Network Rail — more crime without punishment

Network Rail has been fined £4 million under Health & Safety regulations in connection with the Grayrigg rail crash. Guess who will pay the fine?

If this sounds a bit like Groundhog Day, it is with good reason: we have been here before. Last November, Network Rail was fined in connection with the deaths of two teenage girls who were killed on a crossing at Eisenham, Essex, in December 2005.

The Grayrigg crash of February 2007 resulted in the death of an elderly woman and over 80 people being injured. Earlier this month, Network Rail was fined £4 million for health and safety offences. When I read about the fine, I had a nasty feeling of déjà vu. After the court case, the solicitor acting for the family of 84 year old Margaret Masson said: “The fine of £4m, together with costs, will ultimately be borne by the taxpayer”, adding “Mrs Langley [Mrs Masson’s daughter] is a taxpayer. Her mother died in the crash. She and her husband suffered serious injuries. She finds it offensive she is contributing to the fine.”

I contacted the Office of Rail Regulation, and was first ignored and then given the runaround by someone I can’t name for legal reasons! Eventually I made contact with its Media Relations Officer Brian Clarke, who responded to me when I contacted the ORR in connection with the aforementioned Eisenham tragedy.

Alexander Baron: Can I have an on the record quote for Digital Journal?

Brian Clarke: Please see below, ORR press notice issued following sentencing of Network Rail for a breach in health and safety law that led to the Grayrigg derailment.

AB: Who will pay the £4 million fine? Who will pay the £118,052 costs?

BC: With regard to the size of financial penalty, this is a matter for the Court and decided based on the evidence before the Court, though clearly no financial penalty can ever truly reflect the tragic loss of life in this case.

AB: Will the directors of this company receive bonuses this year?

BC: With regard to Network Rail bonuses, it is for the Network Rail Board, its remuneration committee and members to decide on the level of remuneration for the company’s staff and not the regulator. For the regulator to do so would be inappropriate and would in effect mean that we are running the company. However, it would obviously be unacceptable for payments to be paid to the top management of a business which was implicated in safety failures which led to a catastrophic safety incident.

AB: Will any individual be held culpable?

BC: ORR prosecuted Network Rail and not the individual responsible for carrying out the inspection because we found evidence of systemic failures in the company’s processes underpinning the inspection and maintenance of points.

AB: How has this prosecution made the railways safer, with especial reference to actual punishment being inflicted on the company or on some actual individual(s)?

BC: Safety on Britain’s railways has improved significantly over the last five years and statistics show we now have one of the safest railways in Europe, but there can be no room for complacency. Where failings are found those at fault must be held to account and the entire rail industry must continue to strive for improvements to ensure that public safety is never put at a similar risk again.


When Mr Clarke says the ORR is not running the company, he is of course correct, but the big question is, should he be? To call the rail companies private companies is a sick joke. The reality is that they are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and in some areas the ratepayer. This is not how private companies operate. Either a company should be dependent entirely on its customers - in this case, passengers, tenants, advertisers, etc - for its revenue, or it should be allowed to fail. In practice, that would mean taking these so-called private companies back into public ownership, like the old British Rail. It makes absolutely no sense for the government and the taxpayer to shell out money for inflated salaries and bonuses to private individuals when it can dispense with them and run the operation just as smoothly.

An alternative would be a totally fare-free public transport system, ie to fund the whole shebang by central government, which would greatly reduce the cost of getting from A to B for all of us. This could certainly be instituted gradually, beginning in our major cities. There is though another issue here, that of responsibility, in particular who is held responsible when serious issues arise, such as when people are injured or even killed through criminal negligence? As the solicitor for the lady who died in the Grayrigg crash pointed out, in practice, it is the taxpayer. This is totally wrong in both theory and practice; vicarious liability is no liability at all.

[The above article was first published April 16, 2012. The original wasn’t archived.]

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