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Bereaved families round on Network Rail

from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/10395003/Bereaved-families-round-on-Network-Rail.html

Bereaved families round on Network Rail

Network Rail has been accused by bereaved families of covering up documents showing the risks posed by level crossings at a highly-charged meeting at Westminster

Bereaved families rounded on Network Rail over its record on level crossing safety, accusing the company of a “conspiracy of silence” to keep vital information out of the public eye.

In a highly emotional meeting of the Transport Select Committee, MPs were told Network Rail had treated victims’ families shabbily in the aftermath of a series of tragedies.

The company was also accused of putting money ahead of human life in its response to a number of level crossing deaths.

Chris Bazlinton, whose 14-year-old daughter Olivia was killed when she was hit by a 70mph train at Elsenham Station in Essex, choked back tears as he recalled the treatment he had faced from Network Rail.

Olivia and her friend, Charlotte Thompson, 13, died after walking through an unlocked level crossing in December 2005.

“They tried to blame the girls and behaved pretty badly towards us,” Mr Bazlinton told MPs.

It later emerged that an internal Network Rail report, written three years before the accident, had voiced concern about the crossing.

But safety features such as locked wicket gates and a footbridge were not installed until 2007.

The company was eventually fined £1 million for breaches of health and safety legislation after being prosecuted by the Office of Rail Regulation.

Mr Bazlinton said he faced a struggle to get hold of the documents showing that the risk was known. He only succeeded after their existence was disclosed by a whistleblower within the organisation.

"I believe Network Rail's actions over the non-disclosure of documents amounts to a conspiracy of silence or worse," he said.

"This is about accountability now, I think it's important we know what happened within Network Rail. They have never held a proper inquiry, never told us what really happened."

He added: "Somebody is either not telling the truth or did not look through the boxes properly. I don't know how to put it, but any rational person would say there was a cover-up there."

Olivia’s mother, Tina Hughes, told the Committee how John Armitt, the former Network Rail chief executive, told her how the company had to “balance” the cost of safety against the value of a life.

Laurence Hoggart, whose wife Jean, 56, and grandson Mikey Dawson, seven, were killed after being hit by a train as the used a poorly-lit crossing in Nottinghamshire in 2008, was too overcome by emotion to read his statement to MPs.

Regaining his composure he accused Network Rail of failing to deal with the dangers the crossing posed which had been identified in 2000, by the company’s privately-owned predecessor, Railtrack.

“They are not interested in individuals, they don’t care

“If they put things in place which should have been in place, five people would still be here.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by the families of those killed or injured at level crossings but we have promised them that we are committed to making our railway as safe as possible and that remains our focus.

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