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John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Our first thoughts today must be with all the victims of the tragic accident—those who lost their lives and those who were injured. May I, therefore, associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and those of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), and pass on our expression of deepest sympathy and condolence to all the relatives of the bereaved? May I add our tribute to the work of the emergency services and staff of the hospitals involved, who acted with commendable dispatch and in the finest traditions of our emergency services? I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in sending me an advance copy of his statement.

The key paragraph in the interim report, from which the Secretary of State quoted, is paragraph 17 on page 5, which makes it clear that there was no failure of systems, management or staff that was responsible for this tragic accident. There are clearly issues to be resolved by the police investigation in respect of the car and how it came to be there and, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, in respect of any wider safety issues that may have to be considered in due course, particularly with regard to level crossing design. However, today is not the day to debate these issues, and
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I would merely ask the Secretary of State to undertake to return to the House when the appropriate moment arises, so that we may have a debate at that time.

Finally, will the Secretary of State reiterate that, notwithstanding the tragic events that took place last Saturday, the railways remain an extremely safe mode of travel, and one in which the travelling public can have confidence?

Mr. Darling: Again, I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said, and the way in which he said it. On his final point, it is worth reminding ourselves that, notwithstanding this accident, the railways are safe. We should all reflect on the fact that, over this last weekend, for example, 10 people were killed in road accidents. While we are doing everything that we possibly can to improve rail safety, we should also bear it in mind that a lot remains to be done in relation to road safety as well. As I said a few moments ago, we shall certainly look at these matters, and when we get the final report, I have not the slightest doubt that we shall return to it.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that the crash took place at a site very close to three parliamentary constituencies that I know extremely well. While it is important to await the outcome of the full investigations by the RSSB, and not to jump to any premature conclusions, will he ensure that consideration is given to any devices that could be installed to give train drivers advance warning of any obstruction of railway lines at unstaffed level crossings? These could include CCTV, or pressure switch devices that could be triggered by a heavy blockage on the line.

Mr. Darling: This is clearly something that the RSSB will look at. However, as I have been saying over the past few days, we do not yet know how long the car had been on the line, and I would not want people to think that there were devices that could prevent all eventualities. This train was travelling at about 100 mph and, even with emergency braking, it would take between half a mile and a mile to stop. Obviously, the industry will look at the technology that is around and, importantly, at the technology that is being developed. What we want to do all the time is make things as safe as we possibly can. Our great difficulty, however, is that in an open network—as a railway system inevitably is—if somebody really wants to get on to the track, we cannot exclude every possibility of that happening, even if we do everything that we can.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The local community is very shocked by this dreadful accident, and I would like to send my deepest sympathy to the families of all those who have lost loved ones, and to the   injured. I would also like to add my thanks to the emergency services and the members of the local community who responded magnificently when the crash occurred. Will the Secretary of State give me his personal assurance that the safety concerns that I sent to the HSE again this morning will be properly considered, including the question of whether more safety features can be built into the future design of railway carriages? Many of the injuries in this crash occurred under rapid deceleration as people and luggage were detached from where they should have been.
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Mr. Darling: I am sure that everyone involved in the accident will appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He is particularly right to draw our attention to the help that was so promptly and readily given by people living and working near to the accident site on Saturday evening. And, yes, I can assure him that the suggestions that he has made to the HSE this morning will be taken into account. As I said a few moments ago, a lot of attention is given to safety features on each new generation of trains, in regard not only to the structure of the carriages but to the internal fittings. For example, the refurbishment of the east coast main line fleet that is taking place at the moment has taken into account some of the things that have happened in previous accidents, in terms of the internal design of the carriages.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): This accident happened in the most extraordinary circumstances, and I am sure that we all join together in sending our sympathy to all those who have been affected. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), the Secretary of State said that we did not know how long the vehicle had been on the tracks. We all understand that, but each occurrence such as this could bring to light loopholes in the safety systems that we need to close. Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the HSE will investigate all the available forms of technology that could be used to identify blockages at unmanned level crossings, so that we can establish as early a warning system as possible? We must bear it in mind that such a system might not have prevented this accident, but we might be able to identify a problem that can be resolved for the future.

Mr. Darling: The RSSB will examine such matters, and the Health and Safety Executive will help it. My hon. Friend is right that we must consider what technology might be available now and in the future, not just for new but existing trains. As I said, each year, further improvements come along. For example, the vast majority of trains are now fitted with the train protection warning system, which was not the case a few years ago. This train was fitted with that, but it did not help in a situation in which the signals were all at green and the car was on the railway line at some point. His general point, however, will be considered by the inquiry.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury) (LD): Two of those who died were my constituents, one of whom I knew personally, and a number of other constituents were on that train or helped in the aftermath of the incident. I am grateful to the Secretary of State and other Members for offering their condolences, as I am sure that my constituents will be. Does he agree that it would be sensible in future for the emergency procedures to include some method of making sure that we get hold of the names and addresses of all those involved, since it appears that that did not happen on this occasion. At least we could then offer them help afterwards, if there are opportunities to do so, or ask them any further questions.

Is the Secretary of State also aware that in coach E, when an attempt was made to break the windows, the hammers broke, not the windows? That is thought to be because they were being improperly used, or not
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used in accordance with safety instructions. Of course, safety instructions are often ignored by people until they are in an accident, but when it happened, the lights went out, and there was no emergency lighting to enable the safety instructions to be reviewed. Would it be possible to try to make sure that train companies introduce emergency lighting, at least where the emergency equipment is kept?

Mr. Darling: I am sure that the inquiry will consider that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in this case, because of the way in which the train eventually stopped, many of the power lines would have been fractured. He will have seen the photographs that show what happened to the train when it stopped I am sure that the inquiry will want to examine the use of hammers in particular.

I understand that the decision on names and addresses is essentially one for the coroner, and that certain formalities must be observed, such as formal identification. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the last possible thing that we want is the wrong names and addresses. If anything can be done to speed up that process, I am sure that it can be examined. I know that there was a slight delay on this occasion, and I will have to make further inquiries about the reason for that, but those are essentially matters for the coroner and police.

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