HC Deb 19 April 1961 vol 638 cc1170-2
Mr. Gardner (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has any statement to make about the rail crash last night near Pitsea.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

Yes, Sir. At about 1.30 p.m., the 12.25 p.m. Fenchurch Street to Shoeburyness passenger train, which was proceeding over the up line on account of prearranged engineering work on the down line, became derailed at a point about half-a-mile on the London side of Pitsea station. The engine turned over and the leading two coaches telescoped badly. The third and fourth coaches were derailed and damaged.

There were about 150 passengers in the train. I regret to say that two of them were killed and 42 injured. Thirty-six passengers were detained in hospital last night. Twenty-five are still in hospital.

I would like to extend my sympathy and, I am sure, the sympathy of the whole House, to the relatives of those who died, and to wish the injured a speedy recovery.

The emergency services responded rapidly to calls for help. The House would, I know, wish me to thank them, and the many local persons who went to the site, for the assistance they gave.

During the evening rush period, trains from Fenchurch Street for Pitsea and beyond were diverted via Tilbury, and an emergency bus service was introduced between Laindon and Pitsea. Normal services were operating this morning.

Colonel Robertson, an Inspecting Officer of Railways, went immediately to the site of the accident and will hold a formal inquiry.

Mr. Gardner

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and join with him in his expression of sympathy to the relatives of those who were killed and in his good wishes to those who were injured in the accident? I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) would also like to be associated with my right hon. Friend in that part of his statement. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the tributes that he has paid to the local and other emergency services and to the help and comfort which were afforded to the injured by those living locally are well deserved?

Is the Minister aware that this is one of the busiest commuting lines in the country? Can he assure the House and, in particular, the public who use this line that there will be no delay in any inquiry he may be making? Will he say whether the inquiry will be private or public? Upon what date will the inquiry take place?

Mr. Marples

The inquiry will certainly take place straight away, absolutely at once. I cannot say what it will be, but I agree that the quicker we can have such an inquiry and the quicker we can take remedial action, the better. I should like to reaffirm my thanks to the local people who played such a great part in alleviating the distress of the people involved in the accident.

Mr. Channon

I should like to join my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) in the tributes which they have paid. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the accident was, in part, caused because there was single-line working along the line because of the work on overhead electrification? Will he do what he can to ensure that such work is carried on at a time when there is not heavy traffic along the line, particularly as when the summer months come along the volume of traffic will be even heavier than it is now?

Mr. Marples

I should not like to anticipate the findings of the inquiry, but I will certainly take note of what my hon. Friend has said in his supplementary question.

Mr. McAdden

I should like to join in the expression of thanks to the good people of Pitsea who valiantly rallied round on the occasion of this regrettable accident.

Will my right hon. Friend take a personal interest in the question of compensation to the victims of the accident? Is he aware that a crash occurred on this line at Dagenham three years ago, in which the guard on one of the trains lost both his legs, and that the guard has not received a penny in compensation from that day to this? Although there may be legalistic arguments as between the union and the B.T.C. about the amount of compensation, surely the Commission will give him something now. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the victims of this latest crash are not unduly penalised by overlong legalistic arguments?

Mr. Marples

I hope that there will be no delay in compensation. If my hon. Friend will give me details of the case to which he has referred, I promise him and the House that I will look into it straight away.