29/02/2012 07:12 GMT | Updated 29/02/2012 07:17 GMT

Network Rail In Court Over Fatal Grayrigg Crash

Network Rail is to appear in court facing prosecution over the fatal Grayrigg train crash in Cumbria.

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

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

A further 86 passengers and two crew were injured, 28 seriously.

The firm is now facing the courts for breaching health and safety law, following criminal proceedings started by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).

Network Rail, which is responsible for track maintenance, is facing a charge under section 3(1) of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Stretcher bars holding the moveable rails a set distance apart when the points are operated had failed, causing the train to derail.

A Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report into the crash and an inquest into the death of Masson both found the "immediate cause" of the derailment was the poor maintenance of the failed points.

But during the two-week inquest last year, the hearing was told of a catalogue of problems with maintenance within Network Rail.

Supervisors complained of a "shambles" at being overworked, under-staffed and not having the right tools or enough time to do their jobs amid "bully boy" management.

Masson's family are thought to be attending today's hearing, at Lancaster Magistrates' Court, but the case is almost certain to be committed to a Crown Court.

The maximum penalty the lower court can impose for the offence is a fine of £20,000, but a Crown Court can impose unlimited fines.

The firm has said its lawyers, not senior management, will attend today's hearing.

Earlier this month senior management of Network Rail, a firm backed by a taxpayer guarantee, decided to forego six-figure performance bonuses after coming under political pressure.

Chief executive Sir David Higgins, in line for a possible £340,000 bonus on top of his £560,000 salary, announced that director's bonuses would instead be allocated to improving safety.

The decision came days after the firm admitted health and safety breaches over the deaths of Olivia Bazlinton, 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, who were hit by a train at a level crossing at Elsenham station footpath crossing in Essex in 2005.

Last year, Network Rail was fined £3 million at St Albans Crown Court after admitting safety breaches involving a set of points which led to a derailment at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire in May 2002. Seven people were killed.

Network Rail had assumed responsibility for the crash from its predecessor rail infrastructure company Railtrack.