02 November 2000 | Liam O'Brien
Railtrack is urgently reviewing the outsourcing of railway maintenance following the Hatfield train crash in which four people were killed and 30 injured.
Railtrack admitted last week that the accident - involving the derailment of a GNER London King's Cross-to-Leeds express train and thought to be caused by a broken rail - raised questions about the effectiveness of arrangements governing third parties responsible for £663 million-worth of maintenance.
Railtrack's contract with Balfour Beatty includes clauses requiring it to notify the infrastructure provider of any rail cracking. It is believed that the rail on the stretch of line where the accident occurred must have shown evidence of gauge corner cracking prior to the crash.
A spokeswoman for Railtrack told SM: "We thought we had a process that meant contractors would bring up problems such as cracked rails. Clearly, we can't rely on that process anymore, so we are undertaking a comprehensive review of our contracting arrangements." Plans to bring track maintenance work back in-house were being considered, she said.
In the days following the crash it emerged that Railtrack had warned Balfour Beatty six months ago that there was a major risk of a derailment in the Hatfield area if urgent improvements were not carried out.
In a letter to a Balfour Beatty senior manager, Railtrack complained that faults had not been repaired and cautioned that "regardless of any data correction, this presents a grave picture which you as line manager and professional engineer responsible for this contract must address forthwith".
Balfour Beatty denied Railtrack's charges, saying that the outstanding work had been carried out.
Brian Winslow, procurement manager at GNER, said: "The terms and conditions of your contract have to be very stringent, but that does not guarantee that the contractor does all that it says it will."
Nigel Harris, editor of Rail magazine, added: "Just because some sub-contractor is ticking boxes by the side of the track, it doesn't mean that the work has been done."