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Railway Accident, Nuneaton

Volume 893: debated on Monday 9 June 1975

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the railway accident which took place at Nuneaton on Friday morning, 6th June.

Yes, Sir. At 01.57 on 6th June 1975 the 23.30 Euston to Glasgow sleeping car train became derailed on the approaches to Nuneaton station. The derailment started on a section of line on which alterations to the track were being made, and which was subject to a temporary speed restriction of 20 miles per hour.

The train was headed by two electric locomotives. These became detached from the train, the second one ending up across the down platform. Behind them, all but the last of the 15 vehicles in the train became derailed and several of the sleeping cars zig-zagged and were severely damaged.

I regret to inform the House that, according to my latest information, six people lost their lives in the accident and 38 were injured. Of the injured, 10 are still detained in hospital. I am sure the House will join with me in expressing condolences to the bereaved and injured.

An inspecting officer of railways from the Department went to the site immediately the accident was reported and examined the situation together with the railway officers.

An internal inquiry by British Railways opened this morning. This will be followed as soon as possible by a public inquiry, which will be conducted by Major C. F. Rose, an inspecting officer of railways. The date and place of his inquiry will be announced shortly.

May I, on behalf of the people of Nuneaton and, indeed, the whole House, express my deepest sympathies to all those who suffered in any way as a result of this tragic accident? May I also pay tribute to the work of the emergency services involved—the police, fire, hospital and voluntary services, particularly the WRVS?

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement about the inquiry, may I ask whether he agrees that, instead of some of the widespread speculation which has taken place about the cause, in the interests of the railway industry, the travelling public and all those involved, it would be far better to await the outcome of the inquiry?

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for his comments. He has given extremely sound advice in advising all to await the outcome of the inquiry. But, as in similar matters, I have no influence over what the media report. I am sure that the House will want to endorse my hon. Friend's very proper tribute to all those involved in the emergency services.

May I, on behalf of the Opposition, extend our sympathy to the bereaved and wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured? We are particularly glad to see the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) here and to know that he escaped serious injury.

Does the Minister accept that it is imperative that the travelling public be reassured that the warning system for speed restrictions on any section of line is an efficient as possible? Will he make representations to the British Railways Board to ensure that any improvements are carried out immediately, not after the two inquiries about which he has spoken?

I am sure that the British Railways Board will want to take any action that seems appropriate without waiting for the inquiry. But it would be wrong to prejudge the inquiry by assuming that the accident was due to any particular cause. I thank the hon. Gentle- man for his kind references to my right hon. Friend.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the National Union of Railwaymen will also wish to be associated with the expressions of condolence to the relatives of the bereaved and to extend its own good wishes for a speedy recovery to those who have been injured?

When temporary speed restrictions are in force or are enforced at short notice it is the practice of the British Railways Board to ensure that each train approaching such a restriction is warned, usually by means of a hand signal and a detonator. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that safety provision to all temporary speed restrictions, particularly on high speed main lines?

I think that my hon. Friend is getting a bit involved in what would be a proper subject for the inquiry. The inquiry, as well as establishing as far as possible the cause of the accident, will also have power to make recommendations, if it sees fit, as to how similar events might be prevented in future.

Does the Minister accept that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House frequently travel on that particular train and have a very high regard for the sleeping car attendants and catering staff for the services that they have provided for many years? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to express the wish that, if any have been injured, they are soon out of hospital and back to work?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I will see that his message is sent. It is tragic that one sleeping car attendant was among those killed. In case the public get the wrong impression about railway accidents, I should point out that this is a very tragic and unfortunate matter. In 1974 only one passenger was killed on the railways throughout the whole of the country.

We on the Liberal Bench would like to extend our condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident. It is a pleasure to see the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food back on the Government Front Bench this afternoon, and I congratulate him on his narrow escape.

Will the Minister assure the public that he is satisfied with the general maintenance of track in these days of highspeed travel? There have been a number of derailments, but, thankfully, not serious. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that track maintenance is up to the standard of meeting the high-speed travel that the public get these days?

Naturally, I am as concerned as the hon. Gentleman to ensure maximum safety. One of the features of the Railways Act that we passed last year was that the Government, by means of grants, now take responsibility for permanent way expenditure. I do not think that because of this accident there should be any cause for concern. The temporary speed limit here was invoked because maintenance of the kind that the hon. Gentleman wants to see continued was, in fact, being carried out.