A SENIOR rail union official has warned a repeat of the Potters Bar Rail Crash is becoming more likely with increasing cuts to maintenance staff.

Michael Cash, senior assistant general secretary of the RMT union, gave evidence to the inquest last week and told the jury a lack of staff continues to put a strain on the railway industry.

He said: “It is still a constant concern that we get from our members, that they are saying that we haven't got enough staff to do the work.

“We are now deeply worried that obviously Network Rail are seeking to further reduce the manpower by 1,500, currently in their maintenance organisation.”

He was quizzed on the history of maintenance of the railways, and indicated a preference for nationalisation over privatisation, something he argued was safer.

The experienced former signalling technician added that since Network Rail took over maintenance, there has been a notable increase in training and investment.

But he said in the 1990s, when the rail industry moved in private hands, the divisions between infrastructure and maintenance workers was detrimental to the railway industry.

He said: “The changes that happened [to equipment], I don't believe things were passed down, in terms of communicating what should or should not be done.

“There was not proper support for all these changes and making sure if things were introduced that there was backup to train or even give information to the maintainers.”

Mr Cash said the break-up and privatisation of the infrastructure was a bad thing, and supported efforts to bring the sector back in-house.

Much of the discussion during the weeks of hearings has focused on a set of defective points just outside Potters Bar station, which were not properly maintained in the weeks and months before the fatal crash.

The points forced the Kings Lynn-bound train off the rails, with the fourth carriage flipping on to its side and crashing into the station platform.

Mr Cash said, at the time of the 2001 crash, maintenance duties were split between different teams and even different companies, and they only combined on an informal basis as it “depended on the particular contractor and their attitude”.

He told the hearing in Letchworth that following the Potter Bar crash, the number of joint maintenance teams increased, but that has not become a formal arrangement across Network Rail and he added: “It has increased but I see a trend towards it decreasing back, unfortunately”.

The jury earlier heard how a warning the day before of a problem on the line was forgotten, and other warning signs were misinterpreted by rail staff who inspected the wrong set of points.

The inquest is drawing to a close, with a final week of witnesses before legal teams conclude and the jury retires to consider a verdict.