§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the head-on rail crash of the 18.33 Sheffield to Manchester train at Chinley in Derbyshire on Sunday 9 March?
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
The accident happened at 19.20 yesterday. The 18.33 passenger train from Sheffield to Manchester, consisting of a diesel locomotive and four coaches, was brought to a stand at a red signal at Chinley East junction. Its driver was authorised to pass the signal at danger and did so. The train then crossed over on to the other line, where it collided head-on with two stationary diesel locomotives. I regret to have to tell the House that the driver of the passenger train was killed in the collision. In addition, the driver of the diesel locomotives was injured, together with about 25 passengers. Of the injured, four are still in hospital and I understand that one passenger is in a critical condition. I am sure that the House will join me in sending condolences to the family of the driver and to the injured, with our wishes for their full and speedy recovery.
I have ordered a formal inquiry into the accident. It will be conducted by an inspecting officer of railways. Evidence will be heard in public and the inquiry will open in about two or three weeks' time. There will be a published report. Until the inquiry opens, it would be wrong to speculate further on the cause of the accident.
§ Mr. Snape
The Opposition join the right hon. Gentleman in expressing their condolences to the family of the driver who was killed in this tragic accident. Without wishing to prejudge the result of the inquiry, may I press the Secretary of State on the fact that the train passed a signal at danger? Did that happen because of signal failure? Are he and the board satisfied with the adequacy of signal maintenance in that area and with the availability of those charged with carrying out signal maintenance, especially at weekends?
§ Mr. Ridley
It would be better to await the results of the formal inquiry before we discuss whether maintenance was carried out properly and the other matters which the hon. Gentleman raised. However, I can properly tell him that the line was recently equipped with modern colour signalling. What happened will be revealed by the inquiry.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
Although I sympathise with the driver's family and the four people who are still seriously injured, and although I do not wish to criticise the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) or you, Mr. Speaker, for this private notice question, is it not a strangely inverted tribute to British 668 Rail that we should have a private notice question when one person has been killed? Will my right hon. Friend never fail to remind the British people and the House that 14 people are killed and 196 people seriously injured on the roads every day? That seems to be a matter of no comment or interest to anyone.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is not for me to comment, Mr. Speaker, on your selection of this private notice question. However, I can confirm that British Rail 's safety record has steadily improved over the years. At the end of last year I was able to write to the chairman and congratulate him on the best safety record of, I believe, all time.
§ Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)
Will the Secretary of State note that I and my colleagues on this Bench wish to be associated with the sympathy that has been extended to the relatives of the deceased driver, and to the severely injured? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the inquiry to consider the present reduction in the duplication of tracks? Some of us are concerned about the continuing reduction in the number of tracks that are duplicated, which causes problems up and down the country. I do not know whether that was the problem in this instance, but the general position should be considered.
§ Mr. Ridley
The causes of the accident should be investigated by the inquiry, and we should not try to prejudge its conclusions. However, I can say that this was a double track line.