HC Deb 18 November 1999 vol 339 cc7-8W
Mr. White

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he has received from the Health and Safety Executive the first of the monthly reports which he requested on signals passed at danger; and if he will make a statement. [98608]

Mr. Prescott

Following the train crash at Ladbroke Grove on 5 October, a number of urgent actions were put in hand to achieve a more open, more responsive and more rigorous culture of safety across the rail industry. As part of these, I asked the Health&Safety Executive (HSE) to let me have regular reports for publication monthly, on all signals passed at danger (SPADs). I received the first of those reports on Tuesday and have now placed a copy in the House Library. I will ensure that future reports are also placed in the Library.

This first report includes some background information on SPADs and how they are dealt with by the industry and HSE's Railways Inspectorate. It gives statistics for SPADs for the last 10 years and splits the figures by month. The annual figures show that the totals have been falling gradually since 1993–94 until the 8 per cent. rise in 1998–99, which prompted HSE to demand improvements from the industry on how they responded to SPADs. The monthly figures demonstrate the cyclical nature of the problem, with SPADs tending to peak in October/November, when damp conditions and falling leaves can lead to poor braking performance.

This October there were five serious incidents (which for instance, breached the 200 yard safety overlap usually allowed at signals), comprising 7 per cent. of the total for the month. As well as the industry investigation of every SPAD, HSE will also investigate thoroughly these more serious SPADs. We should not read too much into one month's figures but the October total was significantly lower than last year.

The October SPAD figure has only been bettered once in the last 10 years. We must not be complacent however. The Ladbroke Grove accident demonstrated all too clearly how a single SPAD can result in catastrophe. That is why it is so important that the rail industry commit to reducing the number of SPADs. I sought this commitment from the industry at the rail summit which I held last month. When the industry reports back to me on 30 November I shall expect nothing less from them than a detailed programme of action.