§ Mr. Bishop
(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport if he has any statement to make about the railway disaster at Harrow last week.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
Yes, Sir. At about 8.20 a.m. on Wednesday, 8th October, the 7.31 a.m. passenger train from Tring to Euston was just starting away from the up fast platform at Harrow and Wealdstone Station when it was struck at the rear by the 8.15 p.m. express passenger train from Perth to Euston which was travelling at high speed on the same line. The adjacent down fast line was fouled by the wreckage, and a few seconds later the 8.0 a.m. down express from Euston to Liverpool, which was hauled by two engines and was also travelling at speed, collided with it.
The destruction of rolling stock resulting from this double collision was altogether exceptional, and it was inevitable that the casualty list was very great, particularly as the up local train was crowded. I regret to say that 110 persons lost their lives, including the driver and fireman of the Perth express. In addition, 159 persons were injured, of whom 75 are still in hospital; I am glad to say that the great majority of them are making good progress towards recovery.
32 A formal inquiry will be opened by the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways at Euston tomorrow, Wednesday, 15th October, and it will be understood that I cannot make any further statement at present. The Railway Executive have announced that they will accept full legal liability for compensation and all such claims will receive full and early consideration.
The House will, I am sure, wish to be associated with an expression of very deep sympathy with the relatives and friends of the many who lost their lives in this disaster, and with those who were injured. I should like to pay tribute to everyone who participated with such unselfishness in the prolonged and distressing work of rescue, including the detachments of the United States Air Force who came so promptly to help us in our troubles.
§ Mr. Bishop
I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. Will the inquiry which is to be held be wide enough in its scope to cover the general question of the safety devices used by the railways—or which could be used by the railways—in case of a human or mechanical failure in operation?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I feel quite sure that the scope of the inquiry can be safely left in the very competent hands of my Chief Inspector of Accidents.
§ Mr. Monslow
Would the Minister now consider the universal adoption of the system of automatic train control? This has been a feature which has been related to the House on innumerable occasions, and I ask him that this should be implemented forthwith in the light of this tragic accident.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I think we should be wise to await the results of the inquiry which, as I have said, opens tomorrow.
§ Mr. J. Freeman
Would the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that the people of Watford, who have suffered more grievously than any other community by this accident, would wish to be publicly associated with the tribute which he has paid to the work of rescue, which was quite remarkable, and not least to the help of the American Service men, which was given when it was most needed and which undoubtedly saved lives?