HC Deb 05 July 1971 vol 820 cc927-9

Sir J. Foster (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the railway accident which occurred at Waverton, Cheshire, on 2nd July.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

At 6.20 p.m. on Friday, 2nd July, 1971, the last two coaches of the 10-coach 5.19 p.m. school excursion train from Rhyl to Smethwick were derailed while travelling at a speed of about 55 m.p.h. approaching Tattenhall Junction, near Waverton. Both coaches struck a bridge and were extensively damaged; the last coach broke away and turned over on its side.

The train was carrying many school children. I much regret to inform the House that two of them were killed. Twenty-nine persons were taken to hospital, nine of whom, including six children, were detained.

I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will wish to join me in extending sympathy to the relatives of the two children who were killed and to all those injured.

One of the Department's inspecting officers of railways visited the site and found that the accident's immediate cause was a considerable buckle in the track, which was of traditional jointed construction, not continuously welded.

A public inquiry into the accident has been ordered and will take place as soon as possible.

Mr. Walden

The schoolchildren involved in the accident were from Benson Road school in my constituency. I thank the right hon. Gentleman, as I know my constituents will thank him, for his expressions of sympathy, with which I asso ciate myself. Also, on behalf of my constituents, I thank the police and the various hospital staffs, particularly in Chester, who have done so much in this tragedy.

May I put one question to the Minister, without in any way wishing to prejudge the inquiry? If it should transpire that there is a structural fault involved here which could cause a similar occurrence somewhere else, will he ensure that urgent steps are taken to see that something is done?

Mr. Peyton

Yes, Sir. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks. If the inquiry throws up any cause or need for action, action will, of course, be taken.

Mr. Temple

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, because there was an excellent emergency plan in operation, all the various authorities, including the voluntary authorities, were able to swing into action quickly, otherwise the casualties would have been much greater?

Mr. Peyton

Yes, Sir. I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks will give great satisfaction to those who had an opportunity to help.

Mr. Bradley

I associate all my right hon. and hon. Friends with the right hon. Gentleman's expressions of sympathy to the bereaved and to all who were injured in this tragic accident. I am sure that it would be wise to await the outcome of the inquiry which the right hon. Gentleman has announced, but could he at this stage say whether modern coaches were involved in this incident? Second, having in mind, also, the mercifully less serious accident at Surbiton yesterday, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is some public concern now about the safety standards set by British Rail? Will he take this opportunity to confirm that everything possible is being done to maintain our railways' hitherto good record in this respect, in accordance with the Chief Inspecting Officer's Report and recommendations for 1969?

Mr. Peyton

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. The answer to his question about rolling stock is that they were modern coaches. The hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn attention to public concern. There will always be concern when accidents of this kind take place, with tragic consequences, but I am sure that he will be the first to agree that it would be wrong to let these things get out of proportion, since British Rail has a very creditable safety record.

Mr. Fisher

My right hon. Friend has decided to hold a public inquiry into the distressing accident at Waverton. Does he intend to hold a public inquiry into the Surbiton accident yesterday, which, although mercifully without fatal consequences, totally disrupted the whole railway service in that area?

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; this was, potentially, a very serious accident. It caused great interruption to traffic and could have had far worse consequences than it did. There will be a public inquiry.

Mr. Rankin

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind also that, in a short time, we shall be running trains between London and Glasgow at 100 m.p.h? Will he bear in mind the need for the coaches to embody the greatest possible safety measures? Second, could he say whether the rails at the point of the Waverton accident were of the modern type which will carry the new fast expresses?

Mr. Peyton

I was careful to say in my original answer—indeed, I am almost grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making me say it again—that it was not continuous welded rail involved in this accident. As regards the London-Glasgow trains. I am absolutely certain that the railways will have very much in mind the need to maintain safety standards. It would be wrong to suggest that they ever fall short in the desired standard of care, and I am absolutely satisfied that no effort is spared to ensure that the public have the highest safety standards provided for them.