AN OLD BAILEY judge last week imposed record fines totalling £13.5 million on rail companies for their part in the Hatfield rail disaster. The Balfour Beatty engineering company was fined £10 million and Network Rail – which has assumed the financial liabilities of the now defunct Railtrack – was fined £3.5 million.
Mr Justice MacKay said it was “one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high-risk industry I have even seen”.
But rail unions RMT and Aslef were quick to point out that these fines are “paltry” compared to the Government grants being dished out to these companies – and that ultimately taxpayers will foot the bills.
The RMT pointed out that on the same day as the judgement, Network Rail had just concluded a new £110 million-deal with Balfour Beatty.
They also renewed their calls for an effective corporate manslaughter law that will not allow the guilty individuals to walk away with no penalty.
Andy Reed, national organiser of the train drivers’ union Aslef said the fines would “do little to instil a safety culture in a money-obsessed industry”.
“The fines imposed on the companies that breached health and safety regulations and caused the 2000 Hatfield crash are large and, on the face of it, could even look severe.
“But it is an illusion created by a society that looks for morality in its bank account.
“There is an assumption that you can solve any problem by throwing money at it. Well, you can’t. What price would you put on the four Hatfield dead?”
Reed argued that until individual managers are held to account, companies will not change their view that safety is a secondary consideration – because safety doesn’t make money.
He continued: “I fail to see how the company is guilty, but the people who run it are not. If I drive a car irresponsibly and crash into a bus queue, people don’t turn round and blame the motor.”
And he said it is time rail companies stop talking about their alleged concern for safety – and do something about it. “We will believe the leopard’s spots have changed when we see in-cab technology to enable drivers to see obstructions on the track ahead, when there is a legal limit on hours and when the UK has a modern and efficient signal system.”
RMT general secretary, Bob Crow described the £10 million fine on Balfour Beatty as “paltry”, pointing out: “Justice has simply not been done by the debacle of the Hatfield trial.
“Compared with the carnage caused, these fines are a paltry amount – and this is recycled public money anyway.
“Every penny that Balfour Beatty and Network Rail pay will have originated in taxpayers’ and fare-payers’ pockets.
“In Balfour Beatty’s case they will simply be paying back a fraction of the millions they have made at the public’s expense, and they will give a huge corporate shrug.
“Justice will not be done until Britain has a corporate manslaughter law that holds individual executives to account for negligence that kills innocent people.”