Rail firm admits Potters Bar breach

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The scene at Potters Bar station after the 2002 crash

Network Rail has admitted health and safety failings over the 2002 Potters Bar train crash.

The track and station owner told Watford Magistrates’ Court it will plead guilty to proceedings brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) over the condition of tracks at the disaster site.

Six passengers and a pedestrian were killed when a West Anglia Great Northern express train travelling from London to King’s Lynn derailed at a faulty set of points in Hertfordshire on May 10, 2002.

Peter Palfrey, chair of the bench at Watford magistrates, referred the case to St Albans Crown Court for sentencing on March 30 at 10am. During a brief hearing, Mr Palfrey said: “In this case we have decided that the charge is so serious we cannot give punishment at this court.”

Prashat Popat QC, representing Network Rail, said the organisation will plead guilty to failings surrounding the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars, which keep the moveable section of a track at the correct width for train wheels.

The ORR launched proceedings over alleged breaches of health and safety law following the conclusion of an inquest into the disaster last year. While the maintenance company involved was Jarvis, the overall responsibility for the track rested with Railtrack whose functions were taken over by NR in October 2002.

Speaking outside court, Network Rail repeated its intention to plead guilty but said the railways are now safer than ever.

“The railway today is almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002. Private contractors are no longer in control of the day-to-day maintenance of the nation’s rail infrastructure since Network Rail took this entire operation, involving some 15,000 people, in-house in 2004.”

The ORR said it is now considering whether to continue to pursue prosecutions against maintenance firm Jarvis.

Jarvis was due in court facing the same health and safety charge but was not represented when Network Rail entered its intended plea. The court adjourned Jarvis’s hearing until March 21.

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