British Rail System Crippled By Mass Inspection and Repairs
Around 20,000 rail workers carried out emergency checks and repairs on Britain's rail network Saturday after a series of accidents which have shaken the British public's confidence in rail travel.
The program of repairs, described as the biggest for a century, was prompted by the derailment of a high-speed passenger train at Hatfield, north of London, nearly two weeks ago, which left four dead.
That accident was traced to a broken rail and it subsequently emerged that nearly two thousand pieces of track around the country could also be dangerously worn.
"Over the weekend, hundreds of teams of workers will be laying more than 41,000 meters, almost 24 miles of rail at more than 160 sites across the country," said a spokesman for Rail track, which is responsible for the track and signaling.
Railway engineers from Romania have been flown in to help with the repair drive because there are not enough qualified personnel in Britain, according to one rail maintenance contractor.
The repairs to Britain's creaking rail network have caused some services to be cancelled, while thousands of passengers have arrived at their destinations late because of speed restrictions on up to 300 sections of track.
Thousands of football fans traveling to away matches on Saturday were advised by police to allow extra time for their journeys because of the delays.
The government and the private companies which operate the railway, have appealed to the public for patience, saying that safety must be their number one priority.
After three fatal crashes in as many years, including one last year at Paddington, north-west London, which claimed 31 lives, the companies have been accused of putting profits ahead of safety.
Transport minister Lord McDonald said: "It is very frustrating for the passengers but I pay some tribute to the staff to have been out there working very hard."
"The sooner these essential safety checks are completed, the safer people will feel and the sooner timetables will get back to normal," he said.
Experts have predicted that acute delays will last for another 10 days, but the program of repairs will go on for some time after that.
Train operators are expected to introduce an emergency timetable which will allow trains more time to get to their destination.
Public confidence in Britain's rail network was shaken again Thursday when beleaguered rail operator Rail track blamed autumnal conditions for a new derailment.
Four carriages carrying around 100 passengers on a regional train overshot the platform at Virginia Water, to the southwest of London, just missing a commuter train before being derailed by the points.
The commuters emerged unhurt, although two were treated for shock.
"Initial investigations suggest it was caused by autumn conditions, leaves on the line or wetness on top of the rail," said Rail track regional director Michael Holden -- LONDON (AFP)
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