This should be achieved by using Levels 1 or 2 of the European Train Control System, moving on to Level 3 with moving block when this becomes commercially available.

He admits to feeling ’a little uneasy about an interim system (TPWS) which does not lead to the long-term solution (ETCS), but I still believe it is the right direction in which to move. The operational advantages of ETCS Level 3 - increased capacity and faster recovery from delays - will make it very attractive to train operating companies in the next decade. It may even pay for itself.’

One result of the intense focus on ATP since Ladbroke Grove has been virtually 100% operation under the Great Western and Chiltern pilot schemes authorised in 1988. ATP was isolated on both GWT trains involved in the two collisions. Sir David says their extension should be considered, either geographically or to other trains. None of Thames Trains’ DMUs providing commuter services into Paddington has ATP; it would presumably have prevented the Ladbroke Grove collision if they had been.

But he agrees with Railtrack that it would be wrong not to adopt ETCS for national ATP. For a start, an EU inter-operability directive requires its use on the Trans-European Networks, including the West Coast, East Coast and Great Western main lines. The cost of ETCS is tentatively put in the £1bn to £2bn range.