§ Mr. Victor Yates (by Private Notice)
asked the Minister of Transport whether she will make a statement about the crash which occurred at Stechford, Birmingham, on Tuesday 28th February.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
Yes Sir. I was deeply shocked to learn of this tragic accident, in which nine people lost their lives. The tragedy is the more harrowing in that it follows a year when there was not a single passenger killed in a train accident. It also happened on the new London Midland electrified line, which is the pride of British Railways.
The facts are that at 15.40 yesterday the 13.15 4-coach electric multiple unit express passenger train from Manchester to Coventry, running at 60 to 70 m.p.h. on the up main line approaching Stechford, collided sidelong with a diesel engine at a junction just short of the station. For some reason at present unknown, the engine was moving from the branch line across the path of the express. The four coaches of the passenger train were derailed and two of them turned over onto their sides across the down main line.
I must inform the House with the deepest regret that the accident resulted in the deaths of eight passengers and of the driver of the express; other passengers were injured and taken to hospital where three were detained. The emergency services were called for at once and arrived on the scene within five or six minutes of the accident, a very creditable performance.
The cause of this tragic accident has yet to be established and my Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, who has already visited Stechford and made an on-the-spot preliminary investigation last night, will be holding a public inquiry into it on 9th March.
I know that the House will join with me in expressing sincere sympathy with the relatives of the deceased and with the injured.
§ Mr. Yates
In thanking my right hon. Friend the Minister for that statement and associating myself with her expres- 518 sion of sympathy, may I also associate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), in whose constituency this disaster occurred, and who is unavoidably absent? He asked me to convey a tribute to all who assisted, the doctors, nurses, members of fire brigades and others who rendered valuable services.
May I ask that at the inquiry, as so many of the travelling public are deeply concerned about this, she will see that the automated signalling system will be thoroughly examined so that the new electrified system will be seen to be working without any doubt whatever?
§ Mrs. Castle
I associate myself, as my hon. Friend has asked, with his tribute to the wonderful rescue work that was done by all concerned. I referred to that in my original statement.
On the question of the signalling service, I can assure him that the Chief Inspecting Officer, from his preliminary investigations, has established that the fact that the express train was an electric one had nothing to do with the accident. His preliminary inquiries also indicate that the new signalling was not at fault. He has already provisionally approved the signalling and it is due to be officially inspected in April.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Will the right hon. Lady accept that we on this side of the House would very much like to be associated with the expression of sympathy to the dependants of those killed and injured and in the tribute to those who helped in the rescue work? Will she also express to all concerned in British Railways with the magnificent modernisation of this line, who must be very disappointed at this happening, our complete confidence in its future success?
§ Mrs. Castle
I thank the hon. Member for that expression of opinion, which, I know, will greatly hearten the British Railways Board. Of course, we are all deeply disappointed that this tragic accident should have taken place in this way, but I believe, as I said in my reply, that we shall be able to establish that the fact that this was an electric service had nothing to do with the accident.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
May I associate myself with the tributes to the rescue 519 workers and the expressions of sympathy with the relatives of those who have been killed? In view of the great deal of publicity that has been given to the starting of the new passenger service and of the fact that it is to start on Monday, will she do all she can to hasten this inquiry so that the maximum reassurance can be given as soon as possible to the new travelling public which we hope to encourage to use these trains?
§ Mrs. Castle
As I have said, the inquiry will start on 9th March. We are anxious to press ahead with it although we would not want to do anything to prevent it being an extremely thorough one.
I repeat that the preliminary investigations by my Chief Inspecting Officer show that the fact that this was an electric line had nothing to do with the cause of the accident, so I am sure that passengers can be reassured.
§ Mr. Edelman
In regretting this tragic accident which resulted in death and injury of some of my constituents, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether she would say, in spite of what she has said already about the electrification question, that in the event of electronic failures the new system admits of correction by human intervention? In those circumstances, what margin of time is there for manual intervention of such a kind?
§ Mrs. Castle
I should not like to try to answer my hon. Friend's very detailed technical question without notice. I can only repeat that preliminary investigations show that the new signalling equipment was not at fault in this accident.
§ Mr. Manuel
My right hon. Friend said that the preliminary investigation by the Chief Inspecting Officer has established that there was no signalling failure. Would she agree that we ought not to be too definite on that, because it could cause a reflection on the drivers, one of whom was killed?
§ Mrs. Castle
I do not want to anticipate the full inquiry, or to cast a reflection on anyone, but we face the fact that the new service is to start next Monday and I think that those intending to travel on that service are entitled to have the results of the Chief Inspecting Officer's preliminary inquiries. If these results 520 had not been what they are I should take steps to prevent the new service coming into operation, but I want to assure the House that there is no danger of it not coming into operation.
§ Mr. Mapp
Without prejudice completely to the full exploration of the circumstances, and having regard to the loss of life, which is rather unusual in an accident of this kind, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Chief Inspecting Officer might particularly look at the result of the impact in terms of the vestibule or compartment type of vehicles involved in this accident? There are different reactions in this field in regard to the ultimate injurious effect, and so on. I hope that that will be borne in mind.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sure that the Chief Inspecting Officer will bear that in mind. I will draw it to his attention.