Rail chiefs admit safety failings over derailment of London to King’s Lynn train that killed seven

Network Rail has today admitted health and safety failings over the 2002 Potters Bar rail crash.

The track and station owner told Watford Magistrates' Court it will plead guilty to proceedings brought by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) over the condition of tracks at the disaster site.

Prashat Popat QC, representing Network Rail, said the organisation will plead guilty to failings surrounding the installation, maintenance and inspection of adjustable stretcher bars, which keep the moveable section of a track at the correct width for train wheels.

Speaking outside court, Network Rail repeated its intention to plead guilty but said the railways were now safer than ever.

'We have indicated a guilty plea today as Network Rail took on all of Railtrack's obligations, responsibilities and liabilities when it took over the company in October 2002, some five months after the accident,' a spokeswoman said.

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'The railway today is almost unrecognisable since the days of Railtrack and the Potters Bar tragedy of 2002.

'Private contractors are no longer in control of the day-to-day maintenance of the nation's rail infrastructure since Network Rail took this entire operation, involving some 15,000 people, in-house in 2004.

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'All of the recommendations made by both the industry's own formal inquiry and the health and safety investigation have been carried out.'

During this morning's brief hearing Peter Palfrey, chair of the bench at Watford Magistrates' Court, said: 'In this case we have decided that the charge is so serious we cannot give punishment at this court.'

He referred sentencing to St Albans Crown Court, on March 30.

The Office of Rail Regulation launched proceedings over alleged breaches of health and safety law following the conclusion of an inquest into the disaster last year.

While the maintenance company involved was Jarvis, the overall responsibility for the track rested with Railtrack whose functions were taken over by NR in October 2002.

The ORR said it was now considering whether to continue to pursue prosecutions against maintenance firm Jarvis.

Jarvis was due in court facing the same health and safety charge but was not represented when Network Rail entered its intended plea.

The court adjourned Jarvis's hearing until March 21.

'In the meantime, ORR will decide whether it remains in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution of Jarvis, and will make this decision before the hearing on 21 March,' an ORR spokesman said.

'In coming to a decision the regulator will consult fully with the families of the victims and take into account their views.'

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: 'This news should stop in their tracks those from the Tory Party and the business sector who are arguing for re-privatisation and the creation of Railtrack Mark Two.

'It was the dash for profits, and the cutting of corners in the name of greed, that led the UK railways to Potters Bar and that lesson should not be forgotten today.'

He went on: 'In-house services, publicly controlled and publicly accountable, are the cornerstone of rail safety and, on the day that David Cameron has argued for more privatisation, he needs to remember that before he embarks on another lethal gamble out on the tracks.'

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