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Severn Tunnel (Incident)

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of public concern, following upon a recent outbreak of fire in a diesel engine travelling through the Severn Tunnel, with the existing safety system used in the tunnel; what action he is taking to investigate the present safety arrangements; and if he will make a statement.

Yes, Sir. I am aware that some concern has been expressed in the Press about this incident. It has already been investigated by the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and he is following up certain points, but in general the present safety arrangements are considered satisfactory.

Is it not a fact that instead of the tell-tale wire, which when cut communicates itself to the signal box on the other side, being cut, unfortunately the telephone communication wire was cut, with the consequence that there was no possibility of communication from the broken-down train with the outside of the tunnel? If that was the case, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that some action will be taken to protect the telephone wire so that there will be no possibility of a recurrence of such an incident? Will he also tell the House whether he is prepared to give proper instruction to all those who act as guards in the tunnel?

They already have instruction. On one side of the tunnel is a telephone wire. On the other side is a tell-tale wire which when broken sends an alarm to the signal box. On this occasion the guard made a mistake. He cut the telephone wire instead of the telltale wire. This is one of those human things which occur. Generally speaking, anyone who goes through the tunnel is trained and instructed on which side of the tunnel the tell-tale wire is located.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that this is only a matter of human frailty. What steps has he taken to prevent a recurrence, such as replacing the tell-tale wire? How does he distinguish between one wire and the other? This is a most unsatisfactory reply.

The distinction between the telephone wire and the tell-tale wire is that the telephone wire is on the one side of the tunnel and the tell-tale wire is on the other.