Rail Accidents

16 December 2010
Slow motion train wreck
Brian Micklethwait


You have to be patient.

22 December 2006
Why the police should not investigate rail crashes
Patrick Crozier

I know this is a bit late in the day but last week there was a documentary into the police investigation into the Potters Bar train crash.  The long and the short of it was that they couldn’t find out what happened.

My take:

  • The police should not be investigating in the first place.
  • Nor, for that matter, should any other government organisation.
  • The police investigation actually hindered the business of finding out what happened.

It hindered things?

Yes everyone gets nervous and clams up.

But don’t the police have to investigate cases of corporate manslaughter?

Yes, I suppose if there is an offence of corporate manslaughter they should, indeed, investigate.  It’s just that I don’t think it should be an offence.

Why not?

Mainly because the supporters of laws like this all seem to be people who just don’t like freedom.  But I also think that we already have redress through whatever contract we have with the corporation concerned.

But if there are no government investigators how will the victims’ families ever find out the truth?

I don’t accept that they have a right to the truth.  However, there are good reasons to think that a rail company would want to share the information.

Such as?

It would demonstrate good will, openness and, perhaps most importantly, a willingness to learn from its mistakes.

But how are we to guarantee safety without the state?

Firstly, this assumes that safety is the only thing - it isn’t.  Secondly, even as a factor it is still important for both traveller and train company - so the likelihood is that it will be taken care of.

I can understand why it might be important for the traveller but why the company?

Because accidents cost money.  You lose the train (one carriage costs about £1m).  Track gets smashed up.  You have to cancel services.  Potential customers get put off.  For what it’s worth, from my point of view trains are too safe.  I would be quite happy to travel on a train that’s far more dangerous if it meant lower fares.  But, then again, I know how safe trains actually are.  Rail safety is a producer thing not a consumer thing.