Overreaction to Paddington disaster will ultimately drive more people on to the roads and increase deaths

December 09, 1999

Overreaction to the Paddington rail disaster may not be beneficial in the long run

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The public reaction to the tragic Paddington rail disaster might make those running railways so fearful of accidents and subject to such severe controls that they are no longer able to do their job well enough to compete with far more dangerous and polluting modes of transport, writes Dr Kevin Connolly from Darlington in this week's BMJ.

Connolly comments that "public opinion cannot put disasters into their proper context, resulting in distortion and expenditure on accident prevention". He says that, irrespective of the source of finance, the conflict [which is inherent in running a railway system] is between safety and the other interests of passengers (such as punctuality, speed and economy) and that both sides of the equation "have implications for life and limb".

Even if absolute safety were achieved on rail, he says, it would be made at the expense of passengers' other legitimate interests. This would shift them back to the road which would lead to an increased loss of life through traffic accidents and pollution, says Connolly. He concludes that consideration should be given to prioritising structural changes to railways which reduce the likelihood and consequences of accidents. He says these measures might be far cheaper, cost effective and less disruptive than the introduction of inflexible control systems that cannot be overridden.


Dr Kevin Connolly, Consultant Physician, Darlington

Tel: 44-0-1325-380100
Fax: 44-0-1325-743622


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