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Morpeth Derailment

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 15 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has reached any conclusions on the recommendations of the railway inspecting officer's report on the derailment that occurred in June 1984 at Morpeth; and if he will make a statement.

The inspecting officer's recommendations have been considered very carefully by the British Railways Board and the Government. Action has been taken by the board on the recommendations which called for changes in operating procedures in order to prevent a recurrence of such an accident. The board is also continuing to work towards eliminating the practice of signing on by telephone, and progress on this is being monitored by the Railway Inspectorate.The inspecting officer also suggested that powers be introduced to require railway staff to submit to breath, blood or urine tests. There is no evidence that the railways face serious problems of alcohol or drugs abuse. In addition, the board's rule book makes it clear that staff must not report for duty under the influence of alcohol, or of any drug that might impair the proper performance of their duties, and must not consume alcohol or any such drug whilst on duty. The board considers that this continues to provide a better deterrent than could be achieved by taking powers to require railway staff to submit to breath, blood or urine tests. The introduction of testing could imply the acceptability of a certain level of alcohol, by analogy with the breath-alcohol limits set for motorists, which could undermine the board's more stringent disciplinary code. Supervisors are already instructed to call the police in serious cases, and the board reminds staff regularly of their responsibilities and gives advice to managers and supervisors on these matters.The Government accept the board's conclusions on this question and do not propose to seek powers to breathalyse train crews. Consultation with other transport industries has also confirmed that there is no clear case for the introduction of such powers for staff with similar responsibilities in those industries.There would he advantage, however, in updating the Railway Regulation Act 1842 in order to provide for increases in penalties for offences involving alcohol on the railways, and to extend the provisions to cover offences involving drugs. This would require primary legislation, which we propose should apply to all railways—British Rail, London Regional Transport, and privately owned concerns. We shall seek a suitable opportunity for such legislation in due course.