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Motherwell Derailment, 26 November

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 20 December 2000

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Why, following a minor derailment near Motherwell on 26 November caused by a track defect, the police detained all 400 passengers for five hours, transferring them to taxis for individual formal interviews before allowing them to be transported to their destination by coach; and [HL117]Whether the British Transport Police or the Strathclyde Police were responsible for declaring the minor derailment near Motherwell on 26 November a "scene of crime"; whether every one of the 400 passengers was asked whether they had derailed the train, as reported

in Rail Magazine on 13 December; and, if so, on whose decision. [HL118]

Although the British Transport Police (BTP) did not classify this accident as a "major incident", any train derailment involving over 400 passengers at night, close to live overhead powerlines, must be treated as a serious situation. When attending any such incident it is not possible for the police immediately to determine the cause of an accident. It is important that the emergency services preserve the integrity of the scene as much as possible until criminal activity can be ruled out by expert technical examination.Passenger safety is the priority in dealing with such incidents. It was not possible to move the carriages still on the track and the train had to be evacuated at the site. A major factor in the handling of this incident by the Railtrack Incident Officer (RIO), the train operator and the British Transport Police (BTP), was that the passengers were in no imminent danger while seated on the train, which had heating and lighting.An evacuation route from the train was identified and prepared, which involved removing fencing, providing lighting and laying down tarpaulin over the undergrowth. It was also necessary to evacuate the train by a single door. However, this allowed for a controlled evacuation of passengers, with their luggage, to take place.The passengers were then transferred by coach to a reception centre where they were informally interviewed by police and staff of the train company. The interviews had a number of purposes. They allowed the train operator's staff to ascertain individual destination requirements for onward journey by taxi, to provide follow-up welfare and compensation advice, and where necessary forward any items of luggage left on the train by passengers. Obtaining personal details is also essential for responding to the great many people who call the police and railway operators after any incident of this nature seeking information about friends and relatives on the train.Passengers were not asked whether they had derailed the train, but when obtaining their details the BTP enquired whether they had seen, heard or felt anything that might assist their investigation into whether any criminal activity, such as vandalism or obstructing the line, was the cause of the accident. This is routine procedure when handling an incident of this nature. The information obtained from passengers also helps to prevent fraudulent claims for compensation that tend to occur when such an incident receives widespread publicity.