Ufton Nervet railway crossing


           When I received a phone call to tell me of the Ufton Nervet train crash I experienced that moment all MPs dread. There had been a  disaster in my constituency.

           I cancelled my engagements and went  to the scene to see if I could help. What I saw is scarred on my memory.

          A fast travelling express train had hit a car on the level crossing, had derailed, and had ploughed into the ballast by the side of the track. The sheer raw power of the heavy train lay expended, the metal torn and damaged and the windows broken. People had been killed and injured through the violence of the crash.

          I have ever since wanted important improvements in train safety. Today I am glad to report that Network Rail have said they plan to replace the crossing with a bridge. This will prevent anyone else by accident or design driving or delaying their vehicle on the crossing when a train is approaching.  That would be good news indeed.

         I have also called for seat belts for express trains. We need to expand capacity so everyone has a booked seat, as on an aircraft or inter city coach. Restraining people in a crash could save lives, as we accept on planes and in motor vehicles.

          I also want railway companies to provide stowage for heavy luggage.  In sudden deceleration we need to avoid heavy suitcases, pushchairs and other stowed items from flying loose around the carriage. Luggage is properly stowed on planes, and placed in boots and luggage compartments in motor vehicles. We need the same on long distance fast trains.


  1. Michael Cawood
    November 2, 2012

    Seat belts in trains – an impractical idea as people would not use them. Fining people for not using seat belts in trains would be politically very unpopular. So this is a totally bad idea.
    Stowage for luggage. Trains used to have guards vans for this purpose but these have been replaced by inadequate stowage racks at the ends of carriages. As most trains are fairly new and more luggage stowage means less seats there is nothing in the short term that can be done about this but trains being ordered should be specified to have a certain amount of van space.

    Reply: We have successful use of seat belts on long distance coaches, planes and cars. Luggage could be stowed in overhead lockers as on planes, with netting or doors to restrain it.

    1. James Sutherland
      November 2, 2012

      Actually, aeroplanes are an interesting comparison: you don’t have to wear the seatbelts throughout the journey, only during the most dangerous stages – but having them available would still help to some extent: fasten loosely when seated, grab for them at the first sign of a problem (a derailment, for example, is not an instant event: you’d have enough time to brace yourself and grab the belt, even if not get it fully fastened).

      Requiring all-seated loads would be a great improvement as well. Not long ago, I counted 14 of us standing in the vestibule area alone for one train journey, with dozens more distributed along the aisles and other nooks; even a fairly minor jolt could have caused serious injuries. Why are train companies allowed to operate such dangerous and substandard services? Surely higher standards could be incorporated in the next franchise renewals, even if something prevents higher safety standards being imposed by statute in the mean time.

      Better luggage storage would be good as well: I have seen plenty of minor mishaps: things falling out onto passengers, accidents retrieving bags.

      I do appreciate Prangwizard’s position on this, but safety standards for public transport are sadly one area the market can’t deliver effectively: apart from anything else, it is not the passenger who chooses the train or luggage facilities used for a journey, but the government’s franchise process.

  2. Prangwizard
    November 2, 2012

    I share your desire for improvements, but I trust you think these are really matters for the market and you are not pressuring contrary to this principle for greater regulation and imposition.
    I’m not sure about seatbelts, the comparison with air travel is not an exact one. The problem would seem to me that wearing them would need to be compulsory because the risk would have to be deemed constant and continuing on the train. It is not such on an airplane. Would permission be needed to go to the toilet for example?
    I would hope that the new rolling stock which is on the way in some areas will contain much of what you are advocating. We all understand in a private investment there must be a payback, and the train operators have to pay big money to the government for relatively short franchises. It is neither fully private nor fully public at present.
    If it were a nationalised public service there would still need to be payback.

  3. David Langley
    November 3, 2012

    Agreed John, why is it people seem to have to die in great numbers before the usual lessons have to be learned. In a similar vein the armed forces are always shouting for better equipment knowing that every war and battle is usually started with the crap kit left over from the last one.
    The commercial reasons are it costs money to mitigate risk to tiny proportions, that affects the bottom line so businesses do what they are legally required to do at best. Read the fine print on tickets held at transport head offices etc and you would not feel too sure about that morning and evening commute any more and that alarming lurch and rattle you are used to could be the last nut and bolt coming loose!!!

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