Family blames Network Rail for grandmother’s death in crash

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The family of a grandmother killed in the Grayrigg train crash have blamed Network Rail.

They said they held the firm responsible for the death of Margaret Masson after a jury at her inquest found a set of badly-maintained points caused the 2007 train derailment in Cumbria.

Her son George Masson said the company had made a “scapegoat” of an overworked engineer who admitted forgetting to check the points, but who had warned Network Rail bosses months before the crash about safety concerns.

Network Rail, which is responsible for track maintenance, was also facing calls for a public inquiry as well as possible criminal charges.

Mrs Masson, 84, from Glasgow, died from multiple injuries after a Virgin Pendolino London to Glasgow express train derailed on the West Coast Main Line near the Cumbrian village of Grayrigg at 8.12pm on February 23, 2007.

The 300-tonne locomotive derailed at 95mph after hitting the faulty points, with all nine carriages of the Class 390 tilting train coming off the tracks.

Eighty-six passengers and two crew were hurt as the train and carriages scattered down an earth embankment.

During a two-week inquest into Mrs Masson’s death at the County Offices in Kendal, the jury heard of a “missed opportunity” to check the points five days before the crash.

David Lewis, a local track supervisor for Network Rail, broke down in tears as he admitted to the inquest he simply forgot to check the faulty points.

The inquest heard he had been overworked and his team under-staffed, with men not given the right tools or enough time to carry out checks.

The inquest was told that the day after Mr Lewis missed the check he had to work on his day off because he had been asked to do a presentation “Network Rail, a world class company”.

Mr Lewis, who lost his job, had warned his bosses about the “shambles” at least 12 months before the crash.

Outside the coroner’s court, Mr Masson, 62, an engineer from Castlemilk, Glasgow, said he held the firm, not Mr Lewis, responsible for his mother’s death.

“In my eyes it is negligence on Network Rail’s part, not him (Mr Lewis). The one that tried to make changes lost his job, his pension, he was not listened to from above,” Mr Masson said. “Before I knew anything about this I wanted to take his head off his shoulders. Now I totally respect him. He’s got my utmost respect for what he tried to do.”

Coroner Ian Smith said it was a “tragic irony” that the man who tried to flag up the problems was the man who missed the points check days before the derailment.

The inquest heard the continuing £9bn upgrade of the West Coast Main Line to accommodate faster tilting Pendolino trains caused a major problem for rail workers because with faster trains, staff had less time to get on the track for safety checks.

Patrol men were also harassed by managers to get off the track as soon as possible so they could get trains running again. It was claimed patrol gangs were already overworked and undermanned,.

In one email Mr Lewis wrote: “It’s time for the hierarchy to stop ducking the issue and sort out this shambles once and for all.”

The coroner said he would be issuing a Rule 43 report next week which allows coroners to raise concerns with the appropriate authorities.

Network Rail managing director Robin Gisby said that since the derailment, the company had worked closely with the authorities and made substantial changes to its maintenance regime.