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Rail Safety Summit

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Walking into Regent’s Park in the morning sunshine on April 28th I was pleased that the fifth national Rail Safety Summit was in London for the first time. It is high time the industry achieved that elusive zero in both fatal and serious injury accidents. Writes Colin Wheeler

2014 has not started well as I commented last month. The Royal College of Physicians is a splendid venue, although I did think it ironic that the outcome we were all seeking should result in a reducing need for the skills of its members.

The speakers had been asked if they agreed that “visible and committed leadership is essential if rail safety is to improve”. Responses included: “Unless leadership is committed any safety message will only be seen as just words from the ivory tower”.

Setting the Scene

I addressed an audience of around 200 in the hall when I began explaining my commitment to helping improve railway safety. For over 17 years as an “on-call engineer” I carried a briefcase containing details of what I must do if a fatal accident occurred. I recalled seeing the families and work mates of relayers, trackmen, rail welders, patrollers and supervisors who had died after being hit by trains whilst at work; and my feelings when the widows and families thanked me for attending the funerals.

Ken Burrage

I introduced Ken Burrage the Signalling Engineer who now chairs the Institution of Railway Signalling Engineers (IRSE) Licensing Scheme. He was formerly Director of Signalling and Telecommunications Engineering for British Rail and then Deputy Managing Director Westinghouse Signals. With over fifty years’ experience he was the ideal speaker to explain why the Video “Dead Serious about Safety” was made and what it achieved.

He explained the series of incidents that occurred with signalling technicians attending sites to clear faults being struck by trains and killed. Excerpts from the video (now translated into a usable form for this millennium – well done Rail Media) were shown. In the reconstruction a signalling technician goes to the site of an equipment failure where he is struck by a train and killed, witnessed by his colleagues.

These scenes were moving and interspersed with an interview with his young widow. She described not only her own shock and grief, but also the effects and reactions of her very young son who could not understand why his Daddy had not come back from work and never would.

He went on to say that the video was part of the campaign to ensure safety briefings were carried out, lookouts appointed, minimum warning times used and temporary blocks taken if needed. This resulted in British Rail having a fatality free year for the first time. He concluded by calling for more entries for the annual Wing Award made to “an individual for making an outstanding contribution to improving lineside track safety”.


Carolyn Griffiths became Chief Inspector of the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) when it was set up in 2005. They have published 226 reports and 39 bulletins whilst being deployed to 419 incidents. Reports include 4 or 5 recommendations and to date 94% have been accepted and implemented.

Carolyn used her session to focus on machine and engineering train collisions in possessions. She cited accidents involving tampers, regulators, a stone blower and trains at various locations between October 2006 and January this year. She questioned the use of long possessions, line of site driving and braking, headlights and the control of machines and engineering trains on worksites.Rail Safety Summit 2014_3


Anna O’Connor (Head of Projects Office of Rail Regulation for Network Rail) spoke next. [She assured me that she is totally unrelated to the O’Connor clan at Rail Media]. She explained that although statistics show decreases in rail staff, public and train accident risks, 2013/14 has seen an 8% rise in risk to track-workers, and a 6.8% rise for passengers. She stressed the importance of designing for safety, and the incidence of weaknesses in rolling stock maintenance, monitoring, audit awareness and use of backward looking indicators.

Amey PLC

Mel Ewell is Chief Executive and an Executive Director on the Board of Amey PLC. He gave a keynote speech without visual aids. He didn’t need any. Beforehand he said “we have to do everything in our power to keep people safe every day”, commenting that, “nothing is more powerful than face to face communication; leaders have to understand the environment and risks that employees face in order to lead a safe culture.

He described going out in foul wet weather to see his people replacing lighting columns. When asked at the depot if he wished to cancel due to the weather he refused on the basis that the gang were working. He found an individual sitting up to his knees in a water filled hole with a three phase electricity supply in his hands. He asked him why he was working and received the reply because my supervisor insists in case the Chief Executive comes out!

First Capital Connect

David Statham Managing Director First Capital Connect identified the problem of “managing passenger behaviour”. With 5,600 passenger train services operating, his task was not easy. A quarter of the passenger accidents were due to the station environment, the rest the result of customer behaviours. Most were slips trips and falls; 46% of those injured were over 60 years of age. During a three year period, major injuries had increased by 20%.

A review revealed a plethora of diverse warning posters and pre- recorded messages which no-one heeded. Copying the approach used in Melbourne Australia, a campaign was launched using humour, and characters with whom customers could identify; including a cartoon figure. Platform staff were provided with roving microphones, replacing pre- recorded platform announcements. By 2013 major accidents had reduced by 30% and the total number by 7%.

Mission Room

Bryan Denby is Managing Director of Mission Room a technology company that developed a 360 degree interactive media system. Delegates to the Summit were able to experience being on track surrounded by moving pictures on a working site in the conference exhibition area.

He explained the provision of a risk free experience for track workers as a training aid with site hazards, accesses and reactions to problems. For Network Rail his company has completed the filming of 1,000 miles of track and eight tunnel-bores as well as a three month trial of real time filming at Alexandra Palace.


Steve Featherstone Programme Director Track, Network Rail began by referring to Jason Wilkinson who was killed in 2005 whilst working for Track Delivery and then the Network Rail fatal accident this January. In his organisation during the last twelve months there have been 10 confirmed near misses and 2 alleged ones; 7 were on high output sites and half occurred during preparation or follow up working.

He explained his concerns when working “Adjacent Line Open”, his focus on isolation/electrocution risks, buckles and ballast dust. He described the work of the “Track Safety Alliance” peer group. Speaking about the forthcoming quarterly issuing of “Track Safety Matters Films”, he commented that the work of COSS’s and “Adjacent Line Open” working would both be featured.

Safe Work Leader

Allan Spence, Director Safety Strategy Network Rail showed an extract from a reconstruction of the Newark Northgate accident. He explained the reasons for creating the single role of “Safe Work Leader” as part of their Ten Point Plan. Having a single controlling mind for all tasks on a worksite is the principle. Permits to Work – an established practice on the oil industry – are to be introduced, together with maps for each job showing both the worksite and the railway infrastructure.

Rail Safety Summit 2014_2He acknowledged the funding provided by the ORR which will help them replace the use of flags, whistles and horns by “highly reliable protection systems” giving warning of approaching trains and said that they were looking at “signalling controlled warning systems”- what a good idea!


Darren Selman, Health and Safety Assurance Manager Crossrail spoke about designing for safety and raised a chuckle by quoting Douglas Adams -“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof, is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools”.

He used the construction of the new Canary Wharf Crossrail Station to illustrate the responsibility of designers in addressing the need for buildability, reliability, maintenance and safety. He concluded by stressing the need for risk assessment at every stage of the design process.

Health and Wellbeing

John Abbott who is Director of National Programmes at the Rail Safety and Standards Board emphasised the wellbeing side of his title, explaining that work affects health but health can affect both work and wellbeing.

His graphs illustrated that being overweight is now the norm for 75% of adults and 33% of children.

Absenteeism he said costs our railways £320 million every year according to RSSB figures, with stress being the biggest cause. He recommended use of the newly launched “Railway Health and Wellbeing Roadmap” web launched on the day of the Summit.


Stuart Webster-Spriggs of VolkerRail chose fatigue as his subject. He told us that being awake for 24 hours has the same effect as having twice the legal driving limit of alcohol in your blood. 74 rail accidents between 2001 and 2009 involved fatigue as either a cause or contributory factor and 20% of all motorway accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

He quoted a survey that revealed 11% of respondents claiming to have worked a double shift in the previous two months and 32% of them saying they did not feel able to refuse to work double or excessive shifts.

Talk the Walk

Pino de Rosa is Managing Director of Bridgeway Consulting; a company I know with a Board level commitment to ensuring that all directors spend time on site and listen to staff. He began by saying, “people are both our greatest opportunity and the weakest link” before adding “the better we understand our people the greater our ability to make positive changes in our business and the rail industry”.

He added we can help by being visible on a regular basis, but be there because you want to and not because your annual audit schedule says you should be. He stressed that site visits are a great opportunity to learn, listen and reinforce key safety messages. He asked the question “what is stopping you?”, before making it clear that site visits should always take precedence over meetings, conferences, emails and even more meetings. He urged delegates to make the change, reward right behaviours, create the best culture, be interested, ask open questions and always keep your promises; remembering that actions speak louder than words.

Tripod Beta

Ken Maddox is a Tripod Beta practitioner trainer and assessor. It uses a tree like system of analysis to establish the root cause of accidents and incidents. It establishes immediate causes, preconditions and underlying ones. Safety professionals like its use of fault and event trees together with bow tie analysis which he explained using simple examples.

The day was concluded by a question and answer session that I chaired using members of the Safety Summit Advisory Board who were present, followed by well-chosen words of thanks from Tom O’Connor who announced that the 2015 Rail Safety Summit would be held at the same venue on April 30th 2015 to which all would be welcome. Unsurprisingly at the end of such a splendid day we all emerged to find that the sun was still shining in Regents Park. I hope to see you there next year!


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