A BROKEN axle caused the Staffordshire rail crash, in which a Royal Mail worker from Glasgow died and 19 other people were injured, an inquiry has found.

A mail train collided head-on with a derailed freight wagon on March 8 this year.

There were claims that the accident occurred because of a disregard for safety in the lead-up to the rail sell-off, but the Health and Safety Executive report states that changes in the industry played no part in the crash.

Mr John Thomson, 57, a widower, was killed. He had been sorting mail on the train alongside his 32-year-old son, also John, of Barrmill, near Beith, Ayrshire.

Mr Thomson said last night that he had expected such a conclusion from the inquiry. ``I figured that it was just a complete accident and that appears to be the case.''

He has now returned to work. ``It is the same mail train,'' he said. ``But I have had no problems with that as yet, thank God.''

As far as he knew, his family had no plans to take any legal action over the accident.

Railtrack, the company managing Britain's rail lines, has been given three months to come up with a plan to ensure safety standards are improved.

The report includes recommendations concerning the management of such serious incidents by the company and criticises Railtrack on a number of points.

The accident happened around 11pm when a Transrail freight train travelling from Scotland to London partly derailed because of the fractured axle at Rickerscote.

The driver of the freight train was unaware that several of his 23 wagons were blocking the opposite track, and his train was still moving when the oncoming Royal Mail train travelling from Coventry to Glasgow collided with it.

The mail train, carrying sorting staff, was forced up an embankment. One wagon stopped inches from the wall of a house.

The mail train driver, Mr Graham Massey, 50, of Crewe, Cheshire, was seriously injured. He was among 19 people treated in hospital. The freight train driver was uninjured.

Fifty houses were evacuated as poisonous carbon dioxide gas escaped from seven of the 13 freight wagons.

Mr Chris Hall, the Health and Safety Executive's principal inspecting officer of railways, said: ``HSE quickly found that the direct cause of the accident was the broken axle on the freight train.

``We had to discover why the axle broke. Our detailed investigation has now revealed that it is most likely that the fracture was caused by a rare type of failure - the surface of the axle was found to have some pitting caused by corrosion and we believe that cracking developed from this and caused the axle to break.''

The recommendations after that initial finding include a harmonisation of standards for maintenance, design, and operation of railway vehicles.

Since privatisation, stock owned by the new companies, including CAIB UK Ltd, which owned the freight wagons, does not have to conform to the same uniform standards as the whole of the rail network did under British Rail.

The report charges Railtrack with the responsibility to bring all these standards into line, to eliminate safety risks.

The crash was the most serious to occur since Railtrack was formed.

Other recommendations include improved management of major incidents on the railway and research into how such axles can snap and the best means of fault detection.

The report found that the four-wheel wagon which developed the fault had travelled 69,000 miles since a previous safety test on its axles.

The recommended limit issued by British Rail Research is a test frequency of every 24,000 miles.

The report concluded that neither driver of the trains involved was at fault and there was no evidence of any other contributory factors such as damaged track.

It states: ``The accident happened at a key stage of rail privatisation and involved a variety of railway organisations.

``However, the HSE found that the changes in the industry had no relevance to the cause of the accident.

``HSE has decided that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute any of those directly involved in the accident.''

A Railtrack spokesman said: ``Railtrack acknowledges that as a central force in the railway industry it is best placed to co-ordinate a response. We will therefore liaise with our colleagues in the industry on the report and its recommendations.''