RAILWAYS have never been safer than they are now, claimed the head of the rail watchdog.
Contrary to the popular perception, safety on the railway has improved significantly since the 1950s, according to Mr Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority.
He told the Examiner: "The railways have never been safer than they are now.
"The number of incidents has fallen significantly since the 1950s.
"It is eight times safer to travel by train than it is by road.
"Rail is the safest, most reliable form of land transport in the UK."
He said it was wrong to say there had been more crashes.
Mr Bowker blamed the media for the negative image of rail transport.
"The problem is, of course, that when you have an accident it is very visible and is good TV. It is very graphic.
"We had a derailment at Kings Cross where no-one was injured and the train was doing 5mph.
"There were multiple fatalities in an accident on the motorway on the same day, but it was the derailment at Kings Cross that made the front page.
"The collision on the motorway got an inch of coverage.
"The reporting of railways is disproportionate to what goes on in terms of road accidents."
Mr Bowker said that huge amounts of money were being poured into the railways.
"It is about double the historical level of investment," he said.
"The investment that the Government has put in is at record levels. Currently it is £75m a week."
Mr Bowker called in at Huddersfield railway station to meet members of the Association of Community Rail-Partnerships, which is based at the station.
The association helps promote the use of rural branch lines such as the Penistone Line, which consistently loses money.
Mr Bowker said the Strategic Rail Authority's first job had been to create some stability on the railways, in the aftermath of the privatisation of the industry. "There is nothing wrong with privatisation as a concept, but the way in which it was done was not helpful," he said.
"Getting stability back, getting everybody aligned in a single direction, was the main objective. We have done that now and every company is clear about what we are trying to achieve."
The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is a Government agency, set up in 2001 to oversee the rail network and increase passenger and freight use.
Mr Bowker said that costs on the railway had risen "for good reasons" but the SRA had to ensure that costs were back under control.
He said 170,000 people were employed in the railway industry and salaries consumed a large proportion of spending.
Maintenance of the track, signals and trains also accounted for a significant amount of the budget.
"We are having to deal with years of under investment by the previous government, which had not put the money in."
He said the Government's transport policy was aimed at improving the rail sector to help reduce road congestion and offer travellers an alternative to car use.