Survivors and families mark 20th anniversary of Paddington rail disaster

The Canary

Survivors and families of the victims of the Paddington rail disaster marked the 20th anniversary of the tragedy as concerns were raised about preventing similar disasters.

On October 5 1999, two trains collided at high speed close to Paddington station shortly after 8.10am, killing 31 people as a further 227 people were taken to hospital.

On Saturday families and survivors as well as first responders observed a minute of silence at a memorial close to the crash site in Ladbroke Grove, west London, and trains were halted.

Representatives of the London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service, as well as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, laid wreaths.

Cressida Dick
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick in the memorial garden overlooking the railway line at Ladbroke Grove (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A series of inquiries found the crash was caused by a Thames Trains service travelling from Paddington going through a red signal.

Pat Mason, a councillor in the Kensington and Chelsea borough since 1991, said that lessons had been learned but emphasised the parallels with the Grenfell Tower fire, which occurred just over a mile away from the scene of the crash.

Many of those attending the memorial wore small green Grenfell remembrance badges.

Mason told the PA news agency:

I just wish that the authorities and the Government would fix the problems that cause these disasters before they happen, like what will happen with Grenfell.

They knew these signals were deficient, they knew what the problems were on the lines, the rail unions were talking about them for years.

They didn’t listen, another thing that happened at Grenfell.

He continued:

They waited until 31 people died and burned to death in this crash. I wish we didn’t have to come to these memorials because it means we failed.

We failed with the Ladbroke Grove train crash, we failed with Grenfell, we failed with the King’s Cross fire.

They learned their lessons, but 31 people died in the process and 300 more were injured and maybe some of them are still suffering, and they’re here 20 years later.

Floral tributes
Floral tributes are laid at the memorial garden (Jonathan Brady/PA)

According to statistics from the Office of Rail and Road, there were 304 signals passed at danger (SPADs) the financial year 2018-2019, the highest number since 2007-2008.

This number has fallen from 593 between 1999 and 2000 and most of these incidents were recorded as being of “no significant risk” with only a very small number of signals passed identified as “potentially severe”.

Survivor Jonathan Duckworth, chairman of the Paddington Survivors Group, stressed the need for standards to be maintained. He said:

There is no doubt that the railways are significantly safer than they were 20 years ago, it was a dreadful time for the industry.

Paddington Rail Crash anniversary
Rescue workers at the scene in 1999 (Toby Melville/PA)

Duckworth also said:

It is really important to remember what happened 20 years ago to reinforce that the changes that have happened since then have been fantastic and must not slip because if they slip more people will die and more people’s lives will be completely transformed.

HM Chief Inspector of Railways Ian Prosser also warned against complacency. He said:

It is very important that we remain vigilant and therefore don’t become complacent.

The railway now is busier than it has ever been. It’s important we don’t lose sight about what’s happened.

After the collision two decades ago, large fires broke out on the two trains and a significant effort was required to rescue those trapped in the wreckage, which later took eight days to clear.

Brett Loft, a firefighter who was based in North Kensington at the time of the disaster, told PA:

It’s one of the biggest incidents we’ve attended on the railway in London, probably ever. It was obviously a very traumatic day for everyone involved, we did all we could at the time.

I came on later in the incident to take over from those who got there in the beginning and they wouldn’t leave until they had made sure they had rescued everyone that could be rescued.

The main memory I have from it was people’s mobile phones ringing and obviously no-one there to pick them up, we didn’t know if they had been taken to hospital or just misplaced their phone.

It took a good few months to get over what we had seen and done on that day and I just can’t believe it was 20 years ago.

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