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Railway Accident (Invergowrie)

Volume 972: debated on Tuesday 23 October 1979

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(by private notice) asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the train crash at Invergowrie on 22 October 1979.

At about 11.10 yesterday morning at a point about half a mile to the east of Invergowrie station the 9.35 express passenger train from Glasgow to Aberdeen, running at speed, collided with the rear of the 8.44 stopping train from Glasgow to Dundee which had just called at Invergowrie. The force of the collision threw three coaches of the Dundee train, which was at a standstill, on to the shore of the Firth of Tay. I regret to inform the House that four people, including the driver and assistant driver of the Aberdeen train, were killed and 40 were taken to hospital, of whom 11 were seriously injured.

I have ordered a public inquiry, which will be held by the inspecting officer of railways as soon as possible. Until that inquiry has been held it would be wrong to speculate on the cause of the accident.

I am sure, however, that the House would wish to express its deepest sympathy with the families of those who lost their lives and our hope for a speedy recovery of the injured. I should also like to pay a special tribute to the prompt and effective assistance rendered by the emergency services.

First, I extend my sympathy to the relatives of the dead and injured. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the line has been the subject of many complaints about time-keeping? Secondly, does the line have the most up-to-date signalling equipment?

My information is that it is a perfectly adequate and safe signalling system. The other part of my hon. Friend's question is one of the matters that will have to be taken into account by the inquiry. Indeed, that is why we are having a public inquiry.

On behalf of Liberal Members may I express our regret over this sad accident and extend our sympathy to the relatives of those who were killed and to those who were injured? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that among the matters considered by the inquiry will be the reason why the slow train broke down?

I cannot direct the inquiry to consider any one matter, but I am certain that that is one of the issues that will be examined by the inquiry.

I associate myself with the sympathy that has been expressed for the bereaved and the injured. I welcome the fact that a public inquiry is to be set up so rapidly, with a full-ranging remit. May we take it that the result of the inquiry will be published in full?

Yes, that will be the position. The inquiry will be held as soon as possible. First, British Rail will conduct an internal inquiry. A public inquiry usually begins after about 10 or 14 days. The details and the findings of the inquiry will be published.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of those sadly killed in this event was the driver of the train, Mr. Robert Duncan, who lived in my constituency? Mr. Duncan leaves a wife, son and daughter. Is my right hon. Friend aware that within his community Mr. Duncan was a well respected person? He was both a special constable and an elder of the kirk. It causes considerable anxiety to the families of drivers when there is the possibility that erroneous assumptions will be made—for example, that there may have been some fault on the driver's part. Will my right hon. Friend say that it would be an error to make such an assumption?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that the whole House will wish to express its sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives. My hon. Friend is correct when he says that we should not jump to any conclusion about the cause of the accident until the inquiry has taken place.

Order. I shall call both the hon. Members for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the accident occurred on the boundary of my constituency? I take the opportunity to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy to the bereaved families and to those who were injured in the tragedy. I commend the work of the rescue emergency services, which worked under hazardous conditions. All the parties involved in the tragedy were full of praise for the efficient and sympathetic manner in which the rescue services carried out their work. The Minister has said that there will be a full inquiry into the cause of the tragedy. May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in the discussions that I have had with the local trade unions involved in the tragedy their representatives have made it clear that they are anxious to co-operate to ensure that the reason for the tragedy is made known?

May I, too, asociate myself with the expressions of sympathy that have ben made to the families of those who were killed in the accident, including one of my constituents, and to those who were injured? There has been a dreadful tragedy and there is nothing very much that one can say on occasions such as this to measure the loss that families will feel. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take into account and to extend the remarks made and questions asked about the timing of the trains in relation to the inquiry. Does he agree that one train had broken down and that the other one was about 22 minutes late? Will he ensure—this follows expressions made to me in the past by British Rail employees—that an inquiry is made into the state of the rolling stock on the stretch of line involved, as it has been prone to breaking down in the past?

I cannot direct the inquiry to the matters that it should take into account. I am sure that those responsible will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

May I also express my sympathy to the relatives of the bereaved and to those who were injured? I express my thanks to the emergency services. We are grateful that there is to be a full inquiry into the tragedy and that the report will be published. Perhaps even now, before the inquiry has reported, British Rail will look again at its safety procedures. It has an excellent safety record, but there have been a number of disturbing incidents recently. It would be reassuming to the public if, even now, British Rail were to give that sort of assurance.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is important to emphasise that British Rail's safety record is extremely good. If British Rail's internal inquiry reveals the need for immediate changes in practice, those changes will be implemented.