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20 Jan 2009 : Column 227WH—continued

No one saw Mr. Slade run down the platform after the train began to depart from the station, fall over and disappear down the gap. As a result, he was not found for a considerable length of time, which is deeply regrettable. The rules and regulations laid out for dispatching trains at Gidea Park and all driver-only operation trains make clear the systems, requirements and key operations in place. The train dispatcher and train driver are required
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to communicate with each other. The three key modes of indicating that it is safe to move away are: “train ready”, “close doors” and “right away”. The latter is communicated after the dispatcher has checked that people are not half on the train or caught in any way and that the train doors have closed. The “right away” signal gives the all clear to move when nothing further inhibits the train’s departure.

In the Slade case, the coroner wrote to the RSSB after the inquest, inviting consideration of changes to the relevant part of the rule book concerning train dispatch. The RSSB is an independent industry body whose role is to facilitate the development of, and a consensus on, standards within the rail industry. It put the request to the relevant industry standards committee of experts, which considered it and decided that no action was appropriate at this stage.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the gaps at Gidea Park and asked, “What is 5 mm? Who’s counting?” Well, the investigation was. It found that the gaps at the station all fell within the standards laid out by part 2 of the railway safety principles and guidance, to which he referred. Precise measurements are laid out to determine whether a gap is acceptable. However, gaps between trains and platforms at stations are a safety necessity in their own right. They ensure that trains, especially those passing through at speed or larger freight services, do not strike the platform or affect passengers waiting for a stopping service. Industry standards and guidance recommend what the maximum clearances between platforms and the footplates on passenger trains should be, and Network Rail applies those standards when building new platforms or making significant changes to existing ones. As Her Majesty’s railway inspectorate found, when investigating this case, the platform-train gap on platform 4 at Gidea Park fell within the accepted parameters.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and all those who read and listen to our deliberations that the railway industry is not cavalier about such sites and the issues to which we refer—gaps and required spaces and so on. Where there is a severe problem, the operators must take action to mitigate it, such as making warning announcements for passengers or marking the platform. We must remember that the gap at Gidea Park fell well within the requirements laid out in the safety regulations, so there was no need for a passenger announcement. Anyway, an announcement about minding the gap would have been for those alighting at the station, not for those getting on. Where mitigation measures are insufficient, the industry is required to make physical improvements, as it did at Southall before Heathrow Connect services were permitted to stop at that station.

Where possible, we have taken the option to have level access. Modern trams, the Jubilee Line extension, Heathrow Express and the docklands light railway all provide level access as they serve platforms dedicated to them, as will be the case in the tunnel section of Crossrail.

Every year, more than 2.1 billion passengers enter and leave trains on the Network Rail and London Underground systems. Taking the Network Rail figures for 2007, and London Underground’s for 2006-07—to give a typical year—there were eight passenger fatalities involving moving trains and station platforms on those two networks. Six of these fatalities involved trains
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entering stations, and hence were not affected by the gap between train and platform. The other two accidents were the incident involving Mr. Slade and one at Haddenham on 13 February 2007, when a passenger got out of a train and then either lowered himself or fell into the space between the end of two carriages while the train was stationary. In the latter case, the coroner returned an open verdict.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I want to ask the Minister’s opinion. He has told us what the independent body said about not changing the rules, but does he think that it is common sense to have rules that prevent the dispatcher
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from watching a train out of the station to check that the passengers are clear of it? In is own personal opinion, would it not be common sense to change those rules?

Paul Clark: Under guidance laid out in the rule book, dispatchers check that the train is clear to move off from the station.

In summary, I genuinely understand the concerns and depth of feeling about this case. I have made it clear already that we will take steps in relation to the British Transport police and keep under review the situation concerning railway safety—

2 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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