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Railways (Automatic Train Control)

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 21 July 1954

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asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what progress has been made by the nationalised railways since the Harrow train disaster nearly two years ago in the installation of appropriate track, signalling and locomotive equipment of new improved design, in addition to the experimental stretch between London and Huntingdon, for automatic train control in regions other than Western Region, which is already fully equipped and whether he will make a statement.

The working of the British Railways automatic train control apparatus now under trial has shown an appreciable improvement during recent months. Though the very high standard of reliability which is necessary in safety equipment of this kind has not yet been attained, the British Transport Commission are proposing to extend the trial stretch for a considerable additional mileage.

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the fact that the recent White Paper on the railways reorganisation scheme made no reference to the matter of safety on the railways and to the introduction of a comprehensive and standardised form of automatic train control and signalling? Will my right hon. Friend have regard to this very important matter when the subject is debated?

Yes, Sir. Of course, the White Paper, quite properly, did not go into detail about important matters of this kind. It was concerned with the structure of the railway system. The British Transport Commission has made its position perfectly plain, and the Government is supporting it in the view that a widespread extension of automatic train control is highly desirable, but the introduction of a system not wholly reliable would increase and not decrease the danger.

Can the Minister say whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer is making a special allocation of money in order to encourage the British Transport Commission to go on with this scheme with greater expedition than is now possible?

The British Transport Commission has the requisite powers, but, quite rightly, it is proceeding by trial and error in this vital field where over-hasty improvisation may lead to disastrous results.

Would not the Minister agree that railway traffic in this country today is one of the safest forms of travel we have got, and that, therefore, any apprehension regarding any danger that exists must be considered in relation to the danger that exists elsewhere?