Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Hunting Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Selby Rail Crash

7.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in another place about the tragic accident at Selby at about 6.20 this morning. The Statement is as follows:

28 Feb 2001 : Column 1380

28 Feb 2001 : Column 1381

    make a decision as to what further steps may be appropriate. I shall ensure that the report is made public".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement that was made by the Deputy Prime Minister in another place earlier this evening.

8.2 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement this evening. On behalf of all noble Lords on these Benches, I join with the Minister in expressing our grief and sympathy for those who died or who were involved in the accident. At this time we feel for their families, we feel for those who cannot be sure that their loved ones are safe, and we also feel for those who might not yet have found out that their loved ones are involved.

On these occasions we rightly praise the sterling efforts of our emergency services. Successful handling of these disasters is derived from two factors. The first is the courage, determination, resourcefulness and skill of those involved on the scene. However, we should not forget the second factor; namely, the emergency planning carried out a long time in advance just in case. Mercifully, it does not get tested too often.

This accident occurred as a result of an unbelievably unfortunate chain of events. If any one of them had not taken place, the accident--if it had happened at all--would not have been nearly so serious. There will, of course, be public and media concern over the safety crash barriers. I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that much research has taken place over many years. As a result, hundreds or even thousands of lives have been saved by the barriers. Noble Lords will be aware that the Highways Agency and local authorities are constantly installing more crash barriers to protect high-risk features. Of course, there are a few which are more high-risk than railway crossings. Indeed, there was a similar accident in Germany a while ago.

I have no intention of asking any technical questions tonight. We shall find out more tomorrow, and the preliminary results of the official investigation will no doubt be available within a few days. I am also confident that the Minister has taken all the appropriate steps following this most tragic disaster.

8.4 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the expression of sympathy that has been made to the injured and to the friends and families of those who were killed in this astonishing and catastrophic accident. Indeed, I believe that it is the worst accident on the railways for several years. When the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health, and others, are talking with people who were involved in the accident, I hope that they will ensure that those involved do understand that Parliament as a whole--not just this House, but also the other place--is deeply sympathetic as regards what happened today.

28 Feb 2001 : Column 1382

As the noble Earl just said, it was an extraordinary collection of events all happening within seconds, as the Statement makes plain. In all the confusion, and considering the terrible things that happened, it was a mercy that the engine of the train, which I understand was derailed, actually stopped short of hitting the nearest houses. Had it not stopped, that would have added yet another horrendous aspect to this already terrible accident.

There are questions that could be asked, but can the Minister assure me that the North Yorkshire Police will be carrying out the usual investigations that apply to any road incident? I ask that because, at the bottom of this, we are talking about an incident on a motorway. It is not for us to judge what happened or, indeed, what caused that accident. But that was the cause of the rail accident.

Further, can the Minister say whether the investigation of the Health and Safety Executive's railway inspectorate will cover all the other rail-oriented factors that might have made a difference one way or the other? Bridges have a natural vulnerability when they are involved in accidents with cars. That may sound a silly way of putting it, but not only is the car vulnerable in such circumstances but so, too, is the bridge. The Statement explained what seemed to me as I watched the events unfolding this morning to be an impossibility; namely, a car going over the barrier of a motorway bridge and ending up on a track. But, of course, it did not go over the barrier; it went behind the barrier, which is quite different.

I am sure that there are questions to consider and decisions to be taken as a result of the accident. Despite the fact that I agree with what has been said about the great care that is taken with bridges, I hope that the vulnerability of bridges will, nevertheless, be borne in mind. We look forward to the publication of the results of the inquiry. In closing my remarks, I repeat our sympathy for those who have been injured and for those who have lost loved ones today.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the House will share my appreciation of the sincere tribute made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to the emergency services and their careful contingency planning of even the most unexpected of accidents. The Highways Agency is constantly concerned about its standards in relation to crash barriers. I thank the noble Earl for his remarks, with which I associate myself completely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, is right to stress the exceptional and awful coincidences at work in this morning's accident. As I said, the railway inspectorate will produce an interim report, which I hope we shall receive at an early stage. This will be made public. Like noble Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the professionalism that is inherent in the inspectorate. I am sure that it will consider every aspect of this tragedy.

As the noble Baroness said, bridges are, indeed, vulnerable. One of the primary functions of the crash barriers erected around bridges is that they should

28 Feb 2001 : Column 1383

offer protection above railway lines. They are built to agreed standards. My understanding is that the crash barriers on this bridge were in fact longer than the required standard for such barriers. However, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, in these circumstances we have a vehicle that seems to have gone off the road before the barrier and then travelled a hundred metres or so on to the track. Those circumstance will be inquired into by North Yorkshire Police and other agencies. The Transport Research Laboratory has a team now at work assisting the Highways Agency. It, too, will make a report and, where appropriate, I shall bring those reports to the attention of your Lordships' House.

8.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I should like to add words of sympathy from these Benches after this terrible tragedy. I do so as a bishop from Yorkshire although my diocese is on one side of the boundary where this accident took place.

When I heard the news this morning, I was with a choir and readers ready to broadcast the Radio 4 service on the BBC. We were able to do in that service what I know many others will have done during the day; that is, to remember in our prayers those who have been killed, those who were injured, and those who rescued them.

As I thought more about this terrible event, it is only during the latter part of the day that I realised that some sympathy also needs to be shown to GNER. This is the second tragedy that that rail company has had to face. Naturally, our deepest sympathy must go to those whom we have already mentioned but I should like to put down that little marker of sadness for the rail company.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page