Lords discuss police response to road and rail accidents

June 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm 1 comment

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A member of the House of Lords has questioned the length of time it takes police and transport authorities to re-open road and rail routes after an accident or death.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who was appointed a Lord in Waiting in the Whips’ Office in the reshuffle earlier this month, made his debut at the dispatch box yesterday.

He deputises for Lord Adonis on transport issues,

“My Lords, incident management is an operational matter for the emergency services and transport authorities,” he told the House.

“Restoring transport services is important to everyone, but the priorities must be to preserve life and public safety, to deal sensitively with any fatalities, and to collect evidence.

“The Government do not issue operational guidance, but we encourage emergency services and transport authorities to work together on how to deal with accidents and minimise disruption.”

The issue was raised by Lord Lee of Trafford.

“In an accident, no one objects to traffic being held up to rescue the injured,” he said.

“However, where there is a clear fatality—say a suicide on the railways, however tragic that may be in personal terms—should not the emphasis be on restarting traffic to enable those affected to continue their travel and their lives, as it were, rather than having a lengthy and laborious scene-of-crime investigation?”

Lord Faulkner said the British Transport Police, “which is primarily responsible for dealing with the sort of incident on the railway to which he refers, has a remarkably good record in getting lines open again.

“It has a target of 90 minutes; last year it exceeded that and achieved a reopening time of 76 minutes, and I am told that it hopes to do better again this year.”

He said the police have to be “absolutely certain that no crime has been committed” before they can reopen the roads, and have to work with the other emergency services.

“It is important, particularly in the hours of darkness, that evidence is not lost because of a too hasty opening of the operation.

“If it is possible to improve co-ordination between the emergency services, we should look at that, and we can always do better.”

Lord Rosser asked why there is no equivalent independent investigation to that which would follow a train accident death for the 3,000 road deaths a year.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester said that “as a country,” road deaths are accepted “all too unthinkingly.”

“The emphasis must be on reducing the number of road casualties and getting the country much less used to believing that it is acceptable to kill and injure the number of people who currently suffer from road accidents.”

Lord Berkeley said a rationalisation between the four organisation involved in rail accidents — the local police, British Transport Police, the Health and Safety Executive and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch – might speed up investigations.

A question from Earl Attlee about the availability of laser surveying equipment for road traffic accidents stumped Lord Faulkner.

“I have been extraordinarily well briefed for this Question, and I asked some further questions of the department over the weekend and again this morning,” he said.

“I have to confess, however, that the question that he has raised is not in the briefing, so I hope he will permit me on this occasion to write to him with the answer.”

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